Some good news from Mars. After several days of failed attempts at obtaining a soil sample that can be analyzed from the clumpy regolith of the Martian Arctic, the Mars Phoenix Lander shook a sample into its "oven." Now we wait for about a week to receive the results of the probe's thermal and evolved-gas analyzer. More here and here.
Paging D.D. Harriman...
Thanks to Google, there's now a $25-30 million X-prize available to the team that lands a privately-funded rover on the moon by the end of 2012, takes some pictures, and moves at least 500 meters on the lunar surface. Details here. And here. And here. And here.
Astronomy Pic Of the Century
Cold War Space
Blue Origin Test Flight - As God and Robert Heinlein Intended
I don't know how long they'll be on the main page (there's no video archive page yet) but Blue Origin has posted videos of their VTOL rocket's (the Goddard's) first test flight. The vehicle is clearly inspired by the Delta Clipper design on which I have previously blogged here, here, and here. Please also see Jerry Pournelle's excellent overview of the Gary Hudson Phoenix design, which influenced the development of the Delta Clipper/DC-X and also played a major role in his, Niven's and Flynn's Fallen Angels.
Killer App for Space Tourism
I wonder if private space travel will follow in the steps of the Internet, where sex was one of the earliest successful commercial ventures.
While joining the 250-mile-high-club would certainly be uniquely stimulating, it won't necessarily be easy, was the message of a panel of experts at the recently-concluded Space Frontier Foundation's NewSpace 2006 conference in Las Vegas.
NASA (not speaking for the agency, of course) doctor Jim Logan had the money quote:
"It's a pretty messy environment, when you think about it....And for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. However ... I can well imagine how compelling, inspiring, and quite frankly stimulating choreographed sex in zero-G might be in the hands of a skilled and talented cinematographer with appropriate lighting and music....I'm not kidding: Sex in zero-G is going to have to be more or less choreographed. Otherwise it's just going to be a wild flail."
New Extreme Sport?
How about knowing that you will break the speed of sound? I would expect a video camera to be built into the helmet to record the jump for future viewing and showing off to friends.
Nice Crab Nebula Picture
Enjoy this beautiful picture of the Crab Nebula, made up of 24 different images taken by the Hubble in 1999 and 2000. (Click the pic for full size).
Hitching a Lift
More SF coming true.
Does anyone know of a decent online archive of Martian maps, including the highest resolution scans from the most recent orbiters, organized like Google maps?
I'm thinking specifically of a draggable, clickable, zoomable Martian atlas.
I've done some googling around, but haven't found anything like this yet.
Any leads would be much appreciated.
What's Missing Here?
I read this and especially this part:
"Researchers continue to look for new ways to counteract the physical changes associated with long-term space flight whether through diet, exercise, medication or a combination of strategies."
What's missing from that list? How about, say, engineering? Why don't any of these studies ever look at testing a centrifugal/centripetal force method of creating quasi-gravity?
It's not like the concept is a new one. After all, Wernher von Braun had already dreamed of the "wheel" space station so poetically realized in 2001: A Space Odyssey as early as the 1950s.
I'm surprised there haven't been any tests of the concept yet. It seems like it would have been pretty simple to already have built a rat-scale ring that would have fit in a shuttle bay (or one of the station modules) to see how the forces would have affected the rats. Is there a certain minimum diameter needed to prevent disorienting coriolis effects?
Does anyone know of any tests along these lines? It seems a lot easier than trying to change human biology with medications.
The Bar at the Center of the Galaxy
You know. Restaurant at the End of the Universe... Bar at the Center of the Milky Way. I wonder if they serve Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters there.
Thankfully, it appears that today's repair mission was a complete success, and the potentially threatening gap fillers were removed with minimal effort and without causing any damage to the thermal tiles. Read about it here.
Unfortunately, it now appears that a second spacewalk may be necessary to repair a thermal quilt outside the cockpit that may have been damaged by launch debris.
I wonder how many of these kinds of issues have previously gone unnoticed or uncared-about. Since NASA added additional cameras for the return-to-flight mission, Discovery has to be the most closely-studied orbiter in the history of the program. Perhaps our earlier ignorance really was bliss. I'm just surprised that this level of scrutiny wasn't applied to the earlier shuttle missions.
It will be interesting to see whether the safety-first culture at NASA will abate any after a few successful missions. It will have to in order to ever succeed in implementing President Bush's exploration initiative. It seems that repair spacewalks should be something that every crew of every vessel in space should be prepared to do.
Interview With the Visionary
Mr. Rutan comes across like a character out of an Ayn Rand novel (and I mean that in a good way):
Apollo 17 landed on the moon on December 11, 1972, and thereafter the US space effort ground to an undignified halt. Nasa invested in the Space Shuttle, the ugliest and most pointless machine ever built. They told the US government it would be 10 times cheaper to put payloads in space with the shuttle than it had been with Apollo’s Saturn V rocket. In fact, it turned out to be 10 times more expensive....
“You can’t fix it by throwing money at it,” says Burt, “because you make something that’s bad because it’s too complex even more complex.”
On top of all that, Nasa, having become an insanely defensive bureaucracy, went out of its way to crush all opposition both within and without. Any rival trying to get into space more safely and cheaply was either absorbed or drained of cash and talent. With the collapsing Soviet Union all but dropping out of the space race, and China just clinging onto a precarious toehold, the whole extraterrestrial adventure seemed to be over. A sci-fi generation, now in their fifties and sixties, realised that their childhood dream of roaring rockets taking them up to wheeling orbital space stations and beyond was dead.
Burt made sure that Nasa only heard about his project at the same time as everybody else — when he wheeled SpaceShipOne out on the tarmac at Mojave to be photographed by Aviation Week. He points out sadly that, but for Nasa, we’d be holidaying in orbital if not moon-based hotels already. He has no faith in George Bush’s new decision to spend the next 20 years going back to the moon and then on to Mars, because it uses the same old dumb technology and keeps the government monopoly intact. But it doesn’t matter, because Nasa won’t survive the next 20 years. Burt thinks it is about to be wiped out by a sudden space explosion in the private sector. And so now, at 61, he expects to live long enough to see the first moon resorts.
According to the author, the first flight into space aboard a Virgin Galactic spaceship should take place in about three years and contain some interesting characters:
It will carry — and this is very informed guesswork — William Shatner and Sigourney Weaver. Shatner is the favourite, as he will officially name the ship the VSS Enterprise. So both Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise and Ripley of Alien have signed up to pay $200,000 (just over £100,000) for the trip, but they don’t yet know who will be on the first flight. If Ripley has anything to do with it, there will certainly be a giant, homicidal lizard. Victoria Principal, the former Dallas star, has also signed up. Burt and Sir Richard Branson will be on board, as, I think, will Branson’s dad, Ted. Bill Cullen, the 63-year-old chairman of Renault Ireland, might be there too; he’s the only one of the 21,000 applicants for tickets who has paid the whole sum upfront....
I can't do the interview justice with excerpts, so go read the whole thing.
Microbial Life on Mars?
According to Space.com, a pair of scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center believe they have found strong evidence that life may exist today in Martian caves.
Carol Stoker and Larry Lemke have submitted their paper for publication in Science, and the paper is currently under peer review.
Their evidence is a circumstantial case based upon methane signatures and comparisons to similar caves and methane signatures on Earth, where microbes account for the methane.
I am of mixed feelings on this. I think discovering life elsewhere would be fantastic, but I am worried that Martian life will lead to a quarantine of the planet, thus foreclosing settlement by humans for the foreseeable future.
