In Space, Can Anybody Smell the B.S.?

As a sometime investor in various space-related startups, I troll the web periodically looking for potential opportunities or even just interesting technologies.

In the early afternoon of September 16th, I came across the web site for Masten Space Systems, Inc.:

I know next to nothing about the company other than it is located in Mojave and is working toward the announced goal of developing a reusable sounding rocket with several employees. This vehicle is to use vertical take-off and vertical landing technology for several flights daily according to the web site. I also understand that Masten has made a few tethered flights and is making some progress, which is laudible, and is also looking for potential qualified investors. Since I meet the definition of a qualified investor, I looked a bit more closely at their web site main page:

In case you have trouble reading the text over the image of the Earth, a vehicle, and space, I have copied it below:

What do you want to fly into space?

Masten Space Systems can fly anything you want into space and back for $250/kg:

· Increase your TRL level for NASA

· Build your own mini-Hubble telescope

· Customize your own earth imaging platform

· Test affects of zero gravity on biological systems

· Teach innovative STEM curriculum

· Create winning science fair projects

· Fly dailyheliospheric survey flights

· Find out what happens to … in space

Note the present tense: “… can fly anything you want into space … .” Note that this does not say that they will be able to fly, or that they hope to fly, but instead states that they can fly. As far as I know, Masten Space Systems has never flown anything into space, or even past the troposphere. ”Build your own mini-Hubble telescope.” If some high school student builds a functional “mini-Hubble” and flies it into space, I strongly suspect he or she would be able to win a science fair prize. “Fly daily heliospheric survey flights”? That’s even better.

OK, I’ll bite because I am a science buff as well as an investor. I want to fly a one kilogram passive payload into space twice in 2 days. That is $500. How about the first flight in a week — Friday, September 26th, with the second the following Saturday? Just show me your AST license for commercial sounding rocket flights to 100 km, guarantee the flights to deliver my payload to space, and I will escrow the funds Monday morning for transfer as soon as you certify the delivery to space. I can ship the payload by next day air Monday morning September 22nd.

Look fellows, I know that developing a vehicle is difficult. I know that obtaining funding is difficult. I even know that you appear to have progressed along your plan. However, I also know that putting out BS like this does nothing to maintain interest in investment in space startups. In fact, it is counterproductive and misleading. Vaporware hurt the software industry, and vaporware will not get us to space. Tone it down.

39 thoughts on “In Space, Can Anybody Smell the B.S.?

  1. Old Space Cadet, do you know how tall or high the Masten rocket is? If it is tall enough given the previous Cynics discussion, much of what you say may be irrelevant! Did YOU do any due diligence before your post to find out just how tall their rocket is to see if it reaches the edge of space?

  2. Just out of curiosity, what *does* happen when you follow through on their website? Let’s say you click on “1kg Custom Payload”, your cart is filled with same, you click “Checkout”, and make your payment via PayPal.

    What happens then?

  3. OSC,
    I could see how the phrasing on that could be misinterpreted–obviously it should have been future tense. The next paragraph after what you quoted does use the future tense correctly, but I could see how someone who doesn’t know us might be confused by the phrasing in the part you quoted. Thanks again for the constructive criticism. I’m flattered you spend so much time helping us wordsmith our website.

    I’m in the process of preparing some more content to the products page. It should clarify more of what we are trying to accomplish. Maybe you could give that a look over as well, once I have it up?

    ~Jon Goff

  4. Jim,
    You get on our list of people who’ve purchased slots on XA-1.0, and once we have XA-1.0 developed, tested, and flying commercially we fly your payload. If we take too long, you can ask for a full refund. We don’t touch a penny of the money until we’ve succesfully flown the payload.

    At least that’s my understanding of it. Pretty much as you would expect.

  5. For JG —

    You are welcome. That an observation that any potential investor should make as part of his/her due diligence since your main page is misleading. Congratulations on the Eagle, by the way. Be sure and read the part of the citation that pertains to “present” and “future.”

    Your assertion in your comment about the next paragraph is not quite correct: “XA-1.0 will take a 100kg payload to over 100km altitude on a sub-orbital trajectory several times in a single day. It is part of a line of spacecraft that use vertical landing technology to reduce turn around time and launch site logistics. For more information see our product roadmap.”

    The first sentence appropriately states “…will take…” but the second sentence incorrectly states “… is part of a line of spacecraft that use…” – all present tense. All of this present tense nonsense gives a false impression of readiness and availability that isn’t really corrected until a person delves more deeply into the web site.

    Also, Professor L would like to ask the Propulsion Engineer how tall the rocket is.

    Garbanzo Bean, where are you? If we are going to have an old-fashioned scrum related to Masten, we need you and your misguided analysis —

    The Old Space Cadet — “Becoming spacefaring one correctly conjugated verb at a time”

  6. Professor L, I am having difficulty matching the person who hosts The Space Show with the person who wrote “Maybe it asks you to bend over?” in these comments. Shame.

  7. Dr Jurist,
    Anyone who actually bothers to read our blog can tell exactly where we are at technically. I am sorry if I somehow offended you at some point, but have to admit I’m somewhat disappointed at the immaturity of all this. You, Dr Livingston, Tom Olsen, Shubber. I used to have a lot of respect for your opinions, but your immaturity is kind of unbecoming in a man of your age. I remember how your group was bemoaning the infighting and immaturity in the industry a few years ago, saying that we had a “circle the wagons and fire inward mentality”. That was a good and valid point. I’m sorry to see that you guys failed to internalize it.

    I’ll take your comments as *constructive* criticism even if we both know they weren’t meant as such. Let me know when you guys grow up and decide to start use your writing talents again to actually benefit the industry again, instead of just stroking your egos.


  8. For Jon G: The financial arrangements you describe above seem to set Masten apart from the pac on the positive side. Good going. Good arrangements. Keep it real and fly to space. All kidding aside, there are lots of us out here that want to see your success and the success of others working to achieve low cost space access and space tourism.

