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January 21, 2004

Rocket Ship Machiavelli. I’ve been avoiding the subject of the Administration’s “space initiative,” partly because (I realize this may be a shock, coming from a professional science fiction editor) I’m very much in favor of exploring outer space, and partly because I’m acquainted with so many different people involved in so many different aspects of space research, exploration, and development, so I have a lively sense of how complicated the issues are and of how little I really know.

Still, it’s been hard to avoid the suspicion that the whole thing is little more than a fairly shameless piece of political performance art, a stab at the old Vision Thing, particularly when “unnamed Administration sources” more or less blatantly say so. As 5,271,009 bloggers have already remarked, the money isn’t even a sliver of what a real moonbase or Mars mission would cost, and the actual goals are comfortably far to the future of any plausible second Bush administration. Meanwhile, though, it definitely looks like the initiative’s immediate effects include cutting a lot of actual space science (never popular with this crowd) and handing off more bags of cash to politically friendly construction companies and aerospace firms.

’Twas ever so. The space program has always been a political exercise, and there’s nothing wrong with smart scientists and engineers using the political needs of elected officials as a way of getting useful work done. Nor am I unaware that NASA is a bureaucratic disaster in a lot of ways, arguably overdue for a complete re-think. I just have the sinking feeling that this Administration is unlikely to do a good job at this, certainly not if it turns out to involve spending any political capital at all. (Leaving aside, of course, the important business of surrounding the planet with orbiting American military technology as quickly and thoroughly as possible.) The phrase that summed up my reaction to Bush’s grandiloquent announcement last week: I felt trifled with. I wanted to say, this is stuff that matters, you lying sack of shit. Okay, obviously that’s not really a cool-eyed and dispassionate take, and I realize that smart friends and acquaintances of mine are right now combing through the fine print and making plans to use this “initiative” as a platform for good. I wish them well, but I don’t feel very optimistic.

So as you can imagine, it with with a bitter laugh that I greeted the news that Bush didn’t even mention space exploration in his State of the Union address last night. Although he did have a fair bit to say about steroid use by athletes. Yeah, space exploration, return to the Moon, mission to Mars. Sure. [12:01 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Rocket Ship Machiavelli.:

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 12:22 PM:

“Lying sack of shit” is a phrase I seem to have going through my head a lot these days.

David W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 12:29 PM:

Meanwhile, it was quietly announced by NASA last week that there will be no more servicing missions by the space shuttle to the Hubble Space Telescope, meaning that sometime after 2007 when it no longer has three operational gyroscopes it will be rendered pretty much non-operational.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 12:37 PM:

Given that the new space initiative seems to have flopped badly, publicity-wise, the steroid thing may have been a last-minute replacement issue.

("It's polling a bit better than a law against running over puppies with dirt bikes, Mr. President, and the representative from Fizer has no objection. I say we go with it.")

The one bit of space technology R&D that might actually open up the solar system to manned exploration and development is a real hot potato that apparently even Bush wasn't willing to advocate, at least out loud: Nuclear power and propulsion.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 12:39 PM:

I've been told by knowledgeable people that shutting down the Hubble, in favor of shifting efforts to new and better space telescopy, was in the works since long before these developments. I've also been told the opposite, by other well-informed sorts. So I don't actually know what to think.

I do note that I'm not seeing any details in the media about the alleged forthcoming better space telescopes, which makes me wonder.

Nor does it escape me that significant numbers of the people who currently rule us believe that the Earth was created six thousand years ago and that global warming is a fraud perpetrated by Third World countries in order to trick us into letting them catch up with us industrially. Sometimes you just want to scream.

alan ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 12:48 PM:

What they really resent is that something like the Hubble doesn't make money for anyone.

Once it's constructed, as far as they are concerned, it's useless, like roadbuilding in imperial China.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 12:57 PM:

There is some short term benefit to the space centers. Gee, one's in Texas, the other in Florida. Who's governor of Florida again? Oh, right. Hmm.