Guess I'll have to back out of that Valles Marineris condo development deal now...
Congressional Moron's Oxymoron
"We can and should protect the safety of passengers on space flights in this new and emerging industry, without placing unreasonable limitations on industry development. I urge my colleagues to join me in working to pass this important legislation."
It's clear from the context of Oberstar's comments that he's not merely concerned with range safety (i.e., innocent bystanders). No. He wants to use the blunt instrument of federal regulation to "protect" the safety of early passengers on commercial spaceflights.
Yeah, right. We all know what a good job the government does at protecting passengers in spaceships. (Cheap shot, I know. But I'm not sorry). I'm not sorry, because there is one trait of government that I simply cannot abide, regardless of party affiliation: nannyism. Manny, in Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, put this unsavory aspect of government, as a reflection on human nature, most eloquently:
Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please. Rules, laws -- always for other fellow. A murky part of us, something we had before we came down out of trees, and failed to shuck when we stood up. Because not one of those people said: "Please pass this so that I won't be able to do something I know I should stop." Nyet, tovarishchee, was always something they hated to see neighbors doing. Stop them "for their own good" -- not because speaker claimed to be harmed by it.
In a nascent industry like this, which is just an exotic form of "extreme tourism," participants should be allowed to make up their own minds about risk tolerance. Asshats like Oberstar either (a) want to strangle the private space business in the cradle (look for donations from entrenched contractors like Boeing/LockMart) or (b) are stupid enough to think there is such a thing as safety regulations for experimental spacecraft that do not impose unreasonable limitations on commercial space flight startups. Either way, he should be turned out of office.
Hondas in Space?
When I was a kid, wishing that the Space Shuttle would just take off already (this was circa 1980), I kept thinking to myself: "someday I'll make lots of money and then I'll be rich enough to build my own spaceship." Alas, that hasn't happened, but apparently other members of my generation thought the same thing.
Here's a nice article about one of those generational peers, Elon Musk, the CEO and CTO of SpaceX. Like Jeff Bezos, Musk is turning his dot.com riches into hardware and business plans to develop the final frontier.
While Bezos, Rutan, and others focus on the suborbital market, Musk has been looking at ways to make orbital access cheaper by an order of magnitude. Reading through the Fast Company article, it's fascinating to see how he is implementing an entrepreneurial, fast-growth company mentality in building space hardware.
You may have seen this quote elsewhere, but it's worth repeating: "Many times we've been asked: 'If you reduce the cost, don't you reduce reliability?' This is completely ridiculous. A Ferrari is a very expensive car. It is not reliable. But I would bet you 1,000-to-1 that if you bought a Honda Civic that that sucker will not break down in the first year of operation. You can have a cheap car that's reliable, and the same applies to rockets."
Of course the proof of the pudding will be in the tasting. And that tasting is scheduled to take place later this month, with the first scheduled launch of a Falcon I to take place.
Surf City, Titan
It looks like the Huygens probe may have landed on or near a beach on Saturn's frigid moon Titan, based on these initial raw images.
I look forward to seeing the rest of the images, especially after they have been processed.
I've been pruning and revising the blogroll. Since these aren't really blogs, I'm moving them to here, so they'll be readily accessible from my archives.
First Steps Out of the Cradle
The early space visionary and scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky famously stated: "The earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever."
James Muncy describes two important political baby-steps out of the cradle: the Congressional funding of the President's Vision for Space Exploration and the passage of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act.
I would argue that the latter, together with the successful flights of SpaceShipOne to win the X-prize, represents a much larger step than pouring yet more money into NASA, new "vision" or not.
Asteroid Threat Downgraded
Though I've updated my earlier entry, it's worth noting here that, upon additional analysis, Asteroid 2004 MN4 does not present as great a risk as initially thought. The riskiest orbit now appears due in the year 2051, again on my birthday, but that orbit only ranks a zero on the Torino impact risk scale and a minus 1.93 on the Palermo.
Unlucky 61st Birthday
I've always proudly claimed the number 13 as my lucky number, as I was born on the 13th day of April in 1968.
But now I read from Alan Brain that my 61st birthday may be a profoundly unlucky day for me (and other Earth residents).
According to NASA's data, an asteroid (2004 MN4) will pass very close to Earth on April 13, 2029. The asteroid rates a 4 on the Torino Impact Hazard Scale and has a Palermo value of 1 (any value greater than zero on the Palermo scale is a cause for concern).
With this much advance notice, I expect we have enough time to determine what, if anything, needs to and can be done to minimize the risk of impact. As Heinlein said, the earth is simply to small and fragile a basket to keep all of our eggs in, so I hope we can move more quickly to expand and disperse to the moon, to Mars, and to orbital habitats.
Update: It now appears that the risk has been significantly downgraded. Whew!
Commercial Space Law Development
I posted a version of this at Freespace earlier today, but thought it would fit fine here, too.
The House of Representatives' recent passage of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 marks a positive development for the fledgling commercial space tourism industry. Alan Boyle has been following this legislation and has a comprehensive article explaining the pros and cons of the bill.
Despite some shortcomings, the bill provides clearer guidance for the FAA, which has so far been working on an ad hoc basis in licensing experimental spaceships like Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne. In principle, I would prefer no regulation at all. But both the aviation and rocketry industries are already subject to onerous regulatory schemes, which could have been extended to strangle the suborbital tourism business while it is still in the cradle. So this is an improvement on the pre-existing legal framework. I might write up more on this later, but Alan Boyle's article is a good place to start.
Be sure to check out the first topic, We Must Colonize Space to Survive.... I love brevity in an author. After reading through the eloquent-but-wordy musings of Carl Sagan, Steven Hawking, and Gene Roddenberry, see how Heinlein expresses the same sentiment in a mere sentence. He's not considered a "grand master" of his craft for nothing.
Good News for Richard Branson
Assuming the lawmakers and regulators don't strangle the baby in the cradle, there appears to be quite a bit of pent-up demand to pay $200,000 for a flight into space (even if there are only 5-10 minutes of weightlessness).
If I had the means, I know I certainly would, risks be damned.
A few of my favorite things about the X-Prize coverage:
Google's Logo yesterday:
Xeni Jardin's link-filled report at BoingBoing.
Alan Boyle's writeup at MSNBC.
Miles O'Brien's ever-enthusiastic entry at CNN.
X-Prize Attempt 2
While I would love to liveblog this morning's attempt to win the Ansari X-Prize, I'm not getting a very good connection to the stream at work this morning, and in any case have too much work to spend the morning watching and blogging. You can get the video stream here.
Best wishes to all involved for a safe flight.
Update 0946 CDT (yeah, I know I'm not liveblogging): Brian Binnie is the pilot for today's attempt.
Update 0950 CDT: Separation! . . . Rocket firing . . .
Update 0951CDT: Engine burnout. No rolls like last time.
Update 0955CDT: Looks like they won! Unofficially 368,000 feet.
Update 1007CDT: SpaceShipOne should be landing in less than 5 minutes. Rand Simberg has been liveblogging this morning, and is sure to have good follow-up and commentary.
Update 1013CDT: Safe landing! Welcome to the era of commercial space flight!
X-Prize Attempt (Liveblogging)
I have the webcast running on my screen (follow the "Webcast" link from this page) and plan to update as time permits today.
1. White Knight with the SpaceShipOne will taxi to the runway at California's Mojave airport at 6:30 a.m. local time (9:30 a.m. EDT; 1330 GMT).