  9. As for me, Jon, I’m just tired of the pretense, hyperbole and misuse of language in the so-called New Space industry. This is by no means unique to Masten. It’s everywhere. It’s Elon waving his arms about Dragon and Falcon 9 when a Falcon 1 has yet to fly successfully. It’s about all the other launch firms – particularly the Mojave crowd – claiming hundreds of tourist flights are “only 2 years away”, while every two years the hockey stick gets pushed back. Then the industry whines about how they’re all strapped for cash and complain bitterly that the old-boy investment club won’t give them another look.

    I just wish everyone would simply shut up and fly something. THEN shout it from the rooftops.

  10. For the person only identified as “a reader,” you would have more credibility were you out of whatever closet you wish to be in for purposes of this blog. If you are the person who sent a personal hate note to me late last night (full of assumed and incorrect conclusions), just so you know, I am about to put that full string with my reply up on this post, including the name under which is was sent, no email address of course. Furthermore, rather than spend time attacking a messenger with either a serious or clearly a spoof comment, how about dealing with the facts in the Old Space Cadet post. Make your challenges on the facts, on the merit of the argument, don’t waste your energy as you have done by going after personalities. Focus is always a preferred way to discuss important issues and Old Space Cadet raised some important issues, not just about Masten and NewSpace, but lots of companies and organizations doing lots of things, even outside the space community. As I once said before on Cynics quoting one of the masters of an earlier generation, “Just the facts, Ma’m. Just the facts.”

  11. Cynics readers, as referenced in my above post on this blog, I received the note below (the bottom of this string) from a one Asere Monina ( I don’t know this person) regarding my comments on the Old Space Cadet Cynics post re Masten. In an effort to maintain transparency, I am copying the note to me and my reply below. Note that it is not my intent to be offensive to anyone. Humor is fair game to me, especially on the blog and sometimes on the show. That said, if anyone was really offended by my bend over comment, I do apologize for your being offended but I also think you do need to lighten up and take things in context. And rather than make lots and lots of false accusations about me or anyone else, I strongly urge people to stay with the facts and the merits of what is being talked about rather than attacking a person, personality, etc.

    Here is my full reply with the original note from Asere Monina at the bottom of this string.

    All the best,

    David L (Professor L on this blog)

    Reply and original note from the sender:

    Umm, I see my first reply to you from my cell phone did not print all the words and letters correctly. Excuse Verizon for that one. Here is the note corrected. Despite it being late, I decided a worthy reply to you was worth correct spelling and full wording. I would also like to add some info that you are likely not aware of as you are too bent on sending a note based on emotion than fact.

    1. Jon Goff assisted me last fall in teaching one of my problem solving grad classes in the Space Studies Dept. of UND re how best to achieve low cost space access. I would not have invited Jon to be a guest lecturer in my class were it not for the respect I have for him and Masten. That does not mean we always agree, it does mean there is lots of respect there. Jon is a good engineering and likely getting better all the time, just like the company Masten.

    2. Dave and Mike have been on the show and they both know they are always welcome to be back on. I bet they know that my poking fun re the comment made by Jim was just fun. Furthermore, as to the height of the rocket, that goes to a much earlier post by Shubber re politics, Obama and Palin. Many of us have been having some good laughs with the great paragraph Shubber wrote on space qualification, Russia qualifications and it got extended to making rockets taller to reach the edge of space. Assuming you do have a sense of humor, go back a few posts and read that string.

    3. I suspect you did not see the other comment I made on the Cynics post about Masten Space re the comments Jon Goff made. To save you the time for going back and finding them, this is what I posted:

    “For Jon G: The financial arrangements you describe above seem to set Masten apart from the pack on the positive side. Good going. Good arrangements. Keep it real and fly to space. All kidding aside, there are lots of us out here that want to see your success and the success of others working to achieve low cost space access and space tourism.”

    Now, if you decide not to listen to The Space Show again, so be it. But as I said in the original cell phone reply to you, my suggestion is you lighten up, you act on facts, not emotion, and you stay grounded in reality if you want to see us get to space with any company now or in the future. If you want us to become a space-fairing culture, it won’t happen by hanging out in la la land. If you listen to my show, you know this is a frequent theme on the show and not directed at any one company, government agency, group of people, etc. Its a general statement across the board and it is my opinion that too many of us space cadets, myself included, do spend too much time in la la land and with our wish lists rather than grounded in reality.

    Since your note to me assumed conditions and sentiments not based on any fact, I excuse you for your excessive emotional display. Next time you want to express yourself, and I hope you do so frequently, do so factually. Do not assume facts that are not in existence, OK?

    One last thing, I have sent a copy of this note and your comments to me to the other three Space Cynics. Perhaps they might want to reply to you directly or on the Old Space Cadet Cynic post. Also, if you have something to say, say it on the Cynics post for everyone to read and consider. Transparency is important in this industry and to the Cynics as well.

    All the best.


    Following below is my corrected cell phone original reply to you.
    “Thanks for your comments. I guess you have no sense of humor or fun about you. Masten & group are good guys but nobody is out of reach of some fun. I did not post the Cynics post, Dr. Jurist made the post. I offered a sarcastic reply to something someone else posted. I hope you posted a comment re the actual post by the Old Space Cadet. Sorry you were offended. Keep the faith & stay reality based & lighten up a bit. David ”


    From: Asere Monina
    Sent: Sunday, September 21, 2008 1:42 AM
    To: DrSpace
    Subject: Masten Space Systems and The Space Show

    Well. What do you know. In all this time happily listening to The Space Show, wonderfully hosted by Dr. Livingston so respectful and professional, who would have guessed about Professor L, his cynic alter ego. You wrote the following comments on the cynics blog on Masten Space Systems and David Masten (included below). What an old sick spite filled fellow you turned out to be. What a disappointment. What do you have against them huh? Truly pushing slowly to take us to space, and betting their own money on it, and you just mock them, and in such low fashion? Shame on you Dr. David Livingston. So long, you just lost a listener. Not that you care anyway. Jeez, if only the people who go to your show would know the stuff you write behind their backs. Maybe they should…

  12. JG:

    In my opinion, speaking, writing, or otherwise communicating in the present tense for things that don’t exist is not only misleading, it is either fantasy or bordering on fraud.

