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C’mon lucky number 7! Baby needs a new pair of shoes… February 25, 2008

Posted by shubber in CRATS, death, distracting PR, hot air, Manned Space, NASA, public service announcement, smack talk, space, Wasting Money.


Can anyone see the flaw in this logic:

Senior engineers working on the Ares 1 have determined that there is a high degree of danger of catastrophic shaking vibrations in the launch vehicle, with the expected bad outcome for those brave souls sitting on top. (See previous post on this topic here).

Aviation Week Article on Ares 1-X

NASA decides that the best way to verify this risk is to go ahead and build the vehicle and then see if it does in fact shake itself to bits… and if there are such problems, they can incur the expected enormously huge cost overruns necessary to fix those potentially fatal flaws (because NASA is rolling in the $$$… no, scratch that, I was thinking of the DoD. Nevermind). The contractors will of course be happy to eat the cost of the overruns and not pass them on to the taxpayers, because they designed a flawed rocket.

Ha ha! Nah, I’m just kidding.</Bender voice>

Oh, and while I’m not a big believer in the “stand back, give us the money, and let the private sector do it” mantra of the alt.space community, they have a valid point in raising the apparent hypocrisy of Mr. Griffin’s comment that NASA can’t do such a thing because it can’t rely on the private sector for its critical path.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily call it hypocrisy. More like irony.

Where’s Danny Ocean when you need him…?

(hat tip to Walking Eagle award winner Edward Wright, for sending out a link to this article)


The Drake Equation February 20, 2008

Posted by shubber in Uncategorized.

Priceless – from the website http://www.xkcd.com


If you don’t have it bookmarked, you aren’t a true geek. So bookmark it now.

Hey Batter Batter….. February 20, 2008

Posted by shubber in distracting PR, hot air, public service announcement, smack talk, space, Wasting Money.

Irony abounds.

A little over a year ago, various talking heads and the interest groups they represent engaged in all sorts of hand-wringing about those crazy Chinese after the ASAT test demonstrated that China could, in fact, shoot down a satellite (well, technically blow up a satellite, since I believe one of the concerns was that it replaced one large chunk of debris with a massive cloud of tiny bits of debris, creating all sorts of potential hazards for other spacecraft in the future…).

So, in order to prevent the potential for some apparently highly sensitive US satellite technology to fall into the wrong hands – or, alternatively, to prevent a cow from being hit by a de-orbited piece of space junk -the US Navy is now going to attempt to shoot down one of our satellites that’s on an uncontrolled re-entry trajectory.  There are a couple of concerns this brings to mind:

  1. If I recall my basic orbital mechanics and physics 101, wouldn’t some of the debris from said exploding satellite head up? And if so, will it create a problem for other LEO objects (read: still functioning satellites)?
  2. What if we miss?  I mean, how bad does that look if we can’t hit one of our satellites after the Chinese made a point of showing that they can shoot down a satellite? So much for deterrence…. Now I know that we are aiming at a rapidly moving target (I may be wrong, but I believe the Chinese sat was in a stable fixed orbit and thus more of a “sitting duck” – but please correct me someone if you know otherwise…) and so it’s like playing in the minor leagues vs. T-ball in little league, but the vast majority of the world won’t split such hairs and will simply use this as another example to point out US “failings”.  And I’m not sure this is such a good thing these days…
  3. Do we even really need to shoot this thing down? Is this more about having a chance to “test” one of our own ASATs then preventing the risk of (a) our technology falling in the wrong hands or (b) accidentally injuring someone on the ground if the satellite doesn’t completely vaporize…?

By the way… where did we get our ASAT? The way it sounded last year when the powers that be were bitching about the Chinese ASAT test, you would have thought they had invented some forbidden technology that all civilized countries had agreed we’d never invent (ha ha, just like ABMs in the 70s…).  “Beelzebub! Beelzebub! Beelzebub!”  Uh oh, now you’ve done it.

Play Ball!

The Perfect Storm… An End to (NASA) Manned Space? February 2, 2008

Posted by shubber in Congress, death, distracting PR, gauntlet being dropped, hot air, Manned Space, NASA, PYMWYMI, smack talk, space, space tourism, Wasting Money.

In a previous post (Housing, Homer, and Space…) I suggested that the worsening economy, combined with a change in political administration in 2009, would lead to the cancellation of the VSE and potentially the end of NASA’s manned space ambitions.  While a minority of commenters argued that we weren’t in an economic downturn and a recession was just me being cynical again, I think it’s safe to say that the majority now recognizes that the banking/housing mess is pretty severe and has a long way to go before it works itself out.  One indicator: political discussions/debates (if you can even call them that) in the run for the White House are focused more on the economy than that little excursion in the desert we conveniently seem to have dropped from the radar.  When the economy is more important than an actual WAR, you know there are some problems here at home.