2. Airborne around 6:45 a.m. PDT (9:45 a.m. EDT; 1345 GMT).
3. About an hour later White Knight will reach an altitude of nearly 50,000 feet where SS1 is dropped at 7:45 a.m. PDT (10:45 a.m. EDT; 1445 GMT) and SS1 ignites its rocket engine
4. Powered flight of about 80 seconds
5. SpaceShipOne coasts up to an altitude of at least 62 miles and then reenters the atmosphere
6. Glides to a landing on the Mojave runway by 8:30 a.m. PDT (11:30 a.m. EDT; 1530 GMT)
Update 08:19 CDT: The live webcast is quite congested. If it keeps up, I'm not sure how much of this I'll get to see "live".
Update 08:23 CDT: Space.com is running an update page, too.
Update 08:44 CDT: Mike Melvill will be the pilot for today's flight. Webcasters reporting he has flown more Rutan prototypes than any other pilot.
Update 09:02 CDT: White Knight is pulling out now, preparing for takeoff.
Update 09:15 CDT: White Knight is airborne.
Update 09:24 CDT: As White Knight gains altitude, the webcast cuts to a video recapping the conditions necessary to win the Ansari X-Prize and gives some background on the X-Prize history and concept. Good information for the casual observer.
Update 09:37 CDT: White Knight/SpaceShipOne Separation to occur in about 40 minutes. No updates expected until then.
Update 09:43 CDT: X-Prize benefactor Anousheh Ansari is speaking. I think I'm going to award her a special X-prize-edition-honorary-SF-Babe prize (this is Science Fiction coming true, after all!)
Update 09:47 CDT: NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe speaking now. (Personal comment: "Regards to Captain Dunsel.")
Update 10:10 CDT: Separation! Godspeed, Mike Melvill!
Update 10:11 CDT: Rocket firing - SS1 is in a roll -- "Uh-oh... unscripted maneuver" -- engines shutdown.
Update 10:13 CDT: SS1 is in its "shuttlecock position" made it to 338,000 feet (~102 km). They made it!!! (Update in an update: awaiting official confirmation).
Update 10:17 CDT: Transition from shuttlecock to normal wings-locked flight -- SS1 is now a glider on the way home!
Update 10:18 CDT: Sonic boom in Mojave. Mike's on the way... green for landing ... descending.
Update 10:33 CDT: Flanked by chase planes, SS1 is making its final approach...
Update 10:34 CDT: Touchdown! Rutan and company now have two weeks to make another attempt (assuming official certification of the altitude).
Update 10:38 CDT: The White Knight carrier plane has just touched down safely.
Update 10:50-52 CDT: Nice views of SpaceShipOne being towed by the bandstand. Nice touch with American flag waving. "This magic day when super-science mingles with the bright stuff of dreams..." Melvill emerges from cockpit. Greeted by Burt Rutan. Lots of pictures for posterity.
Update 10:56 CDT: Melvill called the unscripted maneuver a "victory roll." SS1 "flies like a dream." He shut off the engine about 11 seconds earlier than automatic shutoff.
Update 11:02 CDT: "Major New Announcement" coming up shortly. Developing...
Update 11:09 CDT: Diamandis announcing the "X-Prize Cup" -- similar to a "Grand Prix" of space vehicles, to take place once a year in New Mexico. Marketing the concept of live TV coverage, corporate sponsorship, etc. This was announced several months ago, so I don't know if this really counts as a major "new" announcement.
That wraps up my live coverage for today. Check back tonight for additional commentary and links. Thanks!
Fall. Desert morning.
Composite skin gleaming white.
SpaceShipOne takes flight.
If you hear a muse whispering in your ear, leave the whisperings in comments or post them at your own site and track back to here.
Good News For Spirit and Opportunity
Private Vomit Comet
Over the past week, Xeni Jardin (co-editor of BoingBoing and Wired contributor) has posted a series of articles (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10) on her experience flying with Zero Gravity Corporation (Zero-G), a company founded by X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis, to offer its customers commercial weightless flights in a specially modified 727-200 aircraft.
Today, Rand Simberg discusses Alan Boyle's report on Zero-G's inaugural flights, mentioning that Diamandis faced a 10-year process of jumping over regulatory hurdles erected by the FAA. This is shocking. The technique used to create weightlessness using a parabolic arc flight-path is not really novel; it's been around for decades. I would think that informed consent is all that's really required. Geez.
At about $3000 for the flight, I don't think I'll be trying this soon, but it certainly brings an astronaut experience closer and closer to normal, paying customers.
X-37 = SpaceShipTwo?
Contrary to the first report in the Desert News, Scaled has not yet confirmed whether the White Knight will be the ship that carries the X-37, as it does SpaceShipOne.
I find this very interesting, given Rutan's recent statements about developing an orbital analogue of SpaceShipOne as the next step in his business plan. I also find it interesting that the program has been transferred from NASA to an "unnamed government agency."
This is one to watch, folks.
Update: According to Keith Cowing's source, the "unnamed agency" is DARPA.
Update: And here's more from Space.com on the X-37 program and its transfer to DARPA.
I Am a Nerd
. . . because I find this fascinating.
(Hat tip: Timothy Sandefur).
Horse Race to Space
The Canuck da Vinci Project has thrown its hat into the X-Prize ring, announcing today that they will make an attempt at their first flight on October 2, 2004, just a few days after Scaled Composites' first attempt.
Rand Simberg has the goods (check his comments, too).
You can also find a good collection of links about this at the Ansari X-Prize Space Race News site.
Explore Mars Online
This NASA site is a great place to start your virtual exploration of the Red Planet.
I would love to go there in person someday. Not likely to happen, but I can dream.
All Systems Check T-Minus 59 Days
The Scaled Composites team yesterday gave their 60-day notice to the X-Prize Foundation that they will make an official attempt at the X-Prize: two flights into space within a two-week period carrying two passengers (or the weight equivalent of two passengers).
That means the first flight could take off at least as early as September 29 and the second flight no later than 14 days later than the first.
The Canadian Da Vinci team also announced that they will roll out their balloon-lofted launch vehicle next week. No official announcement of an attempt at the prize by them yet.
"Technology high. . . on the leading edge of life."
Very cool. More details to follow.
Big X-Prize Announcement?
That's an auspicious day, in any event, as I will be celebrating 13 years of wedded bliss with my lovely wife.
Slipping the Surly Bonds
Excellent article at TechCentralStation on the long-term importance of SpaceShipOne (and others like it).
Leave a Message for the First Private Astronaut
I hesitate to use breathless hyperbole, but today was really the dawning of a new space age, the age of private exploration and development of outer space. As Dale Amon describes it, we are now moving away from linear-growth government programs to exponential-growth entrepreneurialism. Maybe I will get to space sometime in my life, after all.
I don't have cable or satellite TV, and I couldn't get Real Player to work worth a flip on my work computer, so I missed the live video coverage of the event. Based on my morning channel-surfing, the three network morning "news" programs were asleep at the switch, reporting on Bill Clinton's post-affair sleeping arrangements instead of this. Kudos to the local Fox affiliate for carrying a substantial amount of live pre-launch coverage (and though I didn't see it, they were promising to bring live footage of the flight, too).
From what I've seen and read, the flight was successful though not flawless. There were some kinks to work out, but overall this was a momentous occasion.
One of my favorite Australians, Alan Brain, also has a good account of the flight, along with some coverage of the difficulties alluded to above.
Spaceflight Now also has a nice play-by-play status log of the flight.
