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Reflecting on China’s space capabilities and what it means for the US

While the recent Shenzhou-9 flight was a major accomplishment for China’s space program, featuring the first crewed docking by a Chinese spacecraft and also the first flight of a female Chinese astronaut, the flight did not get that much attention—or reaction—in the US, as previously noted here. Some, though, are finding ways to use the mission to make a point about US space policy, or to warn China not to follow in the footsteps of the US in human spaceflight.

Last Friday the Marshall Institute and the Techamerica Space Enterprise Council held a forum on China’s space program and its implications for the US; I summarized the forum in an article in The Space Review earlier this week. The panelists noted that while the public focus has been on Chinese human spaceflight program, the bigger issue is the growing capabilities of China’s space program overall and its doctrine of “information superiority”.

They also played down the idea of space race between the two countries: “China is not racing with the United States, whether it’s manned space or unmanned space,” said Dean Cheng of The Heritage Foundation. “The Chinese have their own program, their own objectives, their own timeline.” One reason for a lack of a race is that Americans, including policymakers, have been treating the Chinese accomplishments with a “been-there, done-that” attitude. “For China to be considered a threat in Americans’ minds, they’re going to have to do something new, and not something new for China, but something new for the world,” said Leslee Gilbert, former staff director of the House Science Committee.

Not everyone shares that attitude, though. “[T]he humans who are now winning the space race come from the People’s Republic of China,” writes Douglas MacKinnon in an op-ed in the New York Times. “It is clear from their own propaganda that China means to replace us as the ‘world’s leading spacefaring nation.'”

MacKinnon, in his op-ed, seeks to elevate space policy in the 2012 campaign here in the US, using the growing capability—and, in his view, threat—posed by China’s human and other spaceflight programs as a catalyst. “As China launches military satellite after military satellite while declaring its intention to colonize the moon, maybe preeminence in space should be” an issue that President Obama and Governor Romney should discuss in the campaign, he argues. (Keep in mind that the Chinese government has not officially declared “its intention to colonize the Moon”, only that it is studying potential future human missions to the Moon.)

MacKinnon claims that during the transition period after the 2008 election, then President-elect Obama “contemplated combining the best of the space programs at the Pentagon and NASA to compete with the rapidly accelerating Chinese space program,” which he then abandoned. He cites as a source for that a Bloomberg News article from January 2009 that cites claims that the incoming administration would “probably tear down long-standing barriers between the U.S.’s civilian and military space programs” to counter Chinese capabilities. Exactly how that would have worked is unclear, but a couple of the specific plans cited in the article—canceling the Ares 1 rocket and making use of EELVs for human spaceflight—have actually happened, contrary to MacKinnon’s claims, with the Ares 1 scrapped as part of the Constellation cancellation and several companies making plans to use the Atlas 5 for commercial crewed vehicles.

In an op-ed in the Washington Times, Cheng offers his own advice on how the US should respond to “China’s space challenge”. The US, he believes, should think about space in “broader” terms and do more to publicize its achievements to demonstrate its capabilities to the world. He cites, as he did in last week’s forum as one example, the relative lack of attention given to the recent news that Voyager 1 approaching the edge of the solar system (it has not, contrary to Cheng’s op-ed, actually left the solar system yet.)

Cheng also believes the US should rely more on its commercial space capabilities. “Space exploration arguably requires the government; the business of space exploitation, whether resupplying the ISS or promoting space tourism, does not,” he writes. He also cautions about cooperation in space exploration, especially with China, as well as engaging China in “new international covenants or codes of conduct regarding space.”

Meanwhile, Bob Davis of the Wall Street Journal has some advice for China about its human space ambitions: don’t do it! “If China goes on to repeat the [Apollo 11] mission 60 or so years after the original, it would prove what? To my mind, it would represent a poverty of imagination, not riches,” he argues. The piece is as much about his dislike for human spaceflight than it is about China’s program, however, beyond suggesting that China might be better off spending its money on terrestrial pursuits than on spaceflight. It seems unlikely China will heed his advice, based on its current activities.

115 comments to Reflecting on China’s space capabilities and what it means for the US

  • “[T]he humans who are now winning the space race come from the People’s Republic of China,” writes Douglas MacKinnon in an op-ed in the New York Times.”

    Albrechts description of MacKinnon and his piece would be “tinkerbell” There is no race and the Chinese are not winning it. What a waste of effort. RGO

  • DCSCA

    “…the flight did not get that much attention—or reaction—in the US…”

    =yawn= America’s own space program has garnered little attention for many years, beyond the one-offs of covering a tragedy ot a triumph-(or when relics are flown to museums) particularly since the time when news divisions at the major networks were turned from loss leaders into profit centers and nightly news is still where where the bulk of busy Americans get their daily dose of news.

    This is partly the fault of the 30/40-something news editors and media types- the gatekeepers who decide what Americans see and what shapes the agenda of our times, but mostly it is the way televison measures audience which calibrate the costs for commerical time, both of which which can be parsed today to the half-minute. It affects network news content as well as cable news content as well. (Ever notice network newscasts as a norm deliver a 10 minute summary up front, then the next 20 minutes rest is fluff pieces chiefly sponsored by stomach and OTC medicines– it’s not by accident.) A small case in point- last week, while NBC and CBS both managed a few seconds reporting on the Chinese landing- ABC did not report it at all, yet in the same newscast, ABC managed to find time to slip three entertainment-based stories in the same newscast. It’s a disturbing trend fueled chiefly on the basis of ratings and profit making, not a need to know or what’s in the public interest.

    To be sure, the small percentage of interested Americans who want to ferret out fuller background news on their space program, or China’s, can find sources to satisfy their appetites. But for a more passive, general public, beset w/more earthlty problems like finding jobs, paying bills and buying food, the pleasantries of being ‘entertained’ in their newscasts make for a welcomed diversion fro the pressures of the day. THe break-up of ‘TomKat’ is easier on the mind than pondering the possibilities of the PRC heading for Luna.