I think it was all an excuse to dump the shuttle program.

But Patrick, your last sentence here made me think: yes, you do, but in space no one can hear you. Maybe they DO want to go after all!

Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 12:58 PM:

Before I begin...let me make a comment on the Hubble murder.

It isn't being done due to cost reasons (the cost, say, of a Shuttle mission: a cool billion bucks). And it isn't being done due to, say, Sean O'Keefe, the head of NASA, being unenthusiastic about space science (or O'Keefe carrying out the feeling that his higher-ups might be unenthusiastic about space science). No, the Hubble is being murdered because O'Keefe is chicken. Yellow. A coward. Buck buck buck buck...

To repair Hubble (or "service" it), you have to have a Shuttle mission to it. (Well, not actually; but in practical terms at this moment that's the case.) As David W has noted, the problem are the gyros. Hubble gyros have been failing at a mean rate of about one every six months to a year or so since the damn thing got launched. It has six on board; it needs three to do fine, long exposure science; it can just get by and do some crappy kinda science on two. When you get to just one, you close up shop.

Right now Hubble has three working gyros, and they're not sure about one of them. It looks like it's going to go within a few months. So it ain't 2007 we're talking about; it's just a few weeks.

On each and every Hubble servicing mission to date, they have had to replace about four gyros.

Hubble is in a 28 degree inclined to the equator orbit. Space Station Alpha is in a 56 degree orbit. If you launch to Hubble with the Shuttle, and you have a problem -- say, with a wing leading edge RCC panel, said panel having been hit by ice from the external tank during ascent -- there is no way you can get to the Space Station and dock, to take safe haven.

What Sean O'Keefe has decided, in his wisdom, is that there will never ever ever be another Shuttle flight that is not launched into a 56 degree orbit to rendezvous with the Space Station. Because if one were to do so, there *might* be a possibility that you might lose a Shuttle and crew again, since you then have no ability to abort to the Station.

Buck, buck, buck, buck...

Needless to say, the money to fly the next Hubble servicing mission *was* in the budget. And also needless to say, everyone at Johnson was ready, willing, and actively WANTING to fly SM-4 to Hubble. The only one with a weak heart here is Sean O'Keefe. Who doesn't want to possibly ever lose a Shuttle on his watch (a second time).

That said...on to the Bush space plan.

My reaction? Here are these guys, in the very narthex of *my* High Church of Spaceflight, and they're desecrating the altar.

Nothing I can put my finger on, mind you. In fact, the plan makes a lot of sense (if you share some of their assumptions that is). But nevertheless...I don't believe it.

Continued on next rock.

Edward Liu ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 01:07 PM:


The whole Mars station is just a hedge by the Bushies in case the Rapture doesn't hit before Global Warming floods our planet, and they need a new one to start tearing apart for money.

-- Ed

Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 01:12 PM:

Well, Patrick, as to the debate on Hubble shutdown...that's actually been ongoing for about two years or so. Dr. John Bacall even chaired a panel on the subject that reported back in August or so. The argument was over whether or not to fly a *5th* Hubble servicing Shuttle flight or not (number 4 is the one that just got canceled). The reason that Hubble was going to be turned off about 2010 (by not flying a 5th servicing mission) was to be able to put monies into what was once called the Next Generation Space Telescope, which is now the James Webb Space Telescope. (*Shoulda* by rights been the Lyman Spitzer Space Telescope. But I digress...)

The Webb is due, or was due, to be launched about 2011 or 2012. It'll be a six meter telescope, as contrasted with the 2.4 meter Hubble. In other words, a MUCH bigger light bucket. It's mission? To see all the way back to the time of photon decoupling: First Light.

At six meters, it was almost going to be able to do that. Very probably. In any case, it was as big as could be done for a next step, and for the money the project was going to be able to get.