Whether or not they win the X-Prize, Scaled Composites have broken down the "giggle factor" barrier to private investment in space. What a great feeling - a "magic day when super-science mingles with the bright stuff of dreams" as described in the Rush song Countdown (lyrics in the extended entry):
Words by Neil Peart, Music by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson
Dedicated with thanks to astronauts Young & Crippen and all the people of NASA for their inspiration and cooperation (RUSH were present at the maiden liftoff of Columbia in 1981).
Lit up with anticipation
We arrive at the launching site
The sky is still dark, nearing dawn
On the Florida coastline
Circling choppers slash the night
With roving searchlight beams
This magic day when super-science
Mingles with the bright stuff of dreams
Floodlit in the hazy distance
The star of this unearthly show
Venting vapours, like the breath
Of a sleeping white dragon
Crackling speakers, voices tense
Resume the final count
All systems check, T minus nine
As the sun and the drama start to mount
The air is charged --- a humid, motionless mass
The crowds and the cameras,
The cars full of spectators pass
Excitement so thick --- you could cut it with a knife
Technology --- high, on the leading edge of life
The earth beneath us starts to tremble
With the spreading of a low black cloud
A thunderous roar shakes the air
Like the whole world exploding
Scorching blast of golden fire
As it slowly leaves the ground
Tears away with a mighty force
The air is shattered by the awesome sound
Like a pillar of cloud, the smoke lingers
High in the air
In fascination --- with the eyes of the world
Closer to the Prize
Scaled Composites appears to have the X-Prize all but in the bag. They are making this look all too easy. I hope they have continued success, and I look forward to their next flight.
A couple of cool pictures from Scaled's website in the extended entry:
Tracking Space Objects
QuantumBlog provides a nice collection of links today to keep handy if you want to try to spot the international space station or other space objects:
More Rocket Science
(Hat tip: Alan Brain).
A Rocket Scientist's Words of Wisdom
The ‘up’ part was perfect. I need to work on the ‘down’ part.
So quoth Ted, in an entertaining summary of the first day of the Battlepark 2004 rocket-fest.
As far as working on the "down" part, he shows us some pictures of the aftermath of the Air Munuviana crash.
First Rocket Shoot
Here's one that should warm Ted's heart.
Today, my elder son's Webelos den met at a local park to shoot off rockets that they had built last week. This was my son's first rocket to build and today was his first rocket launch.
The weather was perfect, except for a slightly stronger wind than ideal. Sunny, temps in the mid-70s.
The rockets that the boys built were simple little A-engine no-parachute numbers. Several didn't go very high, and a few exploded when the engine's parachute charge went off, but my son's survived all four launches (and crash landings!) intact.
I've included some pictures in the extended entry.
Our goal. . .
Getting ready for launch
Countdown starts. . .
Space Exploration Personality Types
I think they omitted a very important type - the Heinleinian/Pournellian. Shares many traits with the O'Neillians, but also believes in a strong military role in space.
Space Art eCards
Here's a nice gallery of space art and photos, ready to email to your friends.
(Hat tip: Hobbyspace).
Rutan Closes In On the Prize
Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne lit off its rocket again today, this time for 40 seconds. No official details have been released by ScaledComposites yet, but reports indicate that SpaceShipOne climbed past 100,000 feet at Mach 2.
Congratulations to Rutan and crew!
Big News For X-Prize
My birthday is coming up in a little less than a week, and I can think of no better present than to see a privately-built and -owned spaceship launched.
Update: The FAA actually issued the license on April 1, 2004, as explained in this press release.
Best of Hubble
I feel like I've linked to this before, but even if I have, it's worth repeating (note well: large download; requires Shockwave plugin).
(Hat tip: Jerry Pournelle)
More Good News From Mars?
It appears that both the Mars Express orbiter and an earthbound team have independently detected Methane in Mars' atmosphere, on the order of 11 parts per billion. This is exciting news, as it points to the possibility of life, or of vulcanism (or both).
Removing the Giggle Factor
One nice thing about an article like this one is that it helps to incrementally decrease the "giggle factor" associated with discussing such outlandish notions as terraforming and colonizing Mars. For a more serious examination of the giggle factor, see this military article on planetary defense.
I literally remember an event at my high school (in Physics class, no less) in which I saw the giggle factor implemented mercilessly. In sharp contrast to the Thomistic, sophisticated, and rational priests and teachers in the vast majority of my other classes there, this class was taught be a priest whose thoughts seemed to predate Vatican II (heck, his ideas even seemed to predate Galileo!)
One day, our classroom discussion veered away from pure Physics (we were talking about Kepler, I think, and duplicating his experiment of plotting Brahe's data and discovering that Mars' orbit was elliptical) and one of the students asked about the prospects of life on Mars. Not just life that might have evolved there, but our prospects as a species living there.
I'll never forget how that ignorant ass of a priest dismissed him out of hand, essentially stating that G-d had created "Man" for this Earth and that there was no other life in the universe and no place for Man elsewhere in the universe. Of course, most of the other guys in my class were your run-of-the-mill mundanes, and they were seized by a fit of the giggles. He wouldn't hear the end of it for some time.
The poor guy. At the time I hardly knew him (although I knew him all too well, in a sense, as I had almost identical thoughts about Mars, but somehow had the sense not to chum the shark-infested waters of high school with them), but he is now one of my better friends. How ironic that after all this time, what we geeks felt intuitively back then to be possible, to be true, may finally become a reality.
Commercial Space Bill Passes House
The bill adds definitions to the existing Commercial Space Launch Act for "crew," "space flight participants," and "suborbital rockets," among others and clears the way for suborbital rocket flights with passengers, at least on an experimental basis. The Act is aimed at encouraging X-Prize participants and other similarly-situated rocket developers by removing the legal uncertainties they face, as bill sponsor Rep. Dana Rohrabacher makes clear:
"It is my sincere hope that this bill will encourage individuals like Burt Rutan and others to continue leading the way in pushing the boundaries of technology and safety by building and flight testing hardware, something NASA has yet to do. This fine piece of legislation carries forward my goal of promoting this new industry and cutting back bureaucratic red tape, while protecting the public health
Let's hope that with some regulatory certainty, we'll see many private launches in the near future.
Brian Doss at Catallarchy summarizes Robert Zubrin and Christopher McKay's ideas on terraforming Mars, linking to numerous resources regarding the technologies and timescales required.
Mars "Drenched" With Water
There is a fantastic scene in one of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books (either Red or Green, can't remember off the top of my head) in which the colonists tap an aquifer under the Martian surface, triggering a torrential flood. Is there that much water there now? We don't know.
This is great news. If there is still an appreciable amount of water on Mars, then the costs of exploration and settlement decrease drastically. And the chances of finding current or past life increase dramatically.
(Hat tip: Rocket Jones)
Update: Oops, I just fixed the link. Mark probably went, "huh?"
(The fixed link now takes you to a picture of a T-Shirt that says, "As a Matter of Fact, I AM a Rocket Scientist!")
Looking for Life on Mars, on Earth
I was surprised to learn just how sterile the Atacama is. Despite the discovery in recent decades of "extremophiles," it appears that there are limits to what hardy microbial life can tolerate, even on Earth. Learning how to detect the trace amounts of life, preventing forward contamination of the test site and contamination of gathered samples, and determining where to find any trace life are all skills that will serve the first human explorers of Mars well.
The Great Robot Race
They will pay a cash award of $1 million to the team that fields the first vehicle to complete the designated route within the specified time limit. The purpose of the challenge, in DARPA's own words, "is to leverage American ingenuity to accelerate the development of autonomous vehicle technologies that can be applied to military
NASA could learn a thing or two (or many more!) from DARPA.