  • Frank Glover

    “=yawn= America’s own space program has garnered little attention for many years,,,”

    We get used to, and jaded by almost anything very quickly, DSCA. Anything.

    If it’s a subject (ANY subject) you care about (and I realized when my age was in the single numbers [which correspond to the Mercury days], that not everyone was as interested in space as I am…nothing new there) you’ll find a wan to ferret out the information you want. Libraries quickly became my friend, now so is the Internet. I stopped expecting to be spoon-fed what I really wanted to know, decades ago.

    A space policy that depends on keeping a large part of the population glued to the TV, will fail. Never pretend that it’s done for ratings or even ‘inspiration.’ Those are secondary, if not tertiary benefits. A truly spacefaring civilization doesn’t need them, any more than aviation or maritime in general, requires significant public attention or support to continue. That is the condition we must work to reach.

    “…not a need to know or what’s in the public interest. ”

    And even within that range of events, disregarding pure entertainment, there are still a great many things ‘in the public interest’ that compete with space projects and policy. Humans don’t multitask well, yet are expected to do more of it, every day.

    Why do you seem to be surprised?

    And do something about that fatigue condition, would you…?

  • The long term goal of the ruling oligarchy in China is total economic and technological domination of both the heavens and the Earth without waking up an America that’s in a political war with itself– and while taking full advantage of the greed of US companies that have absolutely no loyalty to the American people.

    Vladimir Ilyich Lenin said it best:

    “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them!”

    And the ruling oligarchy in China can’t believe how easy its been so far!

    Marcel F. Williams

  • Coastal Ron

    The Chinese do seem to have a measured space program – clearly nothing being done at a breakneck pace like we did back in the 60’s, and a very pokey operational pace compared to what we did with the Shuttle and are doing today with the various vehicles visiting the ISS.

    Unless there is a goal or defined objective that we could decide is worth racing the Chinese to, I don’t see us engaging in any sort of race or competition.

    And I think we would be tough competitors for the Chinese, who are still figuring out how to do the basics in spaceflight. For us, we are transitioning to letting companies take over our space needs in LEO, which could quicken the pace of activity in space beyond just supporting the ISS.

    So far the Chinese are working on the basics:

    – A crew capsule for three (could be used to hold four)
    – Working on small, reusable space stations
    – Working on a cargo resupply vehicle
    – Working on a Delta IV Heavy-sized rocket

    Not exactly the torrid pace needed to validate they are somehow in a race.

    Of course we’re not standing still either, and these are just some of the commercial industry efforts:

    – Working on two Cargo Resupply systems
    – Working on two or more Crew transportation vehicles (which could also double as cargo carriers)
    – A company is working on a rocket twice the size of the Chinese Long March 5 rocket
    – Numerous companies on autonomous landing systems for sub-orbital flights and potential lunar use

    And let’s not forget the experience we’ve gained with our Mars rovers.

    There is no race, and no evidence we should be concerned – for whatever reason (unless you make money off of fear).

  • BeanCounterfromDownunder

    The Chinese also have a population of something in the order of 1.3 billion people. Many of these are border-line poverty and wanting to get out of this hence the move of large numbers from the countryside to cities. So I’d say that China’s major issue is around how to lift the population’s standard of living to western middle-class not space races or world dominance as Marcel seems to think.

  • ghowardharris

    America has a secret weapon called Elon Musk and Capitalism. Musk and his competitors, with the appropriate sponsorship, can catch us back up to the Chinese an even surpass them. Yes, we accomplished all the Chinese did decades ago, but today we do not have that capability and as Orion is demonstrating, the old US methods are too slow and too expensive. ISS was too much for us, and we outsourced it, which we could afford to do since we were living on relics leftover from an earlier era. That era is gone now. Its time to re-establish the American capability and it looks like the only method that will work is the newspace commercial method.

  • vulture4

    “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them!”

    Would that be the Cinese capitalists who now manufacture the majority of the rope used in the US?

    China has neither the intention nor the motivation to race the US to the moon. If they lost, they would look incompetent. if they won, they would irritate their biggest customer.

    China’s goals and values are different from ours. But this is not a zero-sum game in which one side must win and the other must lose. There are policies which could well result in both sides losing. A new cold war will condem the world to a costly conflict that could last a generation. And conversely, if we can develop a sense of understanding by each side of the goals an values of the other, it is possible that both sides might win by working together.

  • DCSCA wrote @ July 5th, 2012 at 6:14 pm
    . THe break-up of ‘TomKat’ is easier on the mind than pondering the possibilities of the PRC heading for Luna.”

    The American appitite for news/entertainment has its limits. Bristol Palin’s “Lifes a Tripp” has floundered which sets a baseline number for what Americans will watch …Complete fiction is simply a little to much…just as “The PRC heading for luna” is a bomb because well …complete fiction is a little to much.

    Now let the Reds have a game show in space! WOW that would garner world wide audience, particularly if they toss people out the airlock. RGO

  • ghowardharris wrote @ July 5th, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Well said…RGO

  • DCSCA

    @Robert G. Oler wrote @ July 5th, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    “The American appitite for news/entertainment has its limits.”

    Except it doesn’t.

    You’re so far off course on this one even Spruance couldn’t find you with radar on a clear day.

    @ghowardharris wrote @ July 5th, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    “America has a secret weapon called Elon Musk and Capitalism.”

    Nonsense. In the 80 plus year history of modern rocketry, it has been government under several guises with various geopolitical / military motives which has moved the technology forward, not profit-driven ‘capitalists.’ Those very ‘capitalists’ all but ignored Goddard’s efforts, save the trickle of philanthropy from Guggenheim at Lindbergh’s urging, while Von Braun’s team flourished, flush w/fascist Reichmarks in the same period. When Soviet Russia lofted Sputnik Western ‘capitalist’ industry balked again and it was government which stepped in, took the risk and led in response. Western capitalists have never led the way in this field, repeatedly balked when asked to step up to the plate and deferred to the government to take all the risks, and have always been follow-alongs, cashing in where they could. That hasn’t changed.