    Wild exaggeration has no role in any type of communication about a business. That is especially the case with a business seeking investors. Had these kinds of claims involving present tense for nonexistent vehicles been put into a stock registration, either Federal or State, they would potentially be grounds for prosecution of the corporate principals.

    If you consider that communicating about these problems in a facetious way is immature, unbecoming, and causes you to lose respect, so be it. That is your problem, not mine.

  13. (I’m a long-time reader, first-time commentator, and normally shy, back-of-the room girl…but this was just too much to resist…)

    Jonathan Goff –

    You speak with great authority on both rocket propulsion and investor relations (despite the potentially fraudulent claims publicly made on your boss’ web site). Just out of curiosity – upon what do you base your expertise in the aerospace industry? What was the title of your master’s thesis, from which I’m assuming you draw a great deal of your current experience and knowledge in the matters at hand, since this is obviously an early job for you?

    It is extremely unfortunate – especially for your company and its future – that you are unable to take constructive criticism in a humorous vein. I should think that going through an engineering program would instill that ability in a person.

    You have made your insecurities abundantly clear. The Cynics have merely deemed it necessary to inject a bit of realism into the community – not because they are nay-sayers, but because they (more so than you, evidently) hope more than most to see success in Frankly, I think you should be tickled that these gents have taken an interest in your company and its future by pointing out downright significant flaws in its presentation. A shiny web site touting a purportedly operational vehicle to potential investors borders on fraud, Jon.

    How does one best scare investors away from in general, thus endangering the future of the movement? Answer: by giving investors the illusion of immediacy with no discernable results and by taking customer money under false pretenses. It’s like watching Sisyphus pushing that rock up a hill, all the while asking onlookers to join him in his boondoggle. These guys are just trying to help you, Jon. They’re trying to help your company, not hurt it.

    Frankly, having watched the recent test flights of your vehicle, you’re a long way away from both a controlled flight and from reaching 100 km. It’s an arduous process to go from a vehicle bouncing around on a tether to a fully-controlled flight. And yet you were selling tickets for this thing’s big brother? The Cynics’ comments bring to your company the burden of reality, which is necessary for its success (for which, I feel confident, we all cheer).

    I’m a big believer in the power of correct grammar. It would appear that your company is using the Indicative when it should be using the Subjunctive. That’s a significant difference, especially in the eyes of potential investors.

    You accuse the Cynics (particularly OSC) of immaturity and mud-slinging, simply because they refuse to stroke your ego and pat you on the back for a job *not* done. I find this particularly amusing, since you, sir, chose to begin using the Cynics’ real names rather than their handles in a sad attempt to ignite a name-calling contest.

    Your attacks are disproportionate, and you reveal your weaknesses. Boy, these guys sure got under your skin, didn’t they?

    I see that in a wounded burst of self-righteousness, you have decided to remove the Cynics’ link from your personal blog. That’ll show ’em. Why on earth would you launch a personal attack on OSC and his comrades from your blog, where none of your black-listed bloggers even post? And *you* accuse *them* of immaturity?

    Ultimately, if you’re going to pretend to be an expert, at least display some expertise or document the experience to make us believe it.

    As a long time space enthusiast, I am thrilled to see companies like Masten exist. Like the Cynics, I want nothing more than to see these companies succeed. In that vein, I fully support the Cynics’ valiant efforts to cut through the bulls@#$ and contribute to the streamlining of otherwise verbose companies. You guys have to get down to earth before you’ll ever be able to get to space.

    (Now please, Jon – don’t go off to the corner and pout some more. Come back and play with the big boys [and girl] again).

    All the best,

  14. This blog use to remind me of a strange cross between a Monty Python sketch (Is this the right room for an argument?) and a section in Private Eye (Pseud’s Corner).

    Now, however, it’s starting to bear a striking resemblance to a scene from Blazing Saddles (except Jon has yet to ask “Hey! Where the white women at?” 🙂

  15. Thalia,
    A few points:
    1-I don’t pretend to be some sort of expert or authority in rocket propulsion. I’ve built and fired a few engines, which may put me ahead of most college kids or internet dreamers, but that doesn’t make me an expert by any stretch. I discuss rocket propulsion a lot on my blog because it’s a topic in which I’m deeply interested–not because I’m trying to set myself up as an authority that I’m not.
    2-No, my master’s thesis had nothing to do with rocket propulsion whatsoever. My school didn’t have an Aerospace Engineering department, and like most grad students, I had to pick a topic that my thesis advisor was interested in. The title, for what its worth is:
    “Modeling of Radial Modulation of a Low-Pressure Water Jet By Means of Piezoelectric Transducer to Induce Jet Pulsation for Dental Applications”. Hardly the thriller, that one.
    3-As you’ve noticed, we’ve been *very* public about not only our successes, but our failures, setbacks, and where we really are progress-wise at the present time. I guess it might be possible for someone who doesn’t poke around and read the blog or the rest of the site, or even the rest of that page to come off with the impression that we’re claiming we’re currently flying. That was never the intent. We’ve had actually been trying quite hard to be brutally honest with people about where we are at in the development process, and how much further we have to go.
    4-Pre-sales of which we aren’t touching a penny of until we deliver the flights are perfectly legit IMO. People can see from our site that we’re not flying yet, and can judge for themselves on how likely they think that will be. So far, I think we’ve only had one person ask us for a refund. Most of the pre-sales customers have been really supportive actually.
    5-Our website, our blog, and our business plan all clearly state that we’re not flying yet, that we’re still early on in the development program, and that we have a lot of time and money between us and having a commercial suborbital business. If someone wants to invest in us and doesn’t do enough due diligence to be clear on that point, I wouldn’t want to touch their money with a ten foot pole.
    6-All that said, michael changed the one word that got this whole thing going. Now instead of can it says will.
    7-I wasn’t actually all that offended by this original post. John actually had a legit point, which we took as constructive criticism and acted on. Most of what pissed me off was their giving Dave the Walking Eagle award. Of all the people in the community, claiming that Dave was the most deserving of that is a lame joke. Quite frankly, had they given it to me, I probably would’ve just laughed it off, but I tend to be a little more sensitive about people insulting my friends than people insulting me. Maybe I need to grow up a bit too.