Update: Jay Manifold noticed this story, too (I found it directly on the DARPA site; he links to Space.com's story), and is seeking input on what kind of contest his readers would set up for a $10 million prize.
Why Go To Space?
OK, OK. I've been promising this for a while. Other people kept writing bits and pieces of what I was thinking, so I decided to bite the bullet and try to put down some of my thoughts, too. These aren't fully formed, and, since this is my blog, I reserve the right to edit or elaborate in future.
Anyone who has known me for any length of time eventually learns that I am a space nut at heart. I have been since as early as I can remember. To try and compose an essay seeking to answer "why should we go to space" is like asking Deep Thought the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.
The problem is really with the question. The answer varies depending on the assumptions behind the question. These assumptions are typically that space is too hard or expensive for anyone other than the government to do it. I hope that certain current events may help to prove this premise false. Another assumption is that space is solely for scientific purposes. Many pro-space advocates fall into this trap.
Which is why I was happy today to see Rand Simberg's link to an interesting op-ed by Jim Muncy in the Washington Times. Mr. Muncy's opinion really gets at what I have been trying to write for some time. Key quote (extracted by Rand, too):
"Space exploration is not merely about the wonders of science and technology, although it produces countless discoveries and innovations. It is not merely about stunning images and daring adventures, although it has those aplenty. And to the disbelief of so many space professionals and aficionados alike, it is not even really about outer space. "Rather, space exploration is about strengthening and spreading the very essence of freedom: the magic of going and doing what you want, where you want, when you want and why you want. It is about the endless and innately human quest for a better, wiser and richer life, not just for yourself today but for generations hence. Freedom is as much about the creation and pursuit of new dreams, horizons and challenges as it is about achieving them."
Brian Doss at Catallarchy gets at this latter idea:
"[T]he reason I support Martian colonization is on the general grounds that liberty thrives on the frontier, and that human society does best when there is a frontier to interact with the ancestral land. Innovation is spurred, trade blooms, opportunities abound, and more importantly, there is space to go to help make a new society when you don't like the one you're in. To an extent, America is still the World's frontier, as it is the place most non-Americans go when they want to get away from wherever it was they were born; America is vibrant, young, and constantly re-inventing itself with countless subcultures and communities. But America isn't a true frontier society anymore, and for those of us fortunate enough to have been born here, where does one go when even America is too staid and developed to suit? Well, the old answer is new again- leave for the frontier, which would now be Mars."
Both of these statements really seem to boil down to "we should go to space because it is there, because we can, and, oh yes, it's good for freedom." Most other space policy debate seems to focus almost exclusively on the science to be done, the things to learn. But most people aren't "scientists" and don't want to be scientists. I fear that if we make outer space a reserve for scientists alone, then space will look like Antarctica in the future: a small contingent of on-site researchers, a very small number of "extreme" tourists, and no normal people. Forget for a moment the goals of scientists here on earth. Think of your goals instead. Why do you work each day? What things are important to you? Where do you find beauty? Would you like to strap on a pair of wings and literally fly like a bird in one-sixth Earth's gravity beneath the stars in a lunar resort? Can you see yourself standing at the edge of the Valles Marineris, looking into a canyon system that makes the Grand Canyon look like a small valley? Do you like architecture or music? Think of the possibilities for the forms that buildings could take in the lower gravity of Luna or Mars. What symphonies, what poems, what great novels will the vistas of new planets, new experiences, new pains and losses and challenges stimulate? What new businesses can we create? I think all these aspects of the human experience are of equal value to the abstract knowledge we may gain about the geology, meterology, and chemistry of these new places. I want an outer space future that looks like the world of Heinlein's Rolling Stones or Niven's Known Space; a place where families live and work and grow, where belters mine asteroids and trade goods with Luna, Mars, and Earth. A place indistinguishable from our current civilization, except that we happen to live elsewhere. In other words, a space-based civilization. If we do this, then we will have learned what we need to get our eggs out of this fragile basket. And maybe in the process we will learn just how much more precious is our Earth. Why go to space? To stay.
When I was first getting seriously into written SF, Carl Sagan was on PBS with his groundbreaking series, Cosmos.
As he explained in the episode entitled "Heaven and Hell," the surface of Venus is 900 degrees (F) and subject to crushing pressure. A far cry from the fertile swamps of Heinlein's Venus in Between Planets, an early favorite of mine.
(Hat tip: Jerry Pournelle).
Money quote: [Regarding certification of Burt's aircraft, only one of which -- the Starship -- ever obtained it]: "It would be a waste" to seek certification, says [Rutan's brother] Dick. "He's an innovative, creative designer. Why should he waste all of his time trying to certify an airplane with a bunch of know-nothing bureaucrats?"
We haven't heard much from Scaled Composites recently, but apparently Rutan's crew is now waiting for the FAA/AST to issue their license. I'll wager that he will win the X-Prize very shortly after getting the license.
Evidence of Dreamers at NASA
Reminds me of the big dreams I had of someday living or vacationing in space. Not the cramped government housing represented by Mir and the ISS. Instead, vast space habitats, like the station in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Maybe with life-extension technology I'll live long enough to see structures like these built. Unless of course the religious fanatics and allied Luddites ban cloning and nanotech research.
Is This Really Surprising?
Patrick Stewart (a/k/a weenie Captain Jean Luc Picard) opposes human exploration of outer space.
Reason: "It would take up so many resources, which I personally feel should be directed at our own planet."
Long John Silver's
I've always liked Long John Silver's, even though Mrs. Texasbestgrok's shellfish allergy has cut down on my opportunities to visit.
Turns out they have offered a free giant shrimp to anyone asking for it on March 15, 2004, but only if NASA discovers and announces "conclusive evidence" of an ocean on Mars before February 29, 2004.
Here are the official terms of the offer, for any lawyerly types. I particularly like this line in the press release: "In the letter [to NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe], [Long John Silver's President] Davis also officially registered interest in Long John Silver's becoming the first seafood restaurant on Mars. 'It's not a matter of "if," it's just a matter of "when" human beings are able to live permanently on Mars. Long John Silver's mission is to feed people with delicious seafood wherever they are -- on earth or even outer space.'"
It may be a gimmick, but I plan to pay to sample a few of these giant shrimp as soon as they are available on February 15.
Update: I should have put a hat-tip to SFSignal in this article.
Rocket Man Returns
And posts an interesting article on space access.
Of course, I wonder, does the current national space policy encourage the blooming of a thousand flowers? I couldn't agree more with the sentiment of "Get the government out of the way and let people do what they want to in space and who knows what people will decide to do there." What can we change to make it so? Read the whole thing and think.
Fly Me to the Moon
Trust me. I'm still working on my "why we go to space" essay.
In the meantime, it looks like Transorbital will launch a mission to the moon later this year. Price: $2500 per gram. I wonder how many spots they will sell?
I like how Space.com frames this news in the context of President Bush's call for renewed government activity on the moon.
. . . And Touched the Face of God
Rand Simberg remembers the Challenger and feels the passage of time. I was a senior in high school, sitting in Latin class 18 years ago when I learned of the Challenger explosion.
Rand also remembers the Columbia and Apollo 1 accidents in this article. And thanks to an article linked by Stephen Green, I now have an even more chilling mental picture of the final minutes of the Columbia astronauts' lives.
I may be a contrarian about NASA and the politics and purposes of government-funded manned exploration of outer space, but that should never be taken as disrespect for the bravery of these astronauts.
What's In Them Thar Hills?