But there's something funny about all that First Light. It's light from 13.4 billion years ago in time, and from 13.4 billion light years away in space. It's so far away and so long ago that it's all redshifted into the near and mid infrared. So, the Webb isn't a very good optical telescope (like Hubble is). It's optimised to be a very good infrared telescope.

What you'd really want to do is to have both operating, side by side.

In any case, there's another bit to consider about the Webb. It's going to be sent to the Earth-Sun L2 point; that's the one starside in direction instead of Sunside. It's to put it into a position so that it receives as little heat radiation (i.e., stray infrared) from Earth, or the Moon, or whatever. This also means that it can't be repaired or serviced. And that's how it's being designed -- to be a oneshot that will work for however long it works (probably many, many years actually).

There isn't any real practical way to accelerate the building schedule of the Webb (so as to, perhaps, backstop Hubble) other than throwing LOTS of money at the program -- and even then it wouldn't be possible to get it into position for launch any sooner than say four years from now, no matter what you spend. So it's likely to not be a program that will be speeded up.

It *is* likely that the Webb *will* be a program that is protected by O'Keefe, however. Ya see, he named it...and James Webb is a hero of O'Keefe's. (Mine too.)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 01:15 PM:

At age 45 one needs to cultivate the habit of remembering that not all one's friends know one another. So I'll mention for the benefit of onlookers that Tim Kyger, whose long post is just above, is an experienced veteran of the space-advocacy world; he's been a full-time space science advisor to a Congressman, a space policy staffer for the Senate Commerce Committee, and an employee of more than space-oriented private company. So he knows this stuff, or at least has a very well-informed point of view on it.

He's also been a friend of mine and Teresa's for over 25 years, but that's a different story...

Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 01:18 PM:

Patrick: I do note that I'm not seeing any details in the media about the alleged forthcoming better space telescopes, which makes me wonder.

The only "forthcoming better space telescope" that's much beyond the viewgraph stage is the James Webb Space Telescope, formerly the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST), due to launch in 2010. No bets taken on when it actually launches.

JWST was never a replacement for the Hubble, because it was designed specifically as an infrared telescope, covering 2 - 27 micron wavelengths. It has no visible light or ultraviolet capability; losing Hubble means we'll have no ultraviolet astronomy capability at all, since UV astronomy can't be done from the ground.

JWST was also cut from its original 8 meter diameter to 6 meters diameter (nearly a factor of 2 loss in light-gathering ability) due to budget constraints. It has only three instruments, and will not be serviceable (no instrument upgrades or repairs).

There are lots of plans and proposals for telescopes beyond the JWST, but any new general-purpose astronomy instrument is well over a decade away, even if the "new" NASA doesn't kill its support for astronomical research.

(The only saving grace is that, except for UV astronomy, many of the capabilities of Hubble are becoming available from ground-based telescopes through the use of adaptive optics to eliminate the blurring caused by the atmosphere. It's hard to make adaptive optics work over wide fields of view, so one doesn't get as many beautiful panoramic shots of galaxies, but visible-light astronomy won't be dumped back to its pre-Hubble limits)

Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 01:24 PM:

Ya wanna go back to the Moon? (I do.) It's relatively easy, and relatively cheap.

Yes, you could go back to the moon, and in fact, you could do it for just a few billion dollars and in three years. That's if you do it in an intelligent way (which I'll outline in a moment). This plan would leave you with a capability to continue to have lunar missions, and start to build a moonbase. Per mission costs would be relatively high, but then, the current NASA plan will cost even more. And you'd be able to take stuff to the moon to build a base. Luna City, you betcha! (And who *knew* that Luna City would be at the South Pole? The South has risen again! )

All it requires is the development of a single new vehicle. We've got all the rockets we need, actually; lots of 'em. They're just not Saturn Vs, and they all cost a lot. You'd do things differently than you did Apollo, is all.

Alas, what is being bruited about over at NASA is some sort of program that will take tens of billions to do, and *might* get us back to the Moon by about 2020. Or so. Maybe. Possibly. That is, if in the meanwhile, NASA doesn't change its mind. Again.