The elements of the perfect storm (feel free to add others you think I may have forgotten):

  1. Retirement of the Space Shuttle – whether it’s 2010, 2011, or perhaps earlier (if, tragically, another shuttle is lost before the planned retirement date), this takes away America’s ability to send astronauts to space other than through the use of foreign launchers.
  2. Retirement of ISS – the beast that will not die(TM) will, in fact, eventually do just that.  NASA gloriously celebrated ISS’s 10th anniversary on their website recently.  I thought it was a bit ironic, given that arguments for forcing the deorbiting of MIR were based on the age of the station, the ISS will, by 2015, be roughly the same age or older than MIR was when NASA demanded it be condemned to a fiery/watery grave.  Now those of you who are more cynical than I might suggest it was due to fear of competition from the private sector, but we’re not going there right now… The more important point would be that ISS has failed to live up to the hype/lie upon which it was sold – industry has most certainly NOT lined up to use the orbiting facility, as we predicted in 1999 when we studied the commercialization potential of ISS at KPMG.  At the time our crystal ball was declared “broken” by those who, one might argue, had conflicting agendas and personal gain staked in the continuation of the program.
  3. Retirement of your Patron Saints – the last of the old guard is stepping down.  Congressman Weldon is retiring, and while it is clear that whoever replaces him will have to pander to the space contingent in Florida, that freshman congresscritter (male or female) will have NO seniority and very little to offer in the horsetrading that passes for budgeting on Capitol Hill.  Imagine Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars – very little understanding of the Force, and even less ability to use it.
  4. Cancellation of VSE – don’t kid yourselves.  This program is a Dead Man Walking.  If you work at NASA on this program – GET A TRANSFER NOW.  As soon as the votes are counted in November, this program is heading to the scrap pile – it has two very important negatives attached to it.  First, it was Bush’s idea (so you can expect that Obama or Clinton will give it about as much attention as they will to Albania).  Second, it costs WAY too much – especially in a time of recession and with too many interests clamoring for a share of our federal budget, a Mission to Mars won’t last – particularly when you also have your primary jobs advocate for Florida’s space force no longer around (see 3 above).
  5. The RECESSION – this is the biggie. The pain is already starting to be felt across the country – from Wall Street (the “subprime” meltdown revealing a much bigger systemic problem tied to derivatives and CDOs, requiring the entry of Sovereign Wealth Funds to prop up the otherwise UGLY balance sheets of household names like Citigroup) to Main Street (with more for sale signs and a rising number of foreclosures blighting communities across the USA). Unfortunately, the hangover after the 7 years of post-9/11 partying that we gorged ourselves on will be ugly, indeed.  Because it isn’t simply a matter of cutting back spending, many have to repay the overspending they already engaged in – which results in further contraction of current spending than simply returning to the mean, and that spells recession (or worse).  The recession will take years to work out, because it took years to build up – with the result being that it will likely last into the second term of the next president (or the first term of his/her replacement).  Since we, as a country, are loathe to have our taxes raised – arguably, they should be eliminated altogether, but that’s another debate – spending will HAVE to be cut, as the dollar continues to weaken and the government finds it hard to sell debt… because Economics 101 tells us that if a currency is weak it has to offer a higher interest rate on debt in order to compete with stronger currencies, BUT the government is unable to drive rates up because it will further damage the housing market (all those pesky ARMs that are tied to the interest rate). Talk about a rock and a hard place.
  6. And speaking of rocks… then there’s Iraq.  Or, as John McCain likes to imagine it, the next 100 Years War.  We are currently embroiled in two shooting wars that have no visible end in sight, in addition to numerous wars against nouns (Poverty, Terror, Drugs, you name it).  These cost money.  LOTS of money.  Assuming we don’t get involved in any more wars (shooting or otherwise) we are still burning the candle at both ends – from overdeployment of troops in theater due to a lack of fresh reserves to overtasking our folks here at home with “homeland defense”, the next administration(s) will be hard pressed to cut these areas of the budget.
  7. As the holy grails of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security remain off limits, and other lobbies (agriculture, big business, education, etc) have much stronger lobbies than the space community, it doesn’t bode well for NASA’s budgetary ambitions when it comes to a brand new program that has a BIG price tag associated with it.  This doesn’t mean NASA is dead – the other parts of the agency will fare quite well (after all, across multiple field centers there are lots of jobs in lots of districts, which protects NASA to an extent from too much budget cutting) and may in fact improve when that $16B or so is reallocated after Manned Space comes to an end.

Now there are those who would argue that any loss of momentum is a bad thing:

“If we stop and go in a different direction now, we will have lost a lot of the last four years and a lot of momentum. That would not be the kind of sustained national commitment that the Columbia board called for.” -John Logsdon, George Washington University

Unfortunately what he doesn’t realize is that while the Columbia board may have CALLED for a sustained national commitment, it appears they didn’t actually check with the American taxpayers to verify that they were signing up for this commitment. And in this, he’s not alone – many space tragics make the same mistake in transference of their personal desires and passions for space onto their fellow Americans.

It appears that NASA may have figured out that they’ve got a perfect storm brewing, and they’ve come up with an ingenious solution – PR.  That’s right, folks, NASA has gone to Madison avenue and hired a public relations firm to get the word out about how great Constellation is and how it’s important that we do whatever it is they intend to do with Constellation.  While I’m sure that some PR agency executives are happy with this decision (after all, they get paid), NASA won’t be happy with the outcome.  Because frankly, when economic concerns trump an actual WAR we are fighting (or two, if you consider Afghanistan and Iraq as separate countries), all the PR in the world won’t get the masses riled up about sending some astronauts to Mars, or back to the Moon, or even just to a nearby asteroid…

One thing that may give some of you heart, though, is that if NASA officially leaves the manned space game the door is wide open to you private sector proponents who have long claimed that they were the main obstacle to the successful private development of the sector.

… of course, if that wasn’t really the reason, then I suspect you aren’t going to be quite as happy about my prediction coming true as one might expect you to be.