Jeff Foust has an interesting article today on the feasibility of missions to near-Earth-objects (mostly asteroids). He summarizes the justifications for studying these bodies as fear (of another dinosaur-killer), greed (for their mineral riches), and curiosity (because they're there). These objects are also fairly "inexpensive" in terms of delta-v:
While there are a number of good reasons for visiting NEOs, what makes the case for such missions -- human in particular -- so compelling is the accessibility of these bodies. The proximity of these objects and their small size sharply reduce the delta-v -- the change in velocity -- and thus the amount of propellant needed to reach them. In many cases, the total delta-v for a NEO mission is less than a mission to the Moon. At a September 2002 conference on mitigating asteroid impact hazards in Arlington, Virginia, Durda described an example of a mission to one NEO, 1991 VG. A round-trip mission lasting just 60 days would require a total delta-v of 6.1 kilometers per second, approximately the same as a one-way mission to the Moon. Extending the mission duration to 90 days decreased the delta-v to 4.9 km/sec. These factors put manned NEO missions almost entirely within the capacities and experience of human spaceflight today.
This last item reminded me of a science fiction story "gimmick" that I thought up about 15 years ago. As far as I know it hasn't been used in a story yet (and I haven't put it in a story yet, either!) The idea would be to use an asteroid or comet as a launching platform to the outer planets. I am too weak on orbital mechanics to work it out, but essentially the explorer craft would "lasso" an asteroid and then hitch a ride until it reached a good "jumping off" point to match
orbits with Mars, Jupiter, or some other destination. Do any of my technically-inclined readers think this idea has any merit?
Spirit in Trouble?
Martian Soil is on the story.
From the Mouths of Babes. . .
Or pre-teen sons, as the case may be.
I'm working on a personal webpage right now, and one of the background graphics I am considering for the title bar is a lunar excursion module.
Tonight my 9-year old son looked at my progress and started asking questions about Apollo -- how many people landed there and when. I told him and then he asked if the Columbia had ever landed on the moon. I said no, even though there was a command module named Columbia. But no, I told him, the space shuttles can only fly in low Earth orbit.
He looked puzzled and said, "but where do they go? What planet?" Good question, son. Good question. The answer, of course, is nowhere but in circles for the last 20 years.
My son's question I think encapsulates the immediate emotional response I had to the President's speech a week ago. It's a question of goals -- where are we going? And why?
Before my rational self kicked in, I had a primal thrill that we would be going back to the moon to stay, and then to Mars. A dream I've had since I was 9 myself. And now I'm conflicted between my desire to see America lead the way in exploring and settling the solar system and my certainty that NASA cannot and will not accomplish that. And worse, that if they do, it will be a flags-and-footprints show like Apollo. Good for pictures that my son can show his kids someday, but not much else.
But that's the cranky grownup, not the idealistic child. Unfortunately, we won't really go anywhere to stay until there's a reason for cranky grownups to go. When space is just another place instead of an idealistic goal, we'll be there to stay.
Why have NASA?
In looking for his comments on the DC-X, I ran across some written testimony that Jerry Pournelle presented to the House Subcommittee on Space in 1995 posing this critical question.
Of course, a cynic might answer that we have NASA in order to employ some 18,000 government employees in space centers distributed throughout many powerful congresscritters' districts.
Of particular interest to this blog is the fact that Rocket Man Mark Oakley helped prepare some of the questions on vehicle design.
Read the whole thing, and then ask yourself where we might be today if the military had kept control of the DC-X (remember, as Jerry Pournelle points out, that the first thing NASA did with the DC-X was to crash it -- through incompetence rather than malice, but still. . .)
Space, The Final Frontier. . .
Not much blogging tonight, as I'm reading the speech.
My immediate reaction is somewhat negative, beginning with the setting. First, the President is at NASA and is addressing NASA employees, not the American people: "This will be a great and unifying mission for NASA, and we know that you'll achieve it. I have directed Administrator O'Keefe to review all of NASA's current space flight and exploration activities and direct them toward the goals I have outlined."
I don't want to watch superhuman astronauts exploring on my nickel. I want to do exploring for myself. And what's up with this? -- "We'll invite other nations to share the challenges and opportunities of this new era of discovery. The vision I outline today is a journey, not a race, and I call on other nations to join us on this journey, in a spirit of cooperation and friendship." Just what we need. Another feel-good international boondoggle like the ISS. I am afraid that these
steps will turn outer space into an Antarctica -- another preserve for PhDs and noone else.
Rand Simberg has some preliminary thoughts on this. Check out Jerry Pournelle, too. His prize proposal, and his favoring a higher-profile military role both parallel my thoughts on federal government involvement in space.
I would actually like to see several "dreamer fithp" (read this, if you don't get the reference) on the President's commission -- Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Burt Rutan.
Most other space policy bloggers are getting in on the action:
Fred Kiesche, who should put up a tipjar on his site.
Jay Manifold, who is promising more details real soon.
Still waiting to read Chris Hall's assessment of the speech.
Coming soon: my opinion of why we need to go (prompted by Anne Applebaum's execrable spew), and some thoughts on how I think we ought to go.
Back to the Future
Thanks to Chris Hall for listing me as one of the "pundits" he will visit regarding President Bush's expected announcement of a bold new vision for NASA: a return to the Moon to stay and a manned mission to Mars. But I'm going to go at this punditry in a roundabout way.
Charles Paul Freund, in the current [February 2004] issue of Reason, reviews a book entitled Where's My Space Age? by Sean Topham (see Freund, Charles. "Goodbye, Space Child: The space age's bureaucratic dreams sputtered out." Reason. February 2004: 55-61). As reported by Mr. Freund, Where's My Space Age? presents the material artifacts of the future as envisioned at the dawn of the space age -- from toybox illustrations, to comic book art, metallic dresses, and modular architecture -- and follows their development. Freund places this development in a dynamist context:
"[T]he Space Age stands out among various futures because, like the Atomic Age that it overlapped, it seemed to be taking shape. But only some of it -- communications satellites, for example -- reflected people's desires. Much of it was a state program established for geopolitical reasons. . . which meant that it was to follow the trajectory of the state's needs. As those needs shrank, . . . the Space Age that depended on the state's shrinking dreams got ever smaller too. Politically mandated futures don't develop, because the forces behind
them are artificial."
You can see a hint of this in William Gibson's The Gernsback Continuum, where a modern person falls into the alternative world where the idealized vision came true. As Freund writes, "the actual future turned out to be one of material, individuating plenitude and not at all of minimalist class conformity."
But old fashions have a way of resurfacing. Which brings us to this. Or should I say this. My initial reaction is "how cool." But my immediate emotional response is moderated by the fact that I remember the frustration of waiting for the shuttle Columbia to take off after years of delays and cost overruns. Shuttle has not delivered on the promises made to justify its construction.
I can also distinctly remember Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" speech, and his Space Station speech. We now have a barely habitable white elephant of a station. I also remember writing a space law paper a little more than 10 years ago that cited Bush 41's ambitious Space Exploration Initiative, which was a dead letter by the time the paper was done being edited just a few months later.
All that being said, I generally agree with the reported staging. I strongly believe we need to return to the moon first -- this time to stay. We cannot (and should not expect to) identify all hazards and risks before a multiple-year mission in deep space, which is what a manned landing on and return from Mars would entail. The moon is relatively close, but is the perfect "proving ground" to learn construction techniques, resource extraction techniques, and other skills that would be necessary to survive on Mars.