  16. Professor L, I am having difficulty matching the person who hosts The Space Show with the person who wrote “Maybe it asks you to bend over?” in these comments. Shame.


  17. JG —

    Perhaps you need to work on your reading comprehension as much as your maturity. The award was not given to Dave Masten, but to Masten Space. Please rest assured that you played a major role in winning the award for your employer. I agree — Dave is a really nice guy. You, sir, are not. Your personal attack was over the top.

    On a more serious note, the 4 Cynics pointed out misleading wording on the Masten web site with the corporate award. It was done with some not very subtle humor, but it got your attention. Mission accomplished.

  18. Adam – Not to defend Professor L, but the disconnect you’re experiencing comes from the fact that, while the good Doctor always tries to act with consummate professionalism and integrity when promoting himself and doing the show, his private e-mails and phone conversations with those closest to him can be heavily salted with, shall we say, “coarse” expressions, depending on his mood. That’s just his personality – he’s a passionate man. It can be mine as well – not to his extent, perhaps, but as for myself, if I let something like that slip out onto the public sphere I would feel rather chagrined, to be sure (and it’s probably happened, and I’ve allowed myself to conveniently forget about it since ). How he himself feels about it, I can’t say, and won’t try to project.

    None of us are paragons of human perfection. But I also feel this topic has metastasized well beyond its actual impact on anyone’s life. Perhaps we should just lay it to rest and move on.

    And if you want to throw out the baby with the bath water over it, I can’t prevent it…you’ll just miss my upcoming 4-part series in October deconstructing Space-Based Solar Power. You think some people are upset now? Just you wait.

    Oh, and Jon…if you want to make disparaging comments about me, at least spell my name correctly. You and English, I swear… 😉

  19. Adam and any others complaining about my post, please read my previous comments on this. Also, lighten up a bit . As I said above in the previous posts on this, but I will say again in case you missed, it, the object was not to offend anyone so if anyone was offended by that spoof comment, you have my apology. But lightening up a bit would do you and maybe all of us on this and most other space blogs some good. If you still have a problem with my post, I probably can’t help you. But I would encourage you to check my newsletters for the next Open Lines show and call and take me to task for it and have an intelligent discussion on air about it. I would be happy to take your call when I go to Open Lines next time. At the moment, no such show is planned, I just did one a few weeks ago. But they are published in advance and again, I encourage you or anyone who wants to come after me on that post to step up to the plate and discuss it with me. My rules are as follows: Nobody does character assassination on The Space Show. We try to stick to facts, not rhetoric. No foul language, no hate talk or speech, nobody gets put down on the show. Ideas are fair game. Track records are fair game. So if I offended you and my apology is insufficient, here is an opening for you or anyone else to hold me accountable for the post that you do not like.

    As this topic was not the topic of the original post by OSC, I do regret making it because it sidetracks an important discussion. My post and my show are not the subject of the post and should not be diverting attention from the need for accurate representation of biz plans and capabilities. Jon is responding to those issues and so has OSC. What I said is not really part of a discussion that needs to be aired about NewSpace in general (also known as So to the degree that I have diverted and side tracked an important discussion and debate, I clearly regret my post. Now, can we please return to the debate and discussion topic OSC brought to our attention and the responses that Jon Goff has offered? I hope so because the subject of accurate statements made by companies is far bigger than Masten.

    For those that pay attention to the space investment programs and other VC type forums for NewSpace, their is a serious concern about inflated rhetoric poisoning the well for companies seeking funding from professional money sources. This becomes more important when we are all in the economy we now find ourselves in for a variety of reasons. From the perspective of Cynics and money pros, making sure that claims and records are accurate and match track records is essential. That is what the debate is about and should be about. I believe that is what OSC was doing with his post. All of us want Masten and a host of other smaller start-ups to be successful. While I can only speak for myself, I assure you that I would like nothing better than to see Masten, XCOR, Rocketplane, Armadillo, Interorbital all become winners in the commercial market. Each and every one of them. If you look at my show schedule, you will see multiple programs with most of these companies, others are harder to schedule and some are impossible to schedule though listeners want to hear from these companies. Then we have Blue Origin where PR is virtually impossible to obtain. Since all the Cynics have been and are guests on The Space Show, you can hear in their own words what they say and how they support and want winners in NewSpace, Masten included. All are on the record in their own voice supporting the community while trying to establish higher and professional standards so for anyone reading this blog to think that Cynics are an enemy of Masten or any other company, you simply do not know what you are talking about. Our support and love for NewSpace also means that we strive for accuracy standards and factual representations when necessary. So its not wise to misconstrue or label Cynics with that which is untrue and false.

    For your advance notification, Shubber Ali will be the guest on The Space Show Tuesday evening, Sept. 30, 7-8:30 PM PDT. Listen and participate if you can.

  20. Dear Space Cynics,

    I assume you gave Dave Masten the Walking Eagle award because his company has advertised its services, taken customer’s money but has, as yet, failed to “deliver the goods”. However, Virgin Galactic has also advertised its services, taken customer’s money — several orders of magnitude more than Masten Space — but has also, as yet, failed to “deliver the goods”.

