Well Said, Dr. Griffin

A fictional space program will always be faster, better, and cheaper than a real space program.

– Mike Griffin, Goddard Award Dinner 2009

10 thoughts on “Well Said, Dr. Griffin

  1. This is largely true.

    The appropriate question is how does the space program compare to the best that could realistically be done?

    It is obviously unfair to compare the real space program to explicitly fictional space programs or to PowerPoint slides and paper studies with unrealistic assumptions, faulty physics, wrong or vague engineering, and so forth. However, this does not mean the space program could not be better or that every proposed alternative plan is unrealizable fiction.

    It is quite possible for NASA to be on the wrong track — by which I mean destined never to achieve economical space travel — and for space enthusiasts and alt.space companies to lack the technical expertise and viable ideas to provide an alternative that actually works. Nonetheless such an alternative may exist.


  2. Hi —

    I’ve read the ‘space cynics’ blogs for a while, and also listened to your arguments on the Space Show. I think that there is much truth in your arguments, and that the new space people need a reality check. You detail well what we should NOT expect from the space program in the near future.

    However, once one has accepted this, where do we go from here? The subtext to much of your writing seems to be;

    1. To give up on space entirely, especially human space, and do something else.
    2. To pour scorn on those poor fools who refuse to do (1).

    You’re very good at telling us what is not plausible, but what SHOULD we do? What IS realistic? Is space a lost cause, forever? Is that what you’re saying?

    I think that you should write a little more about the *positive* action people should take, even if this means giving up on human space and concentrating on something else. Endless negativity just pisses people off eventually, even those of us (like me) who are sympathetic to your arguments….


    1. Hey there, Mat. Your negativity to the Cynics is understandable, but don’t forget it is the job of a cynic to look at a topic with a critical eye and, if necessary, take a contrary position and play Devils Advocate, or simply point out weaknesses in previously discussed position.

      I also understand where Prof. L is coming from as my own background has tended to areas C and D in his own reply. I too listen to the Space Show to get a better understanding of the broader World of Space on Earth, and it has been very educational and quite an eye opener in many cases. There are far too many things happening in too many areas for any one person to be expert in all of them.

      I don’t know how old you are, but I am only about two decades behind Prof. L, and like him I find myself dismayed by the lack of critical thinking being taught in today’s schools. Where are the debate programs that used to be part of English and History classes?

      As for current space programs, sure there is good news out there, but you have to go looking for it, and it is often wound up (or bogged down) with red tape or technical issues. Let’s keep looking so we can share it with others when we find it, and do our part as cynics when we see weaknesses somewhere in the plan.

      By working together, maybe we can make the good programs stronger, and the get rid of the ones based on pseudo-science. If the latter is deliberate it needs to be removed to increase credibility for the movement as a whole. If not, perhaps they can change track before too much damage is done or too much money wasted.

  3. It is clearly not fair to compare a real space program, NASA, or Dr. Griffin to an explicitly fictional space program such as a Robert Heinlein novel or Star Trek. Similarly, it is not fair to compare them to a Power Point presentation, paper proposal, or glitzy 3D animation not based on sound engineering and physics, such as some things that one encounters in alternative space.

    It serves a useful function to warn prospective investors, supporters, or employees of questionable alternative space companies or schemes of problems even if one cannot offer a constructive alternative. Indeed, experimenting with rockets can be fatal and should not be undertaken lightly. There is no point repeating the same mistake or mistakes over and over again, year after year.

    Constructive suggestions are:

    o Assemble a comprehensive review of everything that has failed so the same mistakes are not repeated yet again. Comprehensively debunk myths associated with single stage to orbit, reusability, and many other popular ideas.

    o Identify CAD and other simulation tools (free if possible) that would enable enthusiasts to much more rigorously test their ideas at low cost, thus improving the quality of the PowerPoint slides and paper studies and glitzy 3D animations.

    o Organize some open source type projects to either expand or create some of the CAD and simulation tools that would enable better testing and prototyping of ideas (both in chemical rockets and other forms of power/propulsion such as fusion) at low cost.

    o Gather and disseminate more information on computer controlled machine tools and robots so that a way to rapidly and cheaply convert the CAD diagrams to working systems could be either developed or greatly improved.

    o Some workshops and brainstorming sessions (blogs?) to identify some better business ideas for practical space travel.


  4. Hi Puzzled Matt:

    While I cannot speak for all the Cynics, I can speak for The Space Show. I often have subjects/topics similar to the issues you raise come up on the show, especially Open Lines. On most of these discussions, we do go to outcomes, that is, we do discuss and often design a type of action or implementation plan. I think its hard to make a generic where do we go from here statement but I suggest that people know some basics:

    A. finance and economics
    B. Marketing
    C. Engineering, especially as related to the issue or venture at hand.
    D. Science/physics.
    E. Relevant regulatory issues including SEC and state security laws, fiduciary obligations, etc.

    By have a solid foundation in these disciplines, one can remain grounded in the vision and the dream they want to see develop and have a chance at success at some point in the development of the project. Dreams are great and we all need them, we just need to temper them with reality and being grounded in these basics.

    Yes, luck or serendipity does play a role and it should not discounted but it cannot be planned for.

    I like your comment and will see about developing a full Space Show program on action and implementation plans.


  5. David:

    I suggested to Tom Olson that Cynics include a page where each of you lists your pet peeves/things you’re cynical about, but also some sort of statement about what you’re for. Matt’s comment is not the first. I think it would give a better idea of where all of you are coming from. NASAWatch, for instance, is a great place for saying only, “This sucks! Change it!” without offering any alternatives. You guys are all smart enough to offer those alternatives, and the advice would be most welcome.


  6. My article

    Cheap access to space: lessons from past breakthroughs

    One of the primary challenges of spaceflight in recent decades has
    been trying to reduce the cost of space access. John McGowan
    describes the importance of doing a larger number of small scale
    efforts to find the right combination of technologies and techniques
    that could make a breakthrough possible.


    has been published by The Space Review. This covers many of the topics that I have occasionally posted to Space Cynics about but in a single unified article.


  7. Hi,

    Griffin is an idiot! Along with the rest of NASA. Even a fictional space program IS better than NASA right now. We should disband it and start over clean slate. (When your closet gets full of shit, you empty it out completely and start over.) Nasa couldn’t, hasn’t, and will never develop or direct a space program in a positive manner that will benefit the people of the US, it is just a government propaganda program and could careless about taking civilians into space or even at least giving them their moneys worth. We would do better to send NASA’s budget to North Korea!


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