Also, if we do it right, the moon could be a great tourist destination (not much further away, timewise, than an ocean cruise). If we do it right, then the settlement of a moon base will be done in such a way that leads to cheaper access to orbit for ordinary people. If we do it right, parts of the Mars mission could be built and launched from the shallower lunar gravity well.
But notice all of the "if we do it rights. . ." I unfortunately have little confidence that the same agency that produced Shuttle and the ISS (and that crashed the DC-X as soon as it got it from the BMDO) can do this right. I'll have to reserve final judgment until the President makes his speech and there is something in writing to review. I tend to agree with Rand Simberg on these matters (and have been following his policy postings for some time). If you haven't already done so, read his preliminary post on this topic (he is sure to post more as more details become available) and read the comments left by his readers.
I'll update, too, as more details come out.
Update: I deleted a redundant sentence above. It seems from this article that President Bush agrees with my idea about going to the moon first as a "proving ground" for Mars.
Update: The article is now online here.
I've added a short list on the left of links that I am checking daily to keep up with the progress of Spirit (and, I hope, Opportunity, soon). I will augment this as I discover other good sources of information and commentary.
These are in addition of course to Rand Simberg, Professor Hall, Rocket Man Mark Oakley, and The Eternal Golden Braid, all of whom you should be checking on a daily basis anyway for more than just coverage of Mars.
The Spirit Has Landed
Looks like the Martians failed to repel this landing attempt.
One Step At A Time
The Rocket Man has another marathon post comparing and contrasting the development efforts behind big dumb boosters (ELVs), airplane-like reusables like Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne, and VTVL reusables like the DC-X or the RVT. ELVs, by their nature, are not amenable to incremental flight testing and development. We can all hope that the steady, incremental development of vehicles by the current crop of X-Prize competitors and the Japanese RVT program will lead to cheap access to space in the near future.
SpaceShipOne Breaks Sound Barrier
Yesterday, on the centennial of the Wright Brothers' first successful powered manned flight (and landing!), this airplane system made history. But you couldn't tell from the "professional" media coverage.
[*]Full disclosure -- I own a few hundred shares of SpaceDev stock, the first hundred of which I purchased several years ago when their core mission was to land on and claim ownership an asteroid.
Update: Here's a nice picture; wish there were a little more detail, but still breathtaking.
Good Overview of Suborbital Prospects and Problems
Clark Lindsey of Hobbyspace writes about the technical hurdles faced by suborbital RLVs, and interviews a number of the players in the rocket business, including the Rocket Man (you'll have to read the article to learn his real name).
Read the whole thing.
Like God and Robert Heinlein Intended
Lots of good stuff percolating in the blogosphere about "reusable" launch vehicles these days.
Rocket Man starts out with a 1500+ word essay asking after the whereabouts of RLVs. Read the whole thing and follow his links. It may be rocket science, but he is optimistic (like I) that a healthy suborbital RLV industry will lead to a healthy orbital RLV industry, incrementally instead of in one great leap. While he touches on the X-15 and Shuttle, He surprisingly doesn't touch on the US's aborted attempt to build a true rocketship, the Delta Clipper, as an RLV format. But others are filling the gaps, with Clark Lindsay at Hobbyspace covering the Japanese attempt to continue the concept with their RVT program (which I briefly wrote about back on October 24) If that link doesn't work, please scroll down in the archives.
I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Jerry Pournelle has a running commentary, including much debate about SSTOs here. He is the one from whom I cribbed the title of this post (in regards to rocketships that take off and land on their tails).
[Not the B-24] Liberator
Jeff Foust has an update to his earlier report on High Altitude Research Corporation's (HARC's) X-Prize entry, the Liberator, today. This past Saturday, HARC invited selected guests from the media and investor communities to view actual hardware (engineering test models at this point, not flight-ready articles). Jeff also provides a neat gallery of images from the event.
Poetry in Motion
Scientific American has named Burt Rutan to their Scientific American 50 list in Aerospace for "design[ing] a reusable suborbital passenger spacecraft."
I only wish the award could have been for designing and flying the world's first reusable passenger spacecraft, although there may yet be time for Burt to pull that off in 2003.
Exceptional XCOR Effort
In a letter dated October 29, 2003, the FAA's Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST) informed XCOR that its launch license application had been deemed "sufficiently complete."
This means that AST has to either issue a launch license to XCOR within 180 days or explain to Congress why it has failed to do so (see 49 USC 70105).
According to the AST's letter, this is the first sufficiently complete reusable Reusable Launch Vehicle mission license application to be received and evaluated by AST. Congratulations to XCOR!
Miller on Mars
NRO's John Miller points out that we space geeks can expect an extra Christmas present this year: the ESA's Mars Express is scheduled to deposit the Beagle-2 lander in Mars' atmosphere on December 25.
Miller also gives a couple of favorable reviews of space-themed coffee table books. I have added Magnificent Mars to my Amazon wish list.
Mr. Hudson Goes to Washington
Gary Hudson has provided testimony to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics for the 5
November 2003 hearing on H.R. 3245 - The Commercial Space Act of 2003.
I have only just begun to review and digest this, so I reserve the right to update or post more later.
Hudson, who developed the concept of the Phoenix SSTO vehicle and who was a driving force behind the DC-X and was the CEO of Rotary Rocket, describes the regulatory policy hurdles faced by our nascent commercial launch industry:
"However, the desire to fulfill international treaty obligations and to protect public safety has led us to a cul-de-sac in the road to a hopeful future. We have stumbled in our ability to promote the space flight industry, imposing an unclear, overly bureaucratic regulatory environment that is stif[l]ing innovation,
progress and commerce. We need to rethink our approach from first principles; that is the purpose of this white paper. "
He first recaps the 20-year old debate regarding licensing of commercial space activities:
"The origin of the debate goes back two decades. At that time, private rocketeers faced a number of Federal Agencies each who claimed they were in charge. These ranged from the FAA, which had the legitimate authority under the existing law, to the Department of State, which wanted to regulate rocket launches under the absurd notion that they were "exports." The professed goal of the sponsors of the first Commercial Space Act was to put an end to this problem and provide a "one-stop-shop" for launch approvals. I supported that unreservedly. "
But I lost the battle to limit the scope of the Act. Instead, a completely new entity was created: the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, as well as a completely new concept: Federal launch licenses. At the time, some of us complained that the new entity wasn't needed, that the existing law was adequate with minor revisions, and that the new OCST would not be able to figure out what to do about piloted reusable rockets. Our concerns were brushed
aside. They have now emerged as crucial to the future survival of an industry in crisis."
He criticizes the launch license process as overly burdensome:
"AST has grown increasingly bureaucratic. Launch Licenses are now Major Federal Actions. In spite of my warnings and counsel of the past five years, we have now reached a crisis. Experimental flight-testing of suborbital passenger vehicles has begun. AST is not up to the challenge of this development."
He then recommends the sure-to-be-controversial disestablishment of the AST:
"Therefore, I recommend the disestablishment of AST, and the elimination of the need for US persons to seek launch licenses. In its place, I propose that we return to the pre-1984 law governed by Federal Aviation Regulations. This will be sufficient to protect the safety of third parties and to fulfill international obligations. Piloted rocket aircraft of a variety of types will then be regulated by the FAA under experimental type certificates. Several rocket aircraft already have been issued such certificates."
But he attempts to address the expected objections before they are made:
"The strongest objection to such an approach comes from colleagues who wish to begin offering immediate passenger rides who fear the cost of FAA certification. I understand their position, and sympathize. And I believe that a barnstorming era for space transportation is desperately needed. But we can reach that result by other forthright action.