    Does this mean that Sir Richard Branson is in line for a “Walking Eagle” too, or am I just being cynical?

    Please be so kind as to give us your expert opinion on this situation… inquiring minds want to know!

  21. JG-

    1) You said “I don’t pretend to be some sort of expert or authority in rocket propulsion” though I was under the impression that you were a propulsion engineer. I hope that since you aren’t an expert in propulsion, that you are, in fact, not a propulsion engineer. If you are, well, I can see why there are some technical difficulties.

    2) You said “As you’ve noticed, we’ve been *very* public about not only our successes, but our failures, setbacks, and where we really are progress-wise at the present time.” I looked at the youtube videos the other night and I fail to see the “crash and burn” which I was told took place. Now is the friend of mine who told me about this lying (I have no reason to believe he is) or is someone at your company too embarrassed to give the full truth?

    I work in tech transfer and commercialization. I help small businesses get grants and partnerships with more established companies in order to benefit everyone involved. I also have to tell a company if they need to terminate the project before any more money is wasted. I have to weed through so much BS on a daily basis that it isn’t funny. In answer to the question OldSpaceCadet posted in the title “In Space, Can Anybody Smell the B.S.?” I don’t know about in space, but I can sure as heck smell it down here on Earth and the scent is pointing to the latest recipient of the Walking Eagle.

    I completely agree with Thalia regarding the immaturity that you posted on your own blog. Now that is just embarrassing for you. How many readers do you honestly think your comments and posts will cost Cynics? If nothing more, you will point more people in direction of them. Your post is much more likely to hurt yourself and your company then them. They don’t have a dog in the fight and are calling it like they see them and you are acting like a 5 year old whose Mom told him he was wrong. No, wait, that would be offensive to 5 year olds.

    PS: For those of you who are giving David grief about his “cynical alter ego,” might I remind you that the title of the blog is Space Cynics? What did you expect? Did you expect him to spew Sunshine and pee Rainbows? Come on guys. The Cynics tell you what you want to hear whether or not you want to hear it and there is no “special snowflake” pass that will protect you from them if you invest too much in fantasy.

  22. Dave:

    The difference between Virgin and other companies is that the principals of Virgin (unlike most other firms), are internally capitalized and have a track record of fulfilling a particular business or technology vision, i.e. Branson with everything else Virgin does, and Rutan with SpaceShipOne. People who leave deposits with Virgin do so from having confidence in the program. Those deposits are fully refundable, especially if Virgin misses their self-imposed market deadline.

    WhiteKnightTwo has already been introduced to the world. SS2 will follow shortly, and will undergo flight testing. In short, they are doing exactly what they say they are going to do, and pretty close to when they say they are going to do it. Few others can make that claim, yet act as if they’ve already done it.

    No Eagle for Virgin – sorry.

  23. I stand corrected. According to Dr. Space:

    “…I have read the contract with Virgin and the deposits are not refundable (fully), Virgin can use them for the general business if they want, etc. If you want a refund, you wait a minimum of 6 months and Virgin tells you what percentage of your money you get back. There is no escrow of funds, nothing like that…

    “…SS2 has not been worked on since the accident. Burt put out an email [saying] the accident investigation would likely cause a change in their propulsion but he had no clue what it would change to because the report was not final. … As far as I have heard, there is no resumption date for work on SS2 and there is no accurate time line for when it might enter testing or commercial service.”

    WK2, however, is expected to enter testing any day now. And SpaceDev has contracted to work on propulsion needs for SS2. Are there delays? More than likely. There should be. There was an industrial accident that killed two people. That has to make one stop and reassess. But my original point was that this group has the track record and the resources to make it work, far and above most others in the arena. I would trust them with my money more than anyone else.

    So still no Eagle.

  24. “Those deposits are fully refundable, especially if Virgin misses their self-imposed market deadline. ”

    Yes, but think about the opportunity cost of all the investment income they’re forfeiting by just letting all that money sit there for years. They obviously lack financial acumen.

  25. Thomas,

    Branson and Rutan have impressive track records but what they’re trying to do is clearly pushing the boundaries of their experience. I’m not just talking technology here but the overall business model, which is more an article of faith than a sound business judgment: sure, there are people who want to fly, but are there numbers sufficient to sustain a viable business?

    Having said that, I’d point out that a business like Masten has set itself a far more conservative set of initial goals and, more importantly, these goals aim to make money without putting peoples lives at risk! Moreover, the necessary level of technology stretch has, in effect, already been demonstrated by Armadillo, so it’s really just a question of whether they have an equally good management and engineering team.

    Virgin has certainly got the PR machine to win over the hearts and minds of the general public, but I think the events of last week were a powerful reminder that even the most glittering of images can sometimes tarnish quite fast.

    Anyway, you provided an answer my question in a rather civil manner and I thank you for that. However, as you can probably tell, I’m not convinced by your argument but it’s “your blog, your rules” as they say, so I’ll leave it at that.

  26. melsmarsh,

    Regarding your comment about being an expert: it depends on how you define expert. Does it mean having “skill” or does it mean having “a high degree of skill” within a discipline? Clearly, JG meant the latter and I appreciate his clarification. His expertise, while not being at the level of von Braun, hardly merits being mocked.


  27. I remember when the Walking Eagle used to mean something. It took years of peddling kool-aid, consistently outrageous statements, secrecy, and it took the committee weeks of deliberation. Now they hand them for grammar police violations at the spur of the moment? Now I feel like my Walking Eagle means nothing. All of my hard work …

  28. To Jonathan Goff: Reality Check, Part 1

    It looks like Melsmarsh astutely outlined most of the points I had intended to make in response to your recent comment. Indeed, I would want my propulsion engineer to have some expertise in propulsion. I guess I’m just old-fashioned, though.

    Frankly, Jon, you should be embarrassed by your behavior, especially as a representative for Masten Space Systems, Inc. If I were Masten (Dave, not Space Systems), I would not be particularly pleased to see my chief propulsion engineer making such unfounded, immature attacks against a figure like OSC, who is an established investor in the realm.