  • DCSCA

    @Frank Glover wrote @ July 5th, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    when my age was in the single numbers [which correspond to the Mercury days],

    Libraries?! LOL try the newsstands, the three networks, radio and television, VoA, etc. It was pretty much front page news for a decade, Frank. And it sold papers and folks watched. Sorry you missed it.

  • DCSCA

    “Meanwhile, Bob Davis of the Wall Street Journal has some advice for China about its human space ambitions: don’t do it! “If China goes on to repeat the [Apollo 11] mission 60 or so years after the original, it would prove what?”

    That they’re halmarking this cenrury as theres. The conservative WSJ should know better– that in the relm of geopolitics and finance, perception is reality. And the PRC, marching to a different drummer, most likely will not be as foolish as the quicksodic Americans, who were smart enough to walk on the moon and dumb enough to walk away from it.

  • Monte Davis

    I’m in sympathy with DCSCA’s and Frank Glover’s posts: I laugh whenever I see “gatekeepers,” “media elites” etc. used to imply: “Americans would be interested in what *I’m* interested in if it weren’t for Sinister Forces.”

    I was a science writer for national magazines for 15 years, and have known journalists and editors — starting with both my parents — all my life. Believe it or not, the institutional drive to get more readers/listeners/viewers (and, of course, advertisers) far outweighs *any* of their individual preconceptions or ideologies. They *want* to identify an underserved audience interest and generate new content for it — that’s their path to distinction and success.

    In short, the system works — messily, by fits and starts and fads, but it works. You may not like the mirror it holds up to what we want to know and how we like to be entertained, but don’t blame the mirror.

  • James

    Where Newspace sees profit or not in HSF exploration, and decides to pursue exploration based on profit or not, the Chinese see long term national interests, not profits, and decides to pursue exploration for the advancement of those interests.

    Comparing Newspace to Chinaspace is silly then. They are operating from two totally different contexts.

    Where folks get in a dither is they don’t see our democracy pursuing long term national interests. Just short term pork spending so I can get re-elected interests.

    China has been around a long time for a reason.

  • @Earth to Planet Marcel
    “… taking full advantage of the greed of US companies that have absolutely no loyalty to the American people. “
    Yep, a perfect description of the situation we are in with ATK and other SLS contractors working under cost-plus contracts on a project whose completion date will keep being pushed back as the years wear on giving the Chinese more and more time to advance relative to us. All just to keep NASA budget money rolling to them and in areas restricted to those represented by certain politicians.

    “And the ruling oligarchy in China can’t believe how easy its been so far!
    And yet people like you would like to make it even easier for them by pushing SLS. It’s hard to take you seriously on this issue when you want to promote something that will give the Chinese even more time to close the gap with the U.S.

  • James wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Where Newspace sees profit or not in HSF exploration, and decides to pursue exploration based on profit or not, the Chinese see long term national interests, not profits, and decides to pursue exploration for the advancement of those interests.”

    OK on the face of it I would agree with what you wrote; except history really does not bear it out…nor even if it were correct is there any connection that “Chinese…long term national interest” are seen as being connected with more then passing efforts at exploration.

    First off I would argue that the chinese have no more long or short term national interest then any other nation does or can. Almost all nations due to political pressure both foreign and domestic have both long term and short term interest which “good” leaders (no matter their political persuasion) try and balance out.

    For instance I take Bush 43 personally at his word that the notions he threw the US onto with our Iraq and Afland “adventures” were mostly looking at long term events. I dont think that they were done all that well nor do I really think that his long term possibilities were realistic…although as one would note on my facebook page, (and to some extent here, although I admit being far harder on him here most likely) it is hard right now to see how those play out. My Great Grandfather had some very unique opinions about the Philippines in 1906 but by 1938 he was pretty sure what we had done in the SAW was worth it.

    One thing that makes “really long term” planning almost impossible for nations is that history is far more dynamic today then it was say 100 or even 50 years ago. In 1998 the US economy seemed on the verge of a massive expansion …now because of bad short term affects…we are on the brink of the abyss.

    Dale Gray (where is he!) was a historian who hung out on the compuserve forum a lot and he use to argue that any group or person who has “long term plans” more then 5 years in the future is actually limiting themselves and their potential by those plans…they simply lock one into things that events might prove useless both by the advances of technology and social events.

    You can look at SLS/Orion and see the purposeful limiting of the options of the future by the short term interest of pursing those projects…but of course to the politicians and “tinkerbells” who support those two projects…the future is not very important…it is the short term present.

    A pay check every two weeks.

    RGO

  • James wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 7:16 am

    “Where folks get in a dither is they don’t see our democracy pursuing long term national interests. Just short term pork spending so I can get re-elected interests”

    that is a problem and a big one…but right now it is not the main issue the US has. Right now our main issue in politics is simply blind partisanship…As the base that makes up the GOP “dies” and is not really replaced by younger voters…it becomes more and more important for the pols who live off that base to turn more and more of it out…so they have resorted to essentially lying to get the base churned up…and the base is more then happy to believe those things because it fits their preconceived notions.

    “Obama killed the space shuttle which was doing glorious things and flying safely”. if I had a dollar for everytime some morron here in Houston (and who is badged at JSC) tells me that I would be well on my way to having Lorelei’s college fund funded.

    It is a lie of course..and most of them really know it is a lie; but it is a “lie” that they justify. When pressed as to what really happened the next line is something like “But Obama could have kept it flying if he had wanted to so he wanted to kill it”.

    Which is of course circular logic…and does not at all support the lie that they push out.

    I speak to a lot of “lunch clubs” and the other day sometimes on the future of space flight…(and other things but mostly that) …the other day someone at one of these clubs noted that the last speaker (A “Name” but I didnt hear him/her make these remarks, so I dont want to label them with it until I sort this out) was claiming that Orion/Ares 1 was on the verge of flying when Obama pulled the plug “forcing us to rely on the Russians”. Of course that is a lie as well.