And I make the bold prediction (ha!) that what'll happen is this. NASA's budget will be increased, and increased again; and then we'll shut down the Shuttle program (yea!!!) providing even more money at NASA for NASA to spend.

And just like the Space Station program, or the X-33 program, or the X-34 program, or the SLI program...NASA will spend money, make viewgraphs, and build and fly *nothing.*

And that's assuming that they get any bucks in the first place!

When I say NASA, please realize that I'm referring to the Code M Empire -- the Station/Shuttle folks. The self-licking ice cream cone of NASA that results in a $5 billion dollar a year performance art piece. The Shuttle goes up (well, maybe...) and supports the Station. And what does the Station do? It is the destination of the Shuttle. But with only two people on board, all that they can do is to maintain the Station in working order. So, what is the Shuttle for? To support the Station.

And it goes round and round and round and round, aand it does nothing, and it costs $5 billion a year. But it's a pretty sight when it goes over at night.

I think NASA ought to get itself an NEA grant for this spactacular art installation.

How would *I* go back to the Moon? Here's how. (And it won't happen. Not a chance.)

You buy a Russian Proton rocket launch. The payload will be a Delta IV upper stage; the newly developed "Centaur on steroids" stage. You put that puppy into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Repeat with a second Centaur Supreme (Taco Bell trademark); dock both together. Now launch a Soyuz with a crew of three and dock *that* to the stack. (All three of these launchs can be purchased commercially; the Russians make great stuff for really cheap. And it's all built like a tank.) The Delta IV second stages are also available for purchase from Boeing. We can probably get a good group rate for buying in bulk.

Anybody remember what Soyuz was also called? Any hands? You? Yes? That's right. "Zond." Zond was actually *tested* coming back from the Moon, after a circumlunar flight. Twice.

We need a lander. It needs to be reusable. It also needs to be able to ferry cargo down to the Lunar surface, to build Luna City. *That's* the expensive part, and the part that will probably need some time and money. Two billion dollars to develop it from scratch? Probably that, or $4 billion. This is the ONLY expensive part of all of this.

But we know how to do it. Designs for such a lander were outlined 15 years ago. It's only a matter of some SIMPLE engineering.

If NASA develops this lander, it's gonna cost $15 billion, easy.

You launch this lander (fueled and crew-less) into orbit. On a Proton? A Delta IV? Ariane V? Don't know. But we have all of those big launchers available to us (as well as the Atlas V, too, and maybe even a Shuttle-C configuration).

If we need to, we can send the lander up in sections/modules.

Anyway, we dock the landerto the stack already in orbit, and then fire up Centaur Supreme Number One (making sure we give credit to trademark holder Taco Bell), and we're Off To The Moon.

We arrive at the Moon, and use the Centuar Supreme No. 1 to burn into orbit. Our intrepid crew gets into the Lander, and down they go. They do their One Small Step thing; they get back in; they return to orbit and rendezevous and dock with the Centaur Supremes and the Soyuz/Zond. Centaur Supreme No. 1 is now toast; we toss it. We use Centaur Supreme No. 2 to refuel the Lander; we always want to leave our campsite better off than how we first found it. We leave the Lander in Lunar orbit for the next mission. (We won't have to drag it along with us to the Moon next time around.) We fire up the remaining Centaur Supreme and we're off on our return to Earth. Cue the tickertape parade...

We *could* be back in three years. We could. But we won't be. We *might* be back by 2013, under the NASA plan. We might be.

But NASA's history says otherwise. *sigh*

Always be careful what you ask for. You may get it.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 01:25 PM:

As someone who was actually paid by NASA to design Moon Bses and Mars Bases, I have strong opinions on Emperor Bush II's "space plan."

On the down side, it is too little, too late, too blatantly political, and by the wrong man for the wrong reason.

On the up side, it is much better than nothing, and has a low-balled back-end-loaded budget that gives it a real chance geeting appropriations through Congress.

