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A quick recommendation October 10, 2007

Posted by shubber in Uncategorized.

One of the great things about internet 2.0 and blogging is all the cool stats you get with your weblog these days. For example, we’ve had over 10,000 hits in just the few short months we’ve been here on our new wordpress home! Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read our various posts, rants, and occasional bits of humor.

Another great thing is doing the “reverse surf” as I call it – look up where visitors came from and go see what those websites are like. Well, today I found a new one (to me) that, well, made me feel like I’d found my separated at birth siblings:

Mundane SF

The authors here have some great comments on the Google X-Prize, the craziness of mining the moon, and in my opinion just “get it” when it comes to separating the reality from the Kool-Aid.

’nuff said.



1. Ed Minchau - October 13, 2007

So, what do you consider koolaid? From what I can tell, you consider anything at all to do with space that costs less than a trillion dollars and the full force of the US government to be koolaid.

2. Shubber Ali - October 13, 2007

From what I can tell, you consider anything at all to do with space that costs less than a trillion dollars and the full force of the US government to be koolaid.

This comment of yours leads me to believe that either (a) you haven’t actually read through the many postings on this blog that I/we have made over the past year and a half, (b) did read them but have a serious reading comprehension problem, or (c) are just trying to make a pithy alt.space comment to somehow deflect the criticisms we’ve made over time on the various flavors of kool-aid that have been served up on the unsuspecting masses.

Which is it?

3. TomsRants - October 15, 2007

Actually, I consider most government central-planner ideas being bandied about of late to be kool-aid as well – mostly because (1) they’ll probably never get the funding needed to start with, or (2) if they do get some initial funding, they will fail due to unforeseen consequences, mismanagement, scope creep, or some combination, and Congress will belatedly pull the plug, but not before wasting lots and lots of taxpayer dollars.

4. Monte Davis - October 16, 2007

Ed: I don’t know about our hosts, but I consider Kool-Aid any approach to space that starts with the attitude: “It’s really easy, we’ve just been doing it wrong!” Some of the popular flavors are:

1) “It’ll be easy if it’s done by Lean Mean Entrepreneurs instead of Bloated Stodgy Government” (implied by the wording of your question)

2) “It’ll be easy if we concentrate on Inspiring Bleeding-Edge Moon/Mars Missions instead of going around in boring circles in LEO”

3) “It’ll be easy if we use MagicTech [SSTO, laser launch, space elevator, cheap & cheerful nuclear-thermal, Orion, etc]”

4) “It’ll be easy if we Recapture the Vision of Apollo and everybody else again wants space as much as we do”

I think becoming spacefaring is going to be hard and slow:

1) That the underlying challenge of high cost of entry, very limited current demand, and a long bootstrap process before big ROI generates bigger demand, are the same whether the money comes from taxes or from investors.

2) That until we can get to LEO much more cheaply, any mission beyond will inevitably be like Apollo (highly optimized to deliver the big thrill, unsustainable infrastructure, followed by 30 years of nostalgia)

3) That every alternative to staged ELVs needs to get over a bigger engineering and/or economic hump than its champions admit

4) That nothing — not the Yellow Peril, nor the Killer Asteroid, nor unlimited energy from SPSats or yummy lunar He3, nor orbital honeymoon hotels, nor Let’s Pretend It’s 1492 Again — is likely to bring back anything like the pace of 1957-1969

The Kool-Aid attitude would be harmless — except that by sustaining competing fantasies of silver-bullet solutions, it keeps space advocates from uniting in support of the gritty, unglamorous, slow and steady R&D that would get us somewhere.

5. Jim Davis - October 17, 2007

Monte and whoever else might have an opinion,

It seems that the “cynics” and the “Kool-Aiders” proceed from the same basic premise: that there will be a *huge* payoff from space in the future once we become “spacefaring”.

The difference between the two groups seems to be that while the “Kool-Aiders” think the payoff could come in a few years the “cynics” think that a few decades is more realistic.

Is it possible that the very premise might be false? Is it possible that we’ve *already had* the payoff from space? And that space, like, say, nuclear power, is one of those technologies that reached maturity in a few decades because fundamental limits were being butted up against? And that mankind is as “spacefaring” as he is ever likely to be?