    Notwithstanding OSC’s interest (or lack thereof) in Masten Space Systems, there is one thing you clearly need to learn about the business world, kiddo: investors talk to each other. Haphazardly berating the Cynics when one of them was a founder of the Space Investment Summit series, at which Michael Mealling soon wants to network with potential investors, is not especially wise, is it? Your lack of professionalism reflects poorly on your company. You seem to imagine yourself to be some sort of wunderkind, correcting and scolding graybeards and Ph.D.s (and with your extensive knowledge of dental drills and your self-admitted lack of expertise in the rocket propulsion arena, who could blame your tendency toward arrogance?)

    At any rate, I’ve decided to comment on some of your recent accusations of the Cynics. What has even provided for more laughs, however, has been establishing your overall behavior of immaturity, coupled with the Cynics’ objectivism and tongue-in-cheek humor. I will therefore split this comment in half, since I know how you struggle with reading comprehension.

    The most immature kind of apology is the half-hearted type that is strewn with justifications and rationalizations. Sure, you suppose you may have overreacted to the Walking Eagle and OSC’s comments – but hey, you were just defending your good buddy and respected boss, despite the fact that absolutely NO attacks were made on Dave Masten. Please note that OSC has repeatedly expressed his respect for Dave Masten, as well as his understanding of the difficulty inherent in the project which Masten Space is undertaking.

    Read carefully, Jon: the Walking Eagle award lists Masten Space Systems, Inc. – NOT Dave Masten – as its recipient. The physical award, from what I have learned, was mailed the afternoon of 9/19. Check the postmark. OSC’s recent blog entry was made the afternoon of 9/20, and he refers specifically to “Masten Space Systems, Inc.” in all instances but one: “I also understand that Masten has made a few tethered flights and is making some progress, which is laudable, and is also looking for potential qualified investors.” Given the context of the passage (which, as you can see, pats your company on the back), it is clear that OSC is referring to Masten Space Systems, Inc. rather than its namesake.

    You claimed in a comment on your blog that according to Google’s cached version of this blog entry (I am here assuming that you were referring to the blog entry, since your reference was so vague), the original version listed Dave Masten as Eagle recipient, whereas the revised version lists Masten Space Systems, Inc., as the recipient. Another skill you need to learn in addition to reading comprehension and proper grammatical communication, Jon, is citation. What is the date of the cache to which you refer, and what are the specific contextual instances in which OSC supposedly referred disparagingly to Dave Masten? Are you even referring to OSC’s post, rather than the text under the Eagle insignia? Furthermore, did you make a screenshot of this cache, or do you have any proof of its validity?

    I’m now going to switch gears and break things up a bit by continuing my thoughts in a forthcoming second comment…

  29. To Jonathan Goff: Reality Check, Part Deux

    Let’s take a trip down memory lane. You have lobbed a variety of attacks against OSC and the other Cynics recently, accusing them of being “immature, arrogant, narcissistic teenagers” (this from your 9.20 personal blog). I find this laughable, since you, Jon, are the kid who had been posting nauseating weekly updates on your stop-and-go thesis progress, assuming that anybody actually cared. That is narcissism at its worst. Remove the plank from your own eye first. You suggest that OSC has consistently, over the past six months, derided Masten Space. I have seen him question incongruous claims made on its web site once or twice, but that’s it.

    At any rate, I decided to delve further into this matter, since it provides for so much hilarity. I will now illustrate, grouped according to topic, an established pattern of immaturity displayed by none other than yourself, Jon; I will show that you are responsible for launching unfounded, personal attacks against the Cynics (OSC in particular) with no instigation whatsoever. I will additionally show the Cynics’ established behavior of exhibiting objective, impersonal lines of argument intermingled with wit and humor. Because I am confident that you will cry out against the unfairness of taking quotes out of context, I have provided proper citations for every quote below (again, take notes).

    (1A) OSC, comment, Cynics blog, 9.20.08: “The first sentence appropriately states ‘…will take…’ but the second sentence incorrectly states ‘…is a part of a line of spacecraft that use…’ – all present tense. All of this present tense nonsense gives a false impression of readiness and availability that isn’t really corrected until a person delves more deeply into the web site.”
    (OSC here provides an impersonal look at grammatical errors in your company’s web site that vastly affect the veracity of the site’s claims. He also *acknowledges* that upon further inspection of the web site, this “false impression of readiness” is not promoted. I maintain, nonetheless, that false advertising is a significant flaw in business presentation.
    The present tense can be tossed around in the literary arts, but in business adverts and plans, it is unacceptable unless it accurately represents the business’ status and abilities.)

    (2A) JG, comment, Cynics blog, 9.21.08: “…I used to have a lot of respect for your opinions, but your immaturity is kind of unbecoming to a man of your age. […] Let me know when you guys grow up and decide to start use [sic] your writing talents again to actually benefit the industry again, instead of just stroking your egos.”
    (This is your direct response to OSC’s post, as quoted above in 1A. It is an entirely disproportionate reaction. OSC corrected flaws in your business’ online presentation, and you, wounded and sore, began your personal attack in your response.)

    (3A) OSC, comment, Cynics blog, 9.21.08: “In my opinion, speaking, writing, or otherwise communicating in the present tense for things that don’t exist is not only misleading, it is either fantasy or bordering on fraud. […] If you consider that communicating about these problems in a facetious way is immature, unbecoming, and causes you to lose respect, so be it. That is your problem, not mine.”
    (OSC’s direct response to 2A. Note that he concedes that it is his *opinion* that these grammatical flaws are significant. Also note that he does not lower himself to your level by lobbing accusations of “immature” or “unbecoming” back in your direction).