Political? Yes. Kaiser Karl Rove asked the NASA Administrator O'Keefe (himself a beancounter who should have been the first one fired after Columbia) to come up with a menu of "Kennedy Moment" space options. O'Keefe, who wouldn't know an erg from an urge, handed this off to his deputies and special assistants. A very interesting menu was prepared (someone should FOI it, I can't reveal my sources). Rove picked the one that Bush made public.

Bush never mentioned it in his disjointed disingenuous defensive State of the Union speech last night. Nor did he mention Israel-Palestine, the Environment, or other points where he looks unspinnably bad. When he talked about more drug testing in schools, my 14-year-old son snarked "why doesn't he just ban rock & roll?"

It took 8 years to get men to the Moon after JFK's JFK-moment. Why take 14 years now? Why wait 30 to Mars, when Zubrin's "Mars Direct" approach, which I discussed in public, and on NASA-TV, with the previous NASA Administrator, can do it in perhaps 7 years for $25 Billion, leaving growing infrastructure in place and continued human presence?

Speculation is that Lockheed-Martin's X-33 was publicly cancelled for failure of composite non-spherical non-cylindrical hydrogen slush fuel tanks, purely as cover for moving it into a Black Box hush-hush military operational development. That is, Bush's space plan is a disguised further militarization of "civilian" space activity.

NASA has hundreds of filing cabinets full of Moon and Mars plans, my own just a drop in the ocean. None of my friends who contributed have gotten calls from headhunters since Bush-43's plan announcement(s).

Another Machiavellian speculation. Real plan is much faster than announced plan. Goal is to get our real competitors (China, India, Japan, Europe) to pace their plans to ours. That slows them down. Then we beat them to Moon and Mars. HAH hah (use Simpsons' inflection).

The real reasons for the plan, anyway, are: look good, cheaply; Vermont has no space program; Bro Jeb's Florida (KSC) gets $$$; Texas (JSC) gets $$$; California gets $$$ (cuts demo lead there); and let our allies and competitors draw confused conclusions.

The real impact of any space launch are kept close to the vest. Remember: the first satellite launched by Israel was in a RETROGRADE orbit. They never needed to tell the media "You see? We not only have a satellite program, we have an anti-satellite program for military purposes!"

My son was hoping to the the First Man on Mars. Now I must wait for my granchildrens' generation. Too little, too late. But better than nothing. Recall that heinlein DID predict we get to the Moon, then retreat, and much later return. "The Crazy Years." Well, here we are. And with a fundamentalist demagogue pseudo-Scudder in office, as RAH also predicted.

For some of my actual space papers online, and an index to 210 others, see:


Any questions?

sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 02:16 PM:

Sometimes you just want to scream.

Is a free press the mouth of the people? A certain Ellison title comes to mind.

Andrew Case ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 02:22 PM:

I was heartened by the Bush announcement, but in retrospect it's because I'm irredeemably cynical about the prospects of major progress coming out of the NASA porkfest.

There are currently two areas where the commercial sector is developing new products that promise to bring down the cost of launch services (which is the long pole in the tent for space exploration and development). On the one hand there are companies developing new orbital launchers, most notably SpaceX (which looks set to launch this year), Kistler (which may *finally* launch something in the not too distant future), and Blue Origin, (whatever the hell they are doing). On the other there are the suborbital startups like XCOR, TGV, and various X-Prize competitors with an eye to eventual commercial vehicles, like Armadillo and Scaled Composites. The good news is that NASA isn't doing anything that will hurt either of these two sectors. In fact, there may be some money trickling down to the orbital startups. The worst possible outcome would have been development of a new launcher, which would make fundraising much harder for the orbital startups, probably kill Kistler, and in the unlikely event that it actually launched anything, eat into the market for services from SpaceX and Blue Origin.