    The list just in space policy and politics is pretty long about how the right wing/the GOP has just started making stuff up to support its positions…and not being all that shameful when called on it.

    There are lies told here masking as “opinions”. One can believe that my chickens are really ducks and call them that…but a realistic person knows that they are not. There is nothing in common between the SpaceX/OSC Cargo contracts and Solyndra, but Mark Whittington and others HAVE NO ISSUE, NONE WHATSOEVER about endlessly repeating that.

    There have always been these people in American politics…but right now talk radio and Fox News and others have given them a megaphone that even as they go into the good night…makes them loud.

    RGO

  • James

    @ RGO: “History is more dynamic today then it was say 100 or even 50 years ago”

    Not sure I get this point.

    History has happened already. It is fixed and static. What we write about ‘what happened’ may be more volatile today, then when folks wrote about history 100 or 50 years ago, but I don’t think that was the point you were making.

    I think what you mean is: the future is more dynamic now than it used to be, so ‘locking’ oneself into a long term strategy to realize long term interests is counter productive. If so, well, sure. Business’s today need to be flexible given the dynamics of the future.

    I get all that. However, i don’t believe our government thinks past the next two years. There does not seem to be an action to impact long term national interests or concerns here in America. SLS/Orion is a perfect living example of turning a blind eye to the long term of those ideas, i.e. where is the budget for the ‘missions’ they will fly? the destinations? etc. But who cares, say the porkies, it means jobs in my district now.

    Obama picked ‘flexible’ path. I don’t think he did that in the context you suggest. I think he did that because he doesn’t want to be locked into anything, and look bad that he isn’t now, or wont’ in the future, deliver on HSF in the 8 years he’s president.

    I am not a historian, and I don’t have a seat in the Chinese government, but they have spent time and money putting humans into space for a reason. They are up to something strategic, even if its to show the Chinese people they are a 1st world country. That is more than one can say for the NASA HSF.

    NASA HSF has become a short term play thing for the piggies in Congress, nothing more. The Chinese don’t seem to have that relationship to their HSF program.

  • “Libraries?! LOL try the newsstands, the three networks, radio and television, VoA, etc. It was pretty much front page news for a decade, Frank. And it sold papers and folks watched. Sorry you missed it.”

    Watched TV, kept up with magazines *in* libraries…still nothing new here. Attention spans are, if anything, shorter today.

    And yes, we had a few non-space distractions in the 60’s, too. Vietnam, Counterculture, civil Rights.. Y’know?

    I stand by what I said.

  • Harris Tweed

    In the 80 plus year history of modern rocketry, it has been government under several guises with various geopolitical / military motives which has moved the technology forward, not profit-driven ‘capitalists.’

    The basic misunderstanding here is that Elon is trying to move technology forward. He’s not. SpaceX isn’t a technology research outfit. It’s a production/development company. They’re making use of technologies that are commercially available. You’re precisely right that profit-driven capitalists won’t advance space transportation technology that effectively. Fortunately, we’ve advanced to the point that they don’t need to. 80 years of modern rocketry got us to where we are now.

    Henry Ford did it the same way. He didn’t really advance technology. He just understood how to market it. Look at Steve Jobs as a contemporary example of using technology in new ways to meet consumer needs.

    The idea that space transportation, at least to LEO, is a technological hurdle is an idea that is, frankly, no longer justifiable.

  • Dave Hall

    @ghowardharris wrote @ July 5th, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    “America has a secret weapon called Elon Musk and Capitalism.”

    Yes, Musk is an entrepeneurial freak of nature and Sillicon Valley style capitalism suits his style perfectly. A science fiction writer trying to create a major character inventing Musk’s actual accomplishments so far would likely create someone unbelievable. But he’s real and knows his vehicles down to the last weld. Musk is promising a Mars strategy in the real near future, after spending 2 years prepping the public as to SpaceX’s long-term intentions. As a kind of “royal observer” I’ve made a point of researching Musk’s many TV interviews … he understands the value of public attention and consciously applies his mind to repeating the message he wants his followers to get. “We’re going to Mars”.

  • James wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I am sorry for the confusions…the statement comes from the wonderful book on Pork Chop Hill and was repeated in the movie of the same name by the character Gregory Peck played “History does not tarry long in this century”…

    this implies the historians view that history is “dynamic” in the sense that day to day it is made on a small scale and those day to day changes make it on a large scale. ie Nations do not usually rise to greatness in a single day or a short time period, they rise (or fall) based on daily events which eventually are cumulative in their affect (and dynamic)…and lead to one day The US being a superpower….or Great Britain more or less (as it is now under a “conservative” government) leaving the world stage as any serious power (or at least a military one).

    (I recently gave a speech concerning “The End of the Super Power era”)

    anyway again sorry for the confusion…we agree on the notion of history I was just expressing it different. on to a few points.

    “However, i don’t believe our government thinks past the next two years. There does not seem to be an action to impact long term national interests or concerns here in America.”

    we certainly have significant elements not doing that now. We (the US) is in a both a dreadful and good (grin) period historically where we are witnessing the end of an era (the superpower era) and since we are the only remaining superpower it is hard for us as a country and as a political group to deal with that. The trappings of being a superpower; large military budgets, infrastructure that is soley connected to that endeavor and the political support behind it….have amassed such power in both parties, but in particular the GOP that even in best of times with the best of leadership it would be hard to think outside the box…but right now the GOP is trying to “wave that shirt” at least one more time with mostly leadership that is near the cave person period.

    There are forces of long term change in this country being advocated on a personal and political level, changes which will have profound (I think mostly good but others of course differ) change. The ACA, some social issue changes (gay marriage)…and others are long term thinking.

    SO I WOULD ARGUE IS OBAMA’s SPACE POLICY. One reason it is being so bitterly opposed by the forces of the status quo; is that it puts space policy on a footing that syncs up with the dynamics of “history” as it progress from day to day. SLS/Orion are more a continuation of the past into the future then anything dynamic…even if built they cannot be “dynamic”.