    (1B) OSC, Cynics blog, 4.10.08: “In a recent comment to my April 6, 2008 post, Jon Goff quibbled about my use of the word ‘airline’ rather than the word ‘airplane.’ That attention to detail displays a laudable concern for precision of expression…”
    (Hm…so, Jon, it would appear that you attack OSC for splitting hairs in terms of identifying the gravity designated in particular words…and yet you took it upon yourself to correct OSC on subtle wordage issues? Heck, he even praised you for your specificity.)

    (2B) OSC, comment, Cynics blog, 4.11.08: “I mostly agree [with Jon]. ‘Airplane’ or ‘aircraft’ would have been a better choice than ‘airline’ except for the proviso described by Monte. In my previous…post, I concluded…that ‘dweeb’ would have been a better choice than ‘dork.’”
    (OSC here expresses his appreciation of your wordage corrections, and he even does it with a sense of humor).

    (1C) JG, comment re: OSC’s questioning regarding an inconsistent timeline on the Masten Systems web site, Cynics blog, 4.11.08: “…I didn’t realize we still had that old graphic up. […] Didn’t realize we hadn’t swapped out the graphic on that page. Darned IT guy…we obviously don’t pay him enough.”
    (I don’t see you still diverting the blame to the IT guy for your most recent splash page inaccuracies. Nice dodge in April, though.)

    (1D) JG, comment, Cynics blog, 5.26.06: “I’ll admit to not being the best writer in the word [sic]. Sometimes I am imprecise with my language, and words really need to have specific meanings in order to clearly communicate. I think you guys take yourselves way too seriously though.”
    (So you agree with OSC’s current argument regarding the significance of grammar’s ability to convey meaning? Hm. Can you say ‘airplane’ or ‘airline,’ Jon? It makes me smile to see you accuse the Cynics of taking themselves too seriously).

    (1E) OSC, comment, Cynics blog, 1.14.07: “Some observations on the devolution of the discussions in space blogs – they are devalued by:
    (1) The compulsion to have the last word on every thread;
    (3) Not reading carefully and thereby misinterpreting meaning;
    (4) Taking comments personally that were not intended to be personal;

    (Generalized constructive criticism from OSC. Smells like you to me, Jon.)

    (1F) JG, comment re: space re-fueling, Cynics blog, 12.21.06: “[Quoted from OSC:] ‘Who are the companies with proven track records for implementing your proposal [for orbital refueling depots?] What are the names of the actual vehicles and how reliable are they?’

    [JG:] I do believe you’ve heard of Boeing and Lockheed Martin… They have these newfangled rockets called the Atlas V and the Delta IV. They’ve only launched those vehicles what about 15 more times than the Shaft or the Ares V? […] they probably don’t even know the reliability out to four significant figures yet either…so you may have a point.”

    (Watching a 24-year-old engineer with a masters thesis on dental drills try to out-do a doctoral level expert in space medicine with additional expertise in physics is hilarious. This is the crown jewel to which you refer ad nauseum: it is the moment at which you supposedly ‘corrected’ OSC and earned his ire. Well, Jon, I’m going to go ahead and correct *you.*

    It is clear from OSC’s line of argument in his comments that he was referring to your proposal regarding orbital refueling depots. Does the Atlas V or the Delta IV have any track record in either transferring fuel from an orbital storage facility or into an orbital storage facility? No. Your argument switched to a basis on the *hypothetical* use of existing vehicles such as the Atlas V. [Also, the reliability for an Atlas V might be about 95%, as is the case with most launch vehicles…having that reliability out to four figures is unrealistic]. OSC, clearly, was dealing in reality; he asked you to name companies that have accomplished this refueling [note the use of the perfect tense, implying an action that was performed definitively], and you, in your typically irascible fashion, cited a launcher like the Atlas V, which could [note the subjunctive mood here] *potentially* carry fuel for depot-mediated refueling of another vehicle, but – significantly – has not.)

    (1G) JG, comment, Cynics blog, 12.21.06: “That said, the key to good management isn’t avoiding risks [because you can’t], but dealing with them wisely.”
    (And…what companies have you managed? I’m not disagreeing with your point – I’m just trying to again flesh out your extensive expertise. You’re a regular renaissance kid).

    In conclusion: I agree entirely with OSC when he suggests that your primary difficulty is with reading comprehension. Beyond that, you should also realize that your haughty attitude is getting tedious. I congratulate you on your completion of a master’s degree in engineering and the acquisition of your current job (even though you’re apparently not an expert in propulsion): but for sanity’s sake, stop attempting to lord your ‘expertise’ (both in the aerospace industry and in the moral realm) over those who have incomparably more experience in aerospace research and engineering than you. Question the philosophy of the Cynics all you want, but don’t launch wanton assaults that consist of nothing but unfounded accusations and name-calling. Act professional.

    Jon, you owe an apology to OSC in particular and to the Cynics as a whole for your unwarranted, brash, and puerile attacks against them. You also need to grow a thicker skin and a sense of humor.

    All the best,

  30., whoever you are (an N-Gram analysis could prove interesting), thank you for your thoughtful observations and comments with respect to Mr Goff’s postings.

    Your linguistic skill, objectivity and politeness are an example to us all and represent a new bench-mark for this blog. I’m sure they will remain in our memory for a considerable period of time.

  31. Michel –

    I interview science and technology experts for my job in order to help assess whether a technology in development should continue to be funded or if business or the federal government should cut its losses and move on to a different project.

    Traditionally, for my job anyway and I work for one of the industry leaders for tech transfer, shows that in order to be recognized as an expert, either one needs a Masters or PhD (with a thesis in the area of expertise being claimed) along with several peer-reviewed publications in the area. The other alternative would be a track record of proven performance and high skills in the area being claimed. However since JG has none of these qualifications (unrelated masters thesis, and several “boo-boos” on the launch pad), I completely agree with him when he claims to not be an expert. The only thing I wonder is how did he get such an “expert-sounding” job title of propulsion engineer when he is not one?