This plan is flawed in many ways, but any plan that has to deal with the flawed beast that is 21st century NASA is going to look shabby in comparison to the Apollo. The timelines look way too long, but if we'd implemented this plan instead of the shuttle, there's be a base (or more) on the moon, and probably a flags and footprints mission to Mars by now. Slow and steady will make more progress than grand visionary plans that can't survive a change of administration. This plan at least has the possibility of lasting through economic ups and downs, changes in government, and shifts in international politics.

It's not a truly great plan, but a truly great plan would be unlikely to survive the political realities of our time. A plan which does no harm and which may eventually advance us in the right direction is probably the best we can hope for.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 02:25 PM:

I would dearly love to see new horizons opening in manned space exploration-- hell, I've been ready to go myself since I was five, though my technical credentials qualify me for the positions of a) ballast, b) an ablative heat-tile, or c) the guy that the blood-sucking cloud creature kills in the pre-credits sequence.

I've just finished Kim Stanley Robinson's Green Mars, and my girlfriend's copy of Blue Mars cannot get into my twitchy little hands soon enough. I'm a Fan of Space Exploration in that deep-down, squidgy, emotional, Star Wars nut way.


I would have been suspicious of these alleged Moon/Mars plans no matter who announced them. Bush I, Clinton, Gore, the disembodied soul of Stanley Weinbaum... anyone, if the announcement came in such a fashion. Out of the blue, in an election year, with far-reaching commitments and consequences long after Bush blows town even if he does get a second term. All the credit for the "vision," and none of the responsibility for keeping the very expensive, highly vulnerable project alive over the next 10-15 years? Give me a break. This "plan" is a fucking pick-up line, a honey trap for hypothetical suckers who must be gooshy about spaceflight and bad at math.

Not mentioning the Incipient Golden Age of Space Travel during the SOTU is just icing on the cake.

I wonder what other glories from past administrations were in consideration for the role of Killer Campaign Talking Point? Reconstructing Germany? Eradicating smallpox? Fighting the Barbary Pirates? Forcing Parliament to repeal the fucking Stamp Act?

Man, I'm pumping out nothing but resentment this afternoon. I'm sorry. Scott will go drink a tall mint-flavored wuss coffee now, and refer to himself in the third person as he slinks out.

Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 02:27 PM:

When I read "back-end-loaded budget that gives it a real chance geeting appropriations through Congress", I hear "the budget for Apollo 18-20".

Ronit ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 02:40 PM:

Whether it's ergonomics, condoms or climate change, this administration has consistently treated science as something that just gets in the of way The Facts As They Know Them. When I heard that they were planning to turn their attentions to the space program, my heart sank.

(See Rep. Henry Waxman's report on the topic:

Space explorations fans are currently in a position similiar to those of those 'liberal hawks' who supported removing Saddam but weren't sure this administration was the one to do it.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2004, 04:14 PM:

A few months before 9/11, Bush hired John Marburger as science advisor.

Not a bad guy; he was the president of SUNY Stony Brook when I went there. He supported the campus SF convention and even attended as a science guest. (He did work with lasers.)

There were rumors, in the summer of 2001, that he had been hired to counter a perceived conservative balance in the cabinet.

Since then . . . not a word out of him or about him. I picture Dr. Marburger exiled to an office on the outskirts of D.C., wondering why the president never returns his calls and why the clerk who picks up his mail laughs at him behind his back when he sends the White House policy recommendations.

Easter Lemming Liberal News Digest ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 07:03 PM:

The head of NASA's budget in the House is a GOP conservative who was positively gleeful about getting rid of all of NASA's science programs that supported global warming and Earth being older than 6,000 years in trade for a real manned program to claim Moon and Mars.

Cancel the shuttle, finish the ISS because we have to and then close it down, cancel all programs that don't support Man to Mars with a stopover on the Moon, closer NASA ties with the military, lots of mechanical contracts to political contributors, put off all the big budget decisions for five years, this has GOP-Bush politics all over it.

#1 on Google for Liberal News

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 10:49 PM:

NASA Administrator believes in leprachauns, or what?