    We agree on Flexible path…except I think that it is the path for this time…ie it commits to no “long term goal” because that would require building/sustaining hardware and infrastructure that is not very dynamic. What it does is allow the dynamics of today (true commercialization of human spaceflight) to build and develop until they are mature enough to do things with.

    As for China.

    One reason I am not at this point very concerned with their HSF and its relationship to their development as a “power” is that their space efforts are not at all dynamic (at least in human spaceflight). This could be just how they chose to do it (and if that is the case I dont see it playing a large role in their national expansion) …or it could be the learning phase before they try really innovative efforts…then and only then should we be concerned.

    People (mostly in the US) talk a lot about their innovative military efforts; one person even gives them the anti carrier capability as innovative for its time as the Japanese Long Lance torpedo of WW2…but so far that seems to be mostly talk in the US…there is nothing hard to support that. What I have seen of the “stealth” fighter efforts are well laughable.

    There are replacements for the superpower model emerging in global affairs…The Obama space policy in my view gives HSF at least a fighting chance to be a part of that. RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    Dave Hall wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    We’re going to Mars

    Which is part of the reason some Lunar-tics don’t like Musk – he’s ignoring their object of worship. Of course he’s ignoring Mercury and Pluto too, but they don’t have as many vocal fans… ;-)

  • Dave Hall wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 1:05 pm
    As a kind of “royal observer” I’ve made a point of researching Musk’s many TV interviews … he understands the value of public attention and consciously applies his mind to repeating the message he wants his followers to get. “We’re going to Mars”.”

    sadly I have not watched Musk’s TV appearances all that much…so I am curious…

    what do you think his actual intentions are in going to Mars? RGO

  • DCSCA

    I was a science writer for national magazines for 15 years, and have known journalists and editors — starting with both my parents — all my life. Believe it or not, the institutional drive to get more readers/listeners/viewers (and, of course, advertisers) far outweighs *any* of their individual preconceptions or ideologies. They *want* to identify an underserved audience interest and generate new content for it — that’s their path to distinction and success.

    DCSCA is quite familiar w/your assessment having worked at both print and broadcast entites as both a suit and a creative. Once the network news divisions were slewed to become profit centers, the content of the programming was driven by same. And it is gtting worse even today. Back in the day, Paley liked to remind Murrow and Friendly that their entire annual news budget was paid for by the advertising revenue earned from ‘I Love Lucy.’ Public affairs programming- aka news– was a necessity to satisfy licenscing requirements from the FCC and that included news coverage of space. AS ol’ Walter would say, ‘That’s the way it is.” — Or was.

  • common sense

    I am not sure if I am going to get understood as far as Elon is concerned but here is what I think. Elon is an entrepreneur who happens to love space flight and has a belief that our species has to become multi-planetary for self preservation. Elon is a businessman, don’t ever doubt this. So he saw an opportunity in the LV business and his business is to capture the LV market worldwide. And he is on his way. Then his business will be used to support his vision for space exploration and exploitation. BUT first and foremost he needs to make the money to get his vision going. Just like anyone of us, before you buy your darn SUV you need the cash to do it. And if the government is willing to give money one way or another then the government is fair game. Any businessman knows that. Anyone who has been in any business knows that. And if by the same token he provides a service required by the government then so much the better. There is nothing magic or malicious about this. And by the way the government knows it, NASA knows it, DARPA knows it, DoD knows it. It is just plain NORMAL.

    I hope some here and elsewhere will get it but I am not holding my breath. However those who get it may have an opportunity to help and articulate and manipulate this adventure. The others will have senseless and useless posts on this and other forums.

    Ask yourself this question:

    Which part of history do you want to be with?

  • @common sense
    As far as I can tell, yours was a fair and accurate synopsis. A few on this blog may purposely misconstrue what you said though.

  • Malmesbury

    Which part of history do you want to be with

    An interesting way of looking at it.

    The next point in the timeline is the Commercial Crew selection in just a few days…

  • common sense

    @ Rick Boozer wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 4:36 pm
    @ Malmesbury wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    I realize how difficult it is for those in this business who work for SLS/MPCV in one form or another, for those outside this business who just listen to what they really want to hear, for those who think SciFi is jut plain here right now, for those who think that (some of) the DoD budget might as well be given to NASA when we’re done with our ongoing conflicts (never mind that more conflicts are very likely to errupt again, e.g. Lybia), for those who think that the financial crisis in Europe will spare us, for those who think that this President is against NASA even though he requested a budget increase the first time (and again), for those who think that 2012 NASA is the same as 1969 NASA,…

    BUT

    Reality is what is happening here and now: SLS/MPCV will not see the day of light for lack of budget commensurate with the goal(s). Goal that is not even planned anywhere. No one actually knows what requirements the SLS is built on or MPCV for that matter. NASA will never get twice the budget, barring a NEO heading our way – it may be moot then. NASA’s budget will soon decline again regardless of the claims of some – maybe some should ask NASA insiders. Decline comes in many different ways one of which is a steady budget over th years.

    NOW

    If those who think that Mike Griffin would effectively turn NASA into their SciFi dreams of Moon, Mars and beyond, I have this question:

    Mike Griffin was at the helm of NASA when Congress and the WH agreed (supposedly) to the VSE and Constellation. Yet the whole thing went bankrupt. Why should it be any different this time? WHY?

  • common sense

    “THe break-up of ‘TomKat’ is easier on the mind than pondering the possibilities of the PRC heading for Luna.”

    An example of total delusion. Those who are interested in “TomKat” as you said are 1) much more numerous than those interested in “Luna” and 2) were most likely never interested in Apollo XI way back when. You will never bring them to the HSF table. No matter what you try and condescending is not helping.

    Now if you are a journalist as you claim to be you should recognize that your life is about reporting the lives of those who actually do something. Now if you are Lara Logan I’ll take that back but something tells me you’re not even close to being her.

