Friday, December 26, 2003

Hope is Lost...The Beagle Can't be Found :(

Japans Nozumi (Hope) spacecraft was abandoned earlier this year. Now the UKs Beagle 2 lander has been lost.

This closes what has been a very bad year for space exploration.
The Columbia disaster was followed by the horrific explosion of Brazil's prototype satellite launcher (which killed enough of their rocket scientists that it may end their space program). The escape capsule from the ISS landed far off course and now the Great Galactic Ghoul has been munching happily.

Only China has had any outstanding successes with its rightly celebrated Launch of Shenzou 5.

The big danger here is that we give up.

Space exploration has tremendous potential for benefiting mankind. From clean energy to elbow-room to raw materials, to the answer to how to maintain dynamic growth sustainably, the costs of not pursuing this endeavor are far too high to allow the naysayers to rob us of our birthright.

From 1957-1969 we went from barely being able to launch a tiny satellite (Explorer 1) to landing men on the moon.

Since then we have muddled about with delusions of adequacy, barely able to reach LEO, the Space shuttle costs more to launch a crew to LEO (with a 2 in 107 chance of killing them all) than the Saturn 5 cost to take people to the moon and throw away every piece!

Something is wrong!

IMHO, Rand Simberg nails it with this article.

Ignoring the institutional incompetence of the system as-is the fact is that Unfireable Unionized Govt. Employees have a very real incentive to fail. If they can't do their job with their current budget they may get a bigger one.

This years past cluster of failures may be enough to turn people against Space again. The UUGEs must be stopped!

First off, we've had the ability to get into space since the 50s physics haven't changed. The complaints that we spend a pitiful amount on space is true in the absolute sense; but more progress has being made with private efforts on shoestring budgets than at NASA in getting the reusable launch vehicles to work.

We need to be encouraging (and not meddling with) the Wrights, Curtis, Du Mont and Sikorsky of the space age.

The problem is socialism:

(well that came out of left field...ha! :)

The biggest institutional obstacles to space exploration are the byzantine beauracracies set up by well meaning socialists in the intrest of fairness and efficiency....the biggest idealogical obsticals are the hatred of profits and the need to regulate everything.

Profit, either from selling launch services, space manufacturing, or utilizing space resources, are the greatest incentives to go into space. Yet the so-called progressives who claim to be for...umm...progress one would assume...consider profits to be evil and wasteful. If they can't stamp out private enterprise they have a fierce need to regulate it. The result of this philosophy combined with the civil service and its mentality is of course NASA which tries very hard to be a gatekeeper to the sky.

Note that the predecessor of NASA, (NACA) formed under a different mindset in a different age (and intended to bypass rather than facillitate the beauracracy) was astonishingly sucsessful at advancing aviation and even sone space technology at a breakneck pace.

It should be obvious now that the immense strides made in the first 50 years of flight could not have taken place in the current environment.

One of the greatest fears of the Left is that space will become a chaotic, dynamic place...unregulated by their quidnunc urges. One UK scientist gave an interview last year in which he laid out all the reasons this is bad....and in his own academia-stunted way, could not appreciate that nearly all the points he raised were features and not bugs. He wants a world body to regulate all commercial enterprises in space....Ewwwww!

Say good by to any start ups if this fellow gets his way, though big multinationals will go for it as it puts hurdles in the way that only they will be able to jump through.

Little guys need not apply...Note that the big companies are not the ones pushing cutting edge space access tech now....The Clinton era consolidations have made the current aerospace giants very comfortable with the status-quo. It is the little guys like Rutan, Gary Hudson and, God rest their souls Max Hunter and G Harry Stein who've pushed this either with cutting metal or advocacy since McDonnell Douglas abandoned the DC-X. Note: I have no problem with big guys getting us into space, but it is unlikely as really big corporations tend to have made niches for themselves and be fairly conservative in their business dealings. Given the right incentive and limited regulation,
the aerospace giants could get a lot of things done. I still believe that, historically, adjusting to a big paradigm shift is done better by a small "nimble" company rather than a big one. I could go into the Fed-Ex UPS example....but won't.

The academics like the above mentioned Dr. Sir Martin Reese, and their political acolytes fear the uninhibited, unregulated spreading of people and taking of risks. These are precisely the perks that humanity needs to progress not the sort of stagnant plodding carefully planned future of Malthusian inspired restrictions many 'progressives' feel need to be imposed on us, but the dynamic challenging of old ideas and creating real innovations that gave us the renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.(For example: A collection of space colonies is likely to have some social similarities to the city states of classical Greece...not a bad starting point... though admittedly an optimistic one).

Sounds nice huh?

First we must free ourselves from the UUGEs (pronounced Oogies :) then we need to stop trying to demonize anyone who turns a good profit (and the first space cowboy to lasso a platinum asteroid will turn a healthy one) and cut some of the regulations on business.

As Jerry Pournelle says "We must first start building spaceships" He makes (as always) some excellent points here. Read the whole thing he talks about prizes and X-programs.

Set a set of requirements for say a vehicle to reach somewhere between LEO and the moon..... then, aside from any X-project type reasearch...DONT MUCK WITH INDUSTRY let them find their own innovative solutions free from GS empire builders, then, buy a few for competitive testing and let those companies sell them to launch services (or allow them to launch themselves, though the laws would have to be rewritten ) for satellite, tourist and university launches.

A govt. agency (but not NASA...set up likely on millitary lines )would set up a few outposts, say habitats on Luna or maybe even Mars and Cruithne which like the forts of the old west would be starting points for private development. But instead of the oppressed aborigines, these "forts" (in fact govt. run industrial parks) would protect the settlers from radiation and vacuum while the citizens built up their own infrastructure...without govt. harrassment.

The Space Guard or whatever would do things like navigation satellite maintenance search and rescue and maybe, later, safety inspections (Hey, I'm a Coastie...gimme a break :) They could do exploratory and survey missions....but they wouldn't stop some private bunch of Yahoos from going to say, Titan, first. Their big responsibility might be asteroid defense

This fort plan is just one Part Time Petty Officers opinion, and there are many others.

Note that I am not an anarchist, certainly there are a few regs that all can agree are common sense. Big nuclear reactors in very low earth orbit are likely a bad thing, as are Orion Drive explosions that are not well beyond Geostationary orbit (EMP might damage satellites) And of course business can't exist with anarchy, there has to be protection against theft & fraud.

The big problem though is property rights.

This is where lefties might still be provide a show stopper. People (Space Treaty notwithstanding) need to be able to claim objects like asteroids and tracts of land on larger bodies to exploit them without fear of "eminent domain" abuse.

One final thing, and this might well be the hardest pill for the Govt. types to swallow. The independence bar for these settlements should be set rather low, at least as low as it is in our overseas territories. The above mentioned City State analogy works best if they are states.

All this is moot if we stop exploring. History is replete with examples of civilizations that started pushing back a new frontier and then descended into navel-gazing. China is the best example. They were exploring as far as Africa and likely, the Americas and were the most advanced civilization on the planet. However, the UUGEs of their day, the bureaucrats, the eunuchs, that ran the empire and held the real power, decided that this was a waste and called the fleet back, and burned it. New lands meant new markets and a rattling of their static bureaucratic world, it also meant new bureaucrats....competition....not something a beauraucrat likes.

It is these latter day eunuchs who would deny us our birthright: limitless energy, resources to last a thousands of years and a new enlightenment.

We are surely on the cusp of something awesome and wonderful, if we can avoid being drug back into the tar-pit of history.

Update: Fixed links....rambled further.
Update 2: fixed a paragraph I had inexplicably mangled during the last update..

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