"It’s my guess that the pucker-factor is going to be every bit as high," said NASA Administrator, Sean O’Keefe, who has arrived here to witness the [Mars Opportunity] rover’s entry, descent and landing. "This is the equivalent to the Super Bowl for these people."

New NASA to be 'Distinctively Different' than Old Agency

"O’Keefe showed a bit of his superstitious nature, noting that he’s wearing the exact same attire as he did for Spirit’s landing."

Ace Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2004, 10:46 PM:

If there is to be a manned Mars mission, then it will no doubt be launched from Earth orbit. It makes no sense to have to fight our way out of TWO gravity wells instead of one. Using our worlds gravity as a slingshotto Mars,from orbit is the way to go. Ask any rocket scientist. Moon Base Alpha sounds real sexy but as a stopping place on the way to anywhere else is just foolish.
Bush's announcement was political smoke and mirrors, to make him look visionary and noble.
And,scary to contemplate, maybe a beginning of the military's Space Command. Atom bombs in orbit, lovely.
That should have let Dubya be baseball commisioner.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 07:43 AM:

Don't know how useful people think it is, but there is an online petition for US residents:
"Save the Hubble" petition www.savethehubble.org

At www.savethehubble.com they plan on putting one up for The Rest of The World, and you can read or make different suggestions and ideas.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 11:34 PM:

Ace Evans is correct, and corroborated by none less than Dr. Robert Zubrin, founder of The Mars

To paraphrase: sending people to Mars is very, very desirable. Pretending that the Moon is involved is, at best, misguided. Stipulated: we should build systems that get people to Mars and let them live there. Stipulated, the Moon is a fair place to test Alpha and Beta versions of some of that infrastructure, albeit the Moon has
essentially no atmosphere, and is at about 1/6 G while Mars is at 3/8 G = 0.38 G.

Ace is also right, in that the minimum gravitational potential energy places from which to launch to Mars ar neither earth surface nor Moon surface, but some of the Laplace points. Best is the one on the Earth-Moon line, well above the Moon but closer to the Moon that Earth. That gives somewhere between a 1% and 2% savings in delta V. Good, but not enough to make the Moon any kind of centerpiece while setting the Solar System table.

Crazy as it sounds, it is almost as good to launch from the North or South Pole of the Planet Mercury than from the Moon, and either is better (energentically) that straight from Earth.

But we can launch straight form Earth to Mars -- and the simplicity of this overcomes the energy issue.

Bill Higgins, Jordin Kare, am I right in your opinion?

I'd have posted this earlier, but just drove L.A. to S.F. Friday, with wife and son, then drove S.F. to L.A. today (Sunday). No internet access in our hotel, which is flat-out weird for the modern Bay Area.

Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 01:41 AM:

Love to see some of this discussed by sockpuppets who felt able to speak freely - I surely would like to do that myself.

- for my money the speculation to include orbital facts has been nicely handled by Mr. Heinlein and by Dr. Pournelle in everything from Expanded Universe to A Step Further Out to Chaos Manor and need not be rehashed. Cheap low Earth orbit is everything.

However simple the science - in the sense of everything is simple but the simplest things are very difficult I see no zero nada none simplicity in launching straight from Earth to Mars.

I say this because my, admittedly very limited by comparison to others here, slight exposure to building man rated things that move through the heavens allows validation by test or by strong similarity to other things that were tested and by no other ways - see e.g. lots of disasters when folks got to thinking it worked once it'll work forever.

An analogy - Frank Lloyd Wright was a gifted architect - many of his houses are falling apart - a gifted designer is not everything.

I can see folks being reluctant to travel for test on the Moon and not half as much testing is done today as should be in part because people want to be close to the office - rumor has it Edwards AFB say isn't as much fun since the demise of the Happy Bottoms Riding Club - I wouldn't know - but I do recall the story of the man who took long steps to save wear and tear on his shoes and split his pants.