"Current FAA rules generally prohibit revenue flying of experimental aircraft. I propose we simply change the rule. Congress can permit certain experimental aircraft defined as space vehicles to operate under a limited exemption for a period of time -- 20 years. Coincidentally this is the same period from the Wright Brothers first flight to the establishment of the first Civil Aeronautics Authority in 1926. Some have asked how we protect the passengers on these flights? HR 3245 correctly supplies the solution by defining "spaceflight participants" as someone who would give their informed consent to fly."
Burt Rutan's first instinct was also to treat the White Knight/SpaceShipOne as an experimental aircraft to avoid applying for a federal launch license. Rand Simberg was quite critical of this approach, even citing a description of Rutan as a "bull in a china shop."
Rocket Man analyzes the design trade-offs, and particularly critiques the weight penalty of six separate propulsion and fuel systems for what he perceives to be the minimal added value of "graceful degradation." But he does have kind words for the aerobraking concept and the craft's planned method of powered landing after the manner of the DC-X. Rocket Man notes that he "would love to see a continuation of [the DC-X style of landing] testing with the MICHELLE-B." I'm sure he knows that the Japanese JAXA is in fact currently conducting experiments much like the DC-X in their reusable vehicle testing campaign.
TGV Rockets only has blueprints at this point, but they have a business plan and hint at funding to continue development of the MICHELLE-B even if another team wins the X-Prize.
Update on SpaceShipOne
The Scaled Composites crew used a modified Ford pickup as a mobile wind tunnel to test the aerodynamic fixes they developed to address the stall problem. The October 17 test flight demonstrated considerable improvement.
You have to love this. Can you imagine NASA ever using a pickup truck to validate tail assembly designs "on the fly" like this?
The Dark Side of the Moon
. . . Will be visible in North Texas this coming Saturday, 8 November 2003, with totality beginning at 7:06 PM CST and ending at 7:30 PM.
To find out when you can see the Total Lunar Eclipse in your location, check here.
When I was growing up, the few total lunar eclipses I remember took place either late at night or early in the morning. This one, by contrast, is perfectly timed to show to the kids and get them excited about something truly astronomical.
Update: This page is a good basic overview of the stages of the eclipse.
Libertarian Space Policy
Shoot the Moon
On Spaceref today, Frank Sietzen tells us that President Bush may be set to call for a resumption of manned flights to the moon "to develop advanced technologies that can support U.S. astronauts working beyond Earth orbit to not only the Moon, but eventually on near-Earth asteroids and Mars." One of the author's sources tells him that the space policy review was "not driven by any crash program mentality" but focused on how a new major manned space goal could both mobilize the U.S. space industry and boost morale at NASA.
Rand Simberg offers his views here and, as usual, I find myself largely in agreement with him.
When I was much younger, Moonbase Alpha seemed to be a long way in the future. Now I note that kids who entered college in 1999 have already graduated, and still there is no prospect of a permanent settlement on the moon. I really don't think the dysfunctional bureaucracy so skilled at flying circles in LEO for the last 20 years is the right horse to bet on to get us to the moon to stay. Nor do I think my tax dollars should be used to "boost the morale" of NASA.
Sietzen's article indicates that President Bush may wait until December 17, 2003 (the centennial of the Wright Brothers' flight) to announce this bold program. How great would it be if Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne makes its maiden flight into space on that day, as has been speculated? (See, e.g., the third paragraph from the end of this article).
Even if Rutan does not upstage the President on that date, the X-Prize format may provide an example on how to break NASA's stranglehold on this market. Jerry Pournelle drafted the following model legislation in 1984:
"The Congress has determined that a permanent colony on the
Moon is in the national interest of the United States.
The Treasurer is directed to pay the sum of $10 billion (Ten Billion US
Dollars) to the first US-owned company that shall place 31 American
citizens on the Moon and maintain them there alive and in good health
for the period of three years and one day.
This payment shall be exempt from Federal taxation. No money shall be
paid under this act until the conditions set forth above are fulfilled."
This Just In . . . Mars Is Cold And Dry
That's what this article basically says.
If you drill deeper into the article, though, you realize that the presence of large deposits of olivine on the surface of Mars only indicates the lack of recent liquid water. Since Mars' atmospheric pressure is only 0.06 bars, there shouldn't be any appreciable liquid water on the surface anyway.
I am more curious about the search for subsurface water, preferably close enough to the surface that settlers can drill for water without too much effort. Certainly other reports from Mars indicate the possibility of water close to the surface, if not on it.
How Do You Write "Delta Clipper" in Kanji?
(Here are some photos from an earlier test of the Japanese vehicle).
If you haven't run across this concept before, a space elevator is essentially a cable stretching from the equator to a counterweight/station located in the geostationary orbit above the ground station. Read this for more detail.
Until very recently, space elevators have been purely speculative, as no known material is strong enough to bear the cable's predicted loads. But because of advances in carbon nanotube fabrication technology, science fiction authors are no longer the only ones talking about the idea. Now scientists and researchers are starting to advance the idea that this concept is technically feasible.
Be sure to check back here periodically for further developments.
Just Keep Trekkin' On
And what did the space policy bloggers do while China launched its first manned mission?
Great Leap Forward?
China has launched its first manned space mission.
Yang Liwei, a 38 year old lieutenant colonel in the People's Liberation Army was the sole passenger on the Shenzhou V, following in the steps of Yuri Gagarin and John Glenn as his country's first representative in orbit (remember, Alan Shepherd did not achieve orbit). Rand Simberg is ambivalent.
I am too, in a way. On the one hand, I am always excited to see more people in space. The child in me still envisions myself in the capsule of that rocket. I of course hope the mission goes well and that the Taikonaut (or, more appropriately, Yuhangyuan) returns safely to Earth.
I am happy for China and hope that, like the space race in the 1960s between the US and USSR, this is a peaceful way for China to assert its nationalism, as opposed to invading its neighbors. In a sense, this also creates competition, which is usually a good thing. But it is competition among socialist space programs (and I class NASA as a socialist space program), so I have mixed feelings about the long-term value of this venture. I am happy, paradoxically, that the Chinese effort appears to have quite a bit of involvement by the Chinese military because I would like to see the US military spurred to take more ownership of our governmental space efforts. (Others do too, perhaps. . .)
Long term, I am convinced that humans will only expand into orbit and beyond if it makes economic sense to the individuals doing it. The conventional wisdom has long been that space is too expensive or too hard for private efforts. Several entrepreneurs are out to prove that wisdom wrong. And their first flights are the ones I am truly excited to see.
If you have been following the X-Prize (and Simberg) closely, you are probably aware of the concerns about which regulatory regime would govern suborbital flights with passengers -- the fairly
mature commercial aviation regime under the FAA (complete with ruinously expensive aircraft certification) or the Commercial Space Flight administrator (formerly under the DoT, currently under the FAA, and again under DoT, if the bill passes). As Rand points out, while the bill fills gaps left open in the Commercial Space Flight Act of 1984 to specifically address the issue of carrying passengers (a/k/a "spaceflight participants") as payload, it is a bit open-ended on the compliance requirements for a vehicle operator to carry a spaceflight participant. In other words, it leaves a great deal to the discretion of the regulators.
In all, it would be an improvement over the current regime, primarily for the certainty it would bring. But I can't help wondering whether the Wright Brothers would have succeeded had they been confronted with the mass of laws and regulations we now inflict on our innovators.
Mexican Hat Glance
I have to admit, when I first saw it, I thought "Photoshop." (As did an unfortunate troll in the comments section, who insisted that the image was faked, even after being given the link to an original, untouched photo).