Please note that I’m not saying that this is the case but can it really be casually dismissed as a possibility?

Jim Davis

6. Monte Davis - October 17, 2007

OK, I’ll confess to keeping my powder dry (grape) in a safe place.

Barring man-made catastrophe, I think there’s headroom for the species to get a lot richer and more technically capable — even sustainably so. And while I don’t buy many of the flimsy selling points advanced to justify space activity, there remains at their core something that is real and won’t go away: call it curiosity at first, at least enough to motivate manned outposts on the order of Antarctic research stations by late in this century.

Beyond that — colonization or the creation of habitats, terraforming — I simply don’t know, because beyond the 50-100 year range I don’t think we can predict what either “rich” or “technically capable” will come to mean. Something better than chemical or even nuclear-thermal rockets would be needed for the bustling Moon-Mars-asteroid SF scenarios, but on that time scale something better may well turn up. (I’m quite fond of space elevators, even though the certainty and speed of CNT development to the strength needed have been grossly over-hyped.)

Rather than pronounce an elegy for the space age (‘fun idea, didn’t pan out’), I’m inclined to take the word “age” seriously — as in “iron” or “bronze” — and to see us still very near the beginning. I can’t rule out the possibility of some Tokugawa-Japan-like inturning, but I find it hard to imagine one both worldwide and permanent.

(BTW, I don’t think nuclear power has come anywhere near fundamental technical or economic limits. The operative limit is that we don’t trust ourselves/each other with it — not that unreasonable, on the record so far. If CO2 concerns drive us to it… and/or if the Indian-Pakistani war of 2019 (or a few terrorist nukes) scare us all into growing up and adopting real collective controls… I don’t see any insuperable barrier to fission playing as large a role worldwide as it already does in France.)

7. Monte Davis - October 17, 2007

PS — should have said that I put all the “huge payoffs” in the category discussed in the third paragraph. i.e. beyond the 50-100 year horizon. Short of much much cheaper launch/propulsion, and/or von Neumann robotics that would let a small payload amplify itself into a mine/refinery, the Industrial Revolution in Space is on hold.

8. Ed Minchau - October 18, 2007

Shubber, I asked a straightforward question about a term that you use quite often; I am asking you to define your term. If the best you can do for an answer is to insist that I wade through your archives, then either you don’t know, or else my sarcastic remark hit way too close to home.

9. shubber - October 18, 2007

Sorry, Ed – but you ignore completely option 3: that we grow tired of having to explain to people like you every few months what we define as kool-aid. The answers provided by some of the commenters here are correct: kool-aid can be briefly summed up as things dependent on:
* unobtanium
* a complete lack of understanding of economics 101 (i.e., supply and demand)
* a non-existent market that research “proves” will materialize as soon as (thing X) is created
* a business plan that says we can get a reusable transport system if you only give us a few million bucks

Note, it can be one or more of the above – the list isn’t exhaustive, and it isn’t exclusive to the private sector. NASA, ESA, the Russians, and the rest regularly trot out their own government-sponsored kool-aid, only to quietly bury it a few years later while quickly waving their hands and pointing to the next “great thing” that is just a different flavor.

Does that help? If not – go read the archives.

10. Ed Minchau - October 19, 2007

Yes, that helps. You probably wouldn’t find yourself explaining this every few months if you weren’t comparing dreamers to the Reverend Jim Jones and his followers.

11. shubber - October 21, 2007

You probably wouldn’t find yourself explaining this every few months if you weren’t comparing dreamers to the Reverend Jim Jones and his followers.

My main beef is with those who, in Jim Jones fashion, dole out the kool-aid to the alt space community. Second to that is my beef with the idiots who choose to drink it.

The original drinkers of the “kool-aid” gave up their time, their resources, and eventually their lives, to the delusions of the Reverend. Alt spacers who drink the kool-aid give up their time, their resources, and in some cases their lives to the chimera of O’Neill’s high frontier (aptly named, that).

What’s the difference?

Oh, yeah. My tax dollars didn’t finance Jim Jones. They DO help pay for ISS…

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