We simply don't have the descendents of a Martian landing in Eastern Europe to assign to this project. We've demonstrated we don't have a technique for NASA or anybody else motivating and integrating and supervising teams of jobshoppers who've never done this before.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:22 AM:

Clark E. Myers:

Of course I agree with Mr. Heinlein and Dr. Pournelle. I am cited by name in "Expanded Universe" -- as a science writer.

By "simplicity" I mean the inverse of systems complexity. Dr. Geoff Landis has a wonderful essay in this month's Analog about the reality of engineering and robotics (written recently, while he was working with experiments on the Mars rovers). If I start quoting him, I'll never stop.

A direct Earth-to-Mars avoids the series of other steps, each of which as non-zero probability of failing. Fewer links = fewer possible weak links. Fewer components means fewer interfaces between components. Also, fewer independent contractors, subcontracts, and administrators.

Remember Werner Von Braun's design for earth-orbital assembly, at a space station, of a vehicle. That spacecraft carries people and cargo to lunar orbit. Both are trabsferred to another vehicle, which makes the Moon landing. Similar for Mars, except stop at Phobos.

I wish we HAD done things that way. But JFK was in a hurry, so we built throwaway systems and, in a sense, went direct Earth-Mars.

My bias (among many) is that I am a disgruntled former NASA person, who worked on space systems for Army, Navy, Air Force, JPL, JSC, Goddard, Boeing, Rockwell, Lockheed-Martin, and more. However lofty the goal, in almost every case I've seen, NASA and the contractors seemed more interested in building something in the congressional district of as many congressmen key to appropriations as possible. That drives up complexity.


I am not a sock puppet, nor have ever been one. Nor do I play one on TV. But I would like more reasoned dissent, as you have done, from others on the blog who might not share my bias.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:30 AM:

Ummm, I mean "JFK was in a hurry, so we built throwaway systems and, in a sense, went direct Earth-MOON." And "transferred" insread of "trabsferred."

I spent a lot of time designing Moon Bases and Mars bases for NASA and companies. Almost every time, the most idiotic designs got all the attention, through connections, better PR, or pet-projecthood by powerful individuals.

Again and again, the best systems were summarily rejected for political reasons.

The space station is so expensive, in part, because every single component is custom-engineered. There was a senior engineer, at one of the contractor faculities where I worked, who designed a space station made of identical cubooctahedral units locked together like so many pieces of erector set/meccano/lincoln logs. It was rejected because it made too little profit. He was ordered not to talk about his ideas. He kept talking. He was fired.

Do we want to try to go to Mars with a system designed by people who fire their best engineers?

Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 03:11 PM:

Let me once again explain myself, as the medium lends itself to some confusion, can't possibly be me that cannot communicate.

When I say sockpuppet (a loaded word I might have avoided) above I mean that it would be nice to have some security by obscurity that would allow a somewhat more free discussion of the ideas than the public nature and permanent record of the web allows.

I have no expertise and lots of opinions but I do have a worm's eye view of systems integration on an interesting bird and others here and there do have expertise and knowledge based on experience they can't share.

In fact the ultimate manned trip to Mars to stay might well launch from Earth or low Earth orbit but the engineering will not be mature if we haven't done all the Earth/Moon stuff first. Given the current price to LEO and beyond we have weight and volume constraints that guarantee everything will be expensive with say chem mill for weight of otherwise COTS/MOTS structure - that means even an otherwise modular system likely won't use identical modules and so it goes.

Ultimately my point is that Dilbert is a documentary and we are once again faced with coming up with a system designed by geniuses to be run by idiots - robustness includes robust under the political processes which means never ever - to once again mix a metaphor and use an example - going a bridge too far.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2004, 08:02 PM:

Now, why would a 32-year veteran of NASA JPL take a job as director of a science fiction museum if there was not as profound a connection between the space program and science fiction as I have claimed?

Experience Science Fiction names Director

Well, it might be big bucks from Microsoft's co-founder. Or it might be that Heinlein was right.