    If I were a businessman (and lets say for the sake of argument that I own a competitor to Masten Space), my top priority would be to invest in individuals with proven expertise and ability to be “cool under fire” in order to fill such important positions. I would be more likely to hire someone like OSC rather than JG. To do otherwise would do my investors, my employees, and myself a great injustice. I would want to launch my company and not have it crash and burn like so many new businesses. And yes the rocket pun was intended.

    If Masten successfully launches on schedule given the engineering staff and the relatively low TRL of the rocket in comparison to where it should be to send up a payload (What is it right now on the scale? TRL 6? TRL 7?), while I would be happy for them, but honestly I would be shocked that they ever left the ground. I’m not as cynical as the 4 Cynics, but this situation is bringing out the best in me.


  32. Dave Salt:

    I protest, sir: the pleasure is all mine. Thank *you* for your obvious sincerity. 😉

    As for the N-Gram analysis: I can assure you that it would not prove interesting in the least. I do hate to disappoint you, but I am, in fact, an entity entirely separate from the other participants and lurkers on this blog. This is not a conspiracy organized by a hive-mind or manufactured by a Cynical Puppeteer. If you are still intrigued by my mystique and are accusing my words of not being my own, I encourage you to experiment with this N-Gram tool:

    (As a disclaimer: I have not actually used this program, so I can offer no reviews of its abilities).

    Just for the sake of your insatiable curiosity: I am a Gen Y female living in Washington state. I’m an interested outsider who has been following the movement for quite some time, and I grew up fascinated by space travel and dabbling in rocketry and small business. The recent kool-aid binge in the movement has encouraged me to come forth. Professor L, whom I contacted, has tentatively discussed with me the possibility of my guest appearance on his show at some future date to provide the outlook of an bystander, so be sure to keep abreast of that appearance (should it occur) in case you’d like to get a voice sample of mine for your N-Gram analysis.

    Also, I have no pretensions of having provided either objective or polite comments thus far. I apologize, of course, if my comments have been unladylike in the least. The Cynics may stick to the path of objectivism and polite criticism on these issues, but I, on the other hand, am not at all adverse to being downright impolite.

    I’m glad you’ve also appreciated my linguistic skills (even though you apparently don’t attribute them to me). My seemingly futile endeavors in dead languages like Greek and Latin have proved fruitful after all!

    All the best,

  33., or should I call you Scully? Sorry, I’m not into conspiracy theories — I’m more of a believer in the “cock-up theory” of the universe, actually — and, if you are as you describe yourself, details of your age, sex or even your affiliation to Space Cynics are of no interest to me. The simple fact that you post your comments anonymously has far more relevance to this discussion. [NOTE: Some people do post under an anonymous name because they are in “sensitive” positions (e.g. senior managers within NASA) but they make this clear before commenting — something I can both appreciate and respect]

    I note that you quite openly admit that you had “no pretensions of having provided either objective or polite comments” because your critique of Jon’s character and behaviour are clearly both subjective and extremely selective — more bait than debate, I fear. Nevertheless, I must admit to being quite impressed at the level of detail that you included within your critique and assume that you invested significant time and effort in its preparation (one could easily mistake it for a homework assignment). Unfortunately, it does not support your claim to have “been following the movement for quite some time” because, if you had, you would know that Jon’s blog is read by many within the community, is frequently linked to by others and that he is also a highly respected individual. May I therefore suggest that you talk to people beyond the realms of this blog before you post any future additions to your “analysis”; I’m sure Dr Livingston can provide you with more than enough contact addresses (including mine, should you want to discuss this off-line).

    By the way, I think you should also be aware that all mechanical engineering degrees require the mastery of a core set of skills that are common to all disciplines (e.g. structures analysis). So, just because someone does not graduate as a “rocket propulsion engineer” (N.B. I’m not sure something so specific is possible), does not mean they are unqualified to work as a professional in that field. Conversely, just because someone has a higher degree in a subject does not automatically make them an “expert” whose words cannot be challenged. I could also make a comment that Dr Jurist is a medical doctor and so is not qualified to talk about “rocket science”… except that there’s a guy called Lee Valentine who knows more about than I would ever dare to claim, so please don’t judge people solely upon their qualifications, or lack thereof.

    By the way, lest you think I’m a kool-aid tippler, it may interest you to know that I actually agree with many of the Cynic’s concerns! Moreover, I have met Shubber (i.e. the guy who runs this blog) on a number of occasions and hold him in VERY high regard, both as a person and as a businessman. However, I do get annoyed when petty “comments” are posted about small companies when there are much bigger fish out there that are far more deserving of their attention because they aim to put people’s lives at risk from very outset! However, I also object to comments that, in effect, tar everyone in the community with the same brush. Go and trawl through the Space Cynics archive and you’ll see that I’ve raised this concern on a number of occasions but, when I ask who may be the good guys (e.g. XCOR), I get accused of either baiting or taunting. Oh well, I guess it’s a case of “their blog, their rules”, so I really shouldn’t be too upset.

  34. This whole thread is really disheartening. Jon was too defensive, it’s true, but whatever supposed humor was originally intended wasn’t very funny. Instead, the entirety of this discussion, including before Jon gave a reply, was caustic, negative, and unnecessary.

    It is true that Masten Space has been very upfront about their progress, and they have not defrauded anybody. Any arguments otherwise are untruthful. The language on their front page benefited from the correction, I agree. The method by which the correction came about could have been far better, and the humor wasn’t humorous. in particular, you have been wonderfully precise, thorough in your research, and ridiculously low in your aim. It makes my stomach turn. True, I’m a friend of Jon’s, and the first I heard of this was dropping in by Jon’s blog, where I saw his apology and regrets. I can’t claim impartiality. But to see that kind of attack (far more severe than Jon’s admittedly defensive response) against anybody is disheartening, and it was undeserved.

    Of the space cynics, I had only heard of Dr. Livingston. I can’t say that this has been a very good first impression.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s