    As far as Tom and Katie, my thoughts are they are going through a horrible time and if journalists were respectful they would let them be and mourn their relationship. Now of course if they could work their divorce on “Luna” that’d be great right?

  • Coastal Ron

    common sense wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    BUT first and foremost he needs to make the money to get his vision going. Just like anyone of us, before you buy your darn SUV you need the cash to do it.

    Which is certainly part of the “innovation” that he is bringing to “NewSpace” – how to stay alive (and even thrive) while pursuing your long-term goals.

    Companies big and small have come and gone for decades because they did not understand that. Maybe they will all “visionaries”, but as you point out, you have to bring in the cash to spend it. There are even those that see the COTS and CCDev work as “dirty money”, since in their eyes it makes SpaceX “less commercial”. Bunch of hogwash.

    Musk likely sees it as chalking up more sales of his rockets, and the more he sells the more he can develop the next version, and THAT gets him that much closer to eventually helping us be a multi-planetary species. Which is his stated goal.

    The mans got a vision, he’s got a plan, and he’s generating positive cash flow. That puts him ahead of everyone else.

  • DougSpace

    @ Common Sense
    “It is just plain NORMAL”.

    Yes, you are correct. If I were Elon, I too would be growing my company’s capability by accepting government contracts. But it is also “normal” for government spending to be inefficient and it is normal for large government space programs to get cancelled after budget and schedule overruns.

    But this is why I am encouraged by the SAA approach. It seems to not be business as normal. Development costs are down. Payments only after milestones achieved. Delays yes, but nothing extraordinary.

    But I would make a distinction between SAA and FAR government approaches. And as a taxpayer, I much prefer the SAA approach.

  • Jim

    DCSCA wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 5:44 am

    @Robert G. Oler wrote @ July 5th, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    “The American appitite for news/entertainment has its limits.”

    Except it doesn’t.

    You’re so far off course on this one even Spruance couldn’t find you with radar on a clear day.

    DCSCA wrote:

    “America has a secret weapon called Elon Musk and Capitalism.”

    Nonsense. In the 80 plus year history of modern rocketry…government under several guises… moved the technology forward, …‘capitalists’ all but ignored Goddard’s efforts, save the trickle of philanthropy from Guggenheim at Lindbergh’s urging, while Von Braun’s team flourished, flush w/fascist Reichmarks….

    Goddard kept most of his work secretive from everyone.

    I think you missed the point of the last several years of Space-X. Mr. Musk has already done mainly on his own dime what you are vehemently complaining he won’t do.

    Get with the program!!

  • common sense

    @ DougSpace wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    “But this is why I am encouraged by the SAA approach. It seems to not be business as normal.”

    I’ll try and explain since I think you are mistaking the “usual” cost-plus approach with the less usual SAA. Less usual for Human Space Flight that is. SAAs are quite common otherwise.

    Cost-plus is a “normal” approach as much as is SAA. Cost-plus serves the government well when there are a lot of unknowns in the development of a capability where the industry cannot bear the cost of requirement changes or unknown development difficulties. Basically a contractor bid on a NASA proposal provided the work they bid on does not change over time. If the work changes for a reason or another then it is the government’s responsibility to pay the tab. The problem is that this approach does not provide any incentive for the company to do work efficiently. It creates a long lasting relationship between NASA and the contractor, for better or worse that is.

    SAAs have been around for a long time. They represent a means for NASA to collaborate with external entities, e.g. industry or academia, in order to further NASA’s mission. There are reimbursable and non-reimbursable agreements and funded agreements. Cost is estimated first hand at the establishment of the SAA. There are a lot of legal requirements for all these agreements though and none are created equal.
    – Typically a private company would go for a reimbursable agreement if they want NASA to do some work that NASA is uniquely qualified to do and that does not compete with the private sector. For example, company needs to use some specific wind tunnel resources and those resources only are at a NASA wind tunnel.
    – A non reimbursable agreement means that there is no exchange of money between NASA and its partners. For example a partner agrees to develop a capability that NASA needs to further its mission. At the same time the private company benefits from those advances.
    – Funded agreements under which appropriated funds are transferred to a domestic partner to accomplish an Agency mission.

    Below are some references worth reading:

    http://www.nasa.gov/offices/c3po/about/c3po.html
    http://www.nasa.gov/open/plan/space-act.html
    http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/289016main_Space%20Act%20Agreements%20Guide%202008.pdf
    http://nodis3.gsfc.nasa.gov/1050-1.html
    http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/procurement/regs/1816.doc

    I hope this helps a little.

  • common sense

    @ Coastal Ron wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    People mistake NASA with SpaceX and make them fight over each and every thing. They mistake the funding vehicle often conveniently. SAA for subsidies is a good example. All these funding vehicles have their purposes. They are not used for the same reasons. They answer different needs. Yet one can be creative in the way the funding vehicles are used to satisfy the government mission, one of which is to help create businesses, especially small businesses, veteran owned, women owned etc.People mistake prestige with pragmatism and effectiveness. The way those SAAs are being used answer a lot of the government’s missions. Cost-plus is NOT the only way to do so. And if some were actually able to stop their blinded fury they might realize that Boeing is in it for both the SAA and the cost plus approaches. In quite the same way I was expressing earlier, a business is a business and smart businesses seek many different ways of funding to further their own, I repeat their OWN agenda.

    Boeing, Lockheed martin or ATK for that matter are NOT the US government even though it might feel like this at times. Just like SpaceX is NOT the government.

  • josh

    china will not be ruled by the communist party (in name only) forever. when things change over there there is no telling if their space program will even continue.

  • DCSCA

    common sense wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    An example of total delusion.

    Except it’s not.

    And, in fact, you’re deluding yourself.

