Monday, April 09, 2012
[S]pace keeps the politically powerful distracted with grand, visionary projects. Otherwise they’d be tempted to meddle in our personal affairs and might--who knows?--start subjecting us to full body searches at airports or telling us which health insurance policies to buy.
Links to this post:
>>> The new Space Launch System or SLS, the heavy launch vehicle that will replace Constellation’s Ares I and Ares V rockets, won’t be ready for a manned flight until at least 2021
That, right there, says all you need to know about why the government is a lousy conductor of ANY major project. It took them the same time to produce not one but THREE largely unrelated vehicles from scratch using 60s technology. Yet now, with computer modelling, computer design, and Cuisinarts, they can't manage to produce a single working vehicle for something like 13 years?
I am against NASA being given any more of a budget. Let them set goals, and metrics for achieving those goals, and let the Fed offer 'X' prizes for the attainment of those goals.
Another avenue for the government to encourage private enterprise -- in general and this is often forgotten -- is to use their purchasing power for their own services as a carrot.
Clearly, the government has a lot of need for access to space. By offering, say, a 5 year contract to the first agency able to produce such and such a payload-to-LEO at such and such a price point with such and such a risk level, the Fed can spur development as few carrots are able to.
And by specifying differing criteria for differing types of payload, they can encourage alternative and competing systems.
For example, for less-than massive payloads -- which might be a solution to many space operations as an alternative to standard heavy lift vehicles -- you could provide a market for "packet sized" deliverables -- that is, payloads as low as 500 pounds in quantities of 100s, which might spur the development of Laser Launch facilities. This might offer far more access to space at a much more efficient and effective price point than current "big iron" solutions. Much as most computing tasks were taken over from mainframe systems, so, too, might, esp. in the short term, substantial material for the use of and around the space station as an initial orbital factory be provided by a lot of small packets thrown up in a "train" for capture by and subsequent use of people manned at the space station or a connected living facility.
In the words of G. Harry Stine, "Out there, it's raining soup. Where's our bucket?"
>>> “Gingrich,” he said, “is highly educated and purely impractical. He understands the bold sweep of space policy. But, with the moon, he’s an engineering idiot. With the prizes, it won’t work.” And, the engineer added, “I have no faith in anything he says.”
This is an issue of an engineer expressing opinion on an arena outside his area of expertise.
The problems with going to the moon aren't engineering --- we've already done it.
The problems with going to the moon are political and financial. How can/do we justify it, and how/can we pay for it?
This has little to nothing to do with engineers.
And Gingrich's opinion on this is particularly relevant, because he IS a leader -- people WILL listen to what he says. Certainly not as much as JFK when he set forth his bold plan, by no means -- but... I've got news for you: JFK was talking through his hat when he did that.
There was NO certainty of how to do what he set as a goal. None. Zip. There was serious question about how the human body would respond to prolonged weightlessness of as much as a couple days. Some would speculate that it would kill a man.
Goals -- even impossible ones -- can be good if you strive to achieve them. You might surprise yourself.... And who knows? The horse may learn to sing.
PJ Remains a national treasure, noticing unintended consequences better than the average bear, and writing about it very cleverly.
P.J. when he was much younger (skip the 1986 intro):
How to Drive Fast on Drugs
While Getting Your
Not Spill Your Drink
How old am I? I read the original; in National Lampoon - it was what we used to call a magazine, printed on stuff called paper..... oh, nevermind.