    You simply do not understand how the various business models of profit-driven modern media soerate. But a common value they share, at their core, at least in the United States, is the overriding objective to draw the biggest audience to peddle goods and services. That’s all. Which is why, for instance, the profit driven History Channel airs endless hours of Pawn Stars these days, not space documentaries, which you can find at odd hours on PBS in many markets. It is why network Super Bowl commercials are expensive yet cost-effective, reaching a vast audience while commerical network news coverage of national political conventions continues to be truncated -down to a day or so- and spaceflight coverage left to small audience cablers which take NASA Select feed and minimize costs even more. Back in the Apollo days (and the early shuttle flights), the major networks actually sent crews, producers and their own cameras down to the Cape– back when news divisions simply were loss leaders and not profit centers as they are today.

  • common sense

    @ DCSCA wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    You’re mixing up so many things in your disgruntled kind of way. Your job might have been saved if someone had understood that news services is a democratic necessary service. But it has nothing to do with SAAs or SpaceX where such services precisely favor democracy as we make it happen in the US: Capitalism. It does not mean that unbridled capitalism is the way to go, just like in cost-plus contracts that you cherish so much. Cost-plus favor the 1% you abhor so much. I do not expect you to understand any subtlety but you ought to make an effort. You seem to belong to those who claim Obama is a socialist for his healthcare approach which ironically provides a lot more cash to the health industry than ever before. Yet you cry cronyism when he does something in the purest capitalistic way. Easy to understand why your trade is about reporting the lives of others rather than trying to do something constructive. But note that today people mistake journalists with anchors. At least you’d be well advised to do a real journalistic in-depth work rather than regurgitating history. Do us all a favor, do your homework!

  • reader

    Elon is a businessman, don’t ever doubt this. So he saw an opportunity in the LV business and his business is to capture the LV market worldwide. And he is on his way.
    Um. The worldwide launch market disagrees. 35 launches so far this year, 1 by SpaceX. Lions share in China and Russia, followed by EELVs and Ariane. 2011 saw 84 launches, again led by China and Russia, with zero to SpaceX ..

    In no way constitutes this capturing the LV market worldwide

  • vulture4

    The commercial launch market is price competitive and Europe, Russia and China provide government research and development and similar assistance for companies providing commercial launch services. The EELV program was intended to compete in this market but after 2000 the USgovernment put no importance on this segment of the market and Boeing and Lockheed reqlized they coud merge and, as ULA, become the sole provider of launch services to the US government, and abandoned the competitive commercial market except for a handful of payload customers who could not get a flight opportunity with one of the other carriers.

    SpaceX has about a dozen commercial launches on its manifest; obviously it could not start launching these payloads until the Falcon 9 has flown at least three missions because insurance would not be available. SpaceX is the first US company since 2000 to actually compete for commercial launches, and as a highly value-added commodity the US can compete (as can Ariane) despite the lower base wages in China and Russia. ULA just lost interest in doing so because the profit margin was higher on government launches, but only as long as they remain the only supplier.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “china will not be ruled by the communist party (in name only) forever. when things change over there there is no telling if their space program will even continue.”

    With respect to China’s human space flight program (Project 921 in their parlance), you’re probably right. The program seems to exist to demonstrate that the People’s Republic of China is a modern or great power to its own people. To Juvenal, it would have been one of the “circuses” used to appease ancient Romans. If the PRC has no ruling Communist Party of China to prop up, then rationale for Project 921 or any other Chinese human space flight program ceases to exist.

    Also, many of the CPC’s top leaders are trained as engineers, and they seem to have a penchant for large engineering projects, like the Three Gorges Dam. Should the CPC leadership demographic change, support for Project 921 or other Chinese human space flight programs may fall, even if the regime does not.

  • And if China would just emplace yet another LEO space station by 2020? Would not THAT be “repeating the past acheivements of the U.S.”??!! Those anti-Moon people out there really sicken me to the core!! All China would have to do, to leave us in the dust, would be to do a sortie Moon landing mission that exceeds the time-length and expands upon the surface activities done by the final Apollo expedition; AND THEN actually fly and perform longer duration landing missions, leading up to intermittently occupied base stay missions—-which they could do, once they master flying out an unmanned-lander variant of their lunar module craft.

  • DCSCA

    @common sense wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    =yawn= In fact, it is you who is befuddled. Television in the United States is a business. And in case you aren’t aware of it, among the largest exports of the U.S. is entertainment product. Americans are very good at the business of play.

  • Coastal Ron

    reader wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    The worldwide launch market disagrees. 35 launches so far this year, 1 by SpaceX. Lions share in China and Russia, followed by EELVs and Ariane.

    If you’re looking at launches to figure out if SpaceX is becoming a dominant player in the launch market, then you’re about three years behind the trend.

    Haven’t you seen how many orders SpaceX has acquired, which are orders not going to China, Russia, EELV’s or Ariane? And those were orders they took in before they’ve reached their operational tempo – most of their launch slots are full through 2015, when they are launching 12 flights per year.

    When SpaceX starts burning off their backlog I would expect more orders to come in, which will… you guessed it, take away even more orders from China, Russia, EELV’s and Ariane.

    SpaceX is not putting anyone out of business yet, but all the other launch providers can see what the future holds. It’s not the time to get complacent…

  • DCSCA

    Jim wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    “Mr. Musk has already done mainly on his own dime what you are vehemently complaining he won’t do.”

    Except he hasn’t.

    By his own words, he has only invested $100 million of his estimated $2 billion fortune into his supposed ‘life long passion’ and has sought government contracts and subsidies for years. For instance:

    “In October 2009 NASA provided a pre-solicitation notice regarding an effort to be funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The commercial crew enabling work would include a “base task” of refurbishing and reactivating SLC-40 power transfer switches, performing maintenance on the lower Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) substation and motor control centers, installing bollards around piping, replacing the door frame and threshold for the Falcon Support Building mechanical room and repairing fencing around the complex perimeter. Several optional tasks would include work installing conductive flooring in the Hangar Hypergol area, performing corrosion control inspection and maintenance of the lightning protection tower’s structural steel, upgrading and refurbishing other facility equipment and performing corrosion control on rail cars and pad lighting poles, painting several buildings, repairing and improving roads, and hydro-seeding the complex.”

    Any attempt to label SpaceX as a true ‘private enterprise space venture’ is simply inaccurate. And unlike the PRC, Russia and the United States, Space X has not flown anybody- it has failed to launch, orbit and return any crews to date. Of late, even the Chinese Reds are running circles around Master Musk in the HSF department– but then, he’s gonig to retire on the Red Planet, all the same, isn’t he. Get with the program, indeed, Jimbo. LOL

  • common sense

    @ reader wrote @ July 6th, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    I don’t remember I said he had already captured the market worldwide, now did I say that?

    Whatever.

  • Dave Hall

    RGO wrote:

    sadly I have not watched Musk’s TV appearances all that much…so I am curious … what do you think his actual intentions are in going to Mars?

    To make life multi-planetary … exactly as he says. I recently saw a re-run of a South African TV magazine show interview shot in 2007 and he said it then. I think it’s been clear in his mind from the beginning of SpaceX. His cause is simple enough to believe in, I think working towards making life multi-planetary is a good thing.

    Personally I’m skeptical of colonisation, due to biological issues we can only hazard a guess at now, but I am optimistic that an initial flags and footprints return mission will happen in 10-15 years … perhaps built from Musk’s still-to-be-announced Mars strategy.

  • Vladislaw

    I thought SpaceX had closer to 30 commercial launches on it’s manifest?

  • Malmesbury

    I thought SpaceX had closer to 30 commercial launches on it’s manifest?

    Those aren’t missions on Ares V, so they don’t count.

    One thing I find interesting – opponents of commercialisation like to wrap themselves in the flag. SpaceX, for example, is brining the launch industry back to the US. And doing it with rockets that have a higher percentage of US components than just about anything else in the aerospace field.

    Meanwhile Boeing and LockMart are desperate to offshore everything they can… to China.

  • James

    @ RGO: thanks for that explanation. I get it now.

    @ Everybody: Regarding Elon:

    Elon musk is a smart entrepreneur business man who knows how to make money, who knows physics and technology, and is a budding cinematic movie star (See Iron Man movies)

    And. He intends to save humanity. Tesla Motors, Solar City, and now SPACE X; all his companies are designed to save humanity. If he’s coming from his heart with all this, he’s a true humanitarian; if he’s coming from his ego with all this, he’s a narcissist. He spends his time on solving the problems that w/o solutions are the ruin of humanity. I’m glad someone is taking this on, as our government isn’t interested.

    And. He is the outside agent that is breaking up the existing ways of the intrenched, inflexible, too big to get out of their own way businesses (NASA, Detroit, Energy) that are too wedded to their ways (for whatever reason) to truly innovate.

    The history of technological innovation shows that once someone emerges with the ‘winning innovation/technology’, the only innovations for that specific technology that emerge after the ‘win’, are in making the product cheaper. These entities have too much of an investment in the production capabilities, market shares,business model,etc. to bring an outside the box approach to the next level of technical innovation to thier technology; it would be their own ruin if they could truly innovate; hence it takes an outsider to breakup the status quo and allow for innovation to emerge.

    The Gas Light Industry was well aware of what Thomas Edison was up to. They just couldn’t get out of their own way. And we know what became of the Gas Light Industry.

  • ghowardharris

    You got it right James!
    People like DCSCA, and also Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, keep wanting to find excuses for why what Musk is doing can never work, and why it has to be more difficult and more expensive than it is. I think they think this way because in their experience it has always required many more people and cost much more money. But so far Musk is doing it, he is doing it with a minimum number of people, and he is doing it almost entirely internal to his company. Make no mistake about it, he has achieved what in the past only governments have achieved. Could others do it? Could NASA do it? Sure!! They just need to learn what Mr. Musk already knows. NASA knew how to work this way once, but it has long since been forgotten.

  • Harris Tweed

    “Those anti-Moon people out there really sicken me to the core!! All China would have to do, to leave us in the dust …”

    Actually, if China is on the Moon while we’re doing other things in space, who is it who’s going to be left in the dust? China will indeed exercise real leadership in space exploration if our justification for going places is based on beating them to those places. Think about that. I’m sure the Chinese get some smiles from that thought.

    I have absolutely no qualms about seeing the Chinese exceed in duration that of Apollo on the Moon. My metric for their success is what they do there. I’ve never convinced myself that there is anything anyone will do there that will convey any real power. Getting there and being able to stay there does not, in itself, score many credible points.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Once again, we could have had DIRECT and 2 manned launched systems for the money wasted on ATK’s Ares 1. No one here appears to know specifically why W. and Griffin did not choose that course, further, no one here appears to have any idea how to learn that specific information.

    Further, no one here knows how the large grain combustion oscillation problem slipped through NASA safety.

    As it is, SpaceX is bringing into service launch vehicles which will keep US satellite manufacturers competitive with China’s.

  • Vladislaw

    “NASA knew how to work this way once, but it has long since been forgotten.”

    Oh I think NASA could put a few hotshots on a tiger team and come up with some real surprises. The problem is congress, NASA is not allowed to do things that do not incorporate the heritage workforce. Every Congressman getting pork for their district has to keep what they have and somehow you have to develop a system that utilizes everyone, even if you have to assign 3-4 people for a one person job.

  • Dave Hall

    James wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Elon musk is a smart entrepreneur business man who knows how to make money, who knows physics and technology, and is a budding cinematic movie star (See Iron Man movies)

    He’s a producer more than a movie star, though I do think he totaly gets actor perspective. He knows he stutters a bit but continues to act the role of leading visionary, if only because there’s not much else going on. He has 63,574 followers on Twitter.

    But don’t underestimate the significance of location. Hollywood & Silicon Valley (Californian) style capitalism is a vastly more advanced solution to economic issues than anything else in existence. So much so that I think the first and only flag on the first Mars mission will be the Stars and Stripes. Musk is a total convert to the American Dream.

  • James

    “NASA knew how to work this way once, but it has long since been forgotten.”

    There are plenty of people who work at NASA that know if you want to keep costs down, you get as vertically integrated as you can, drop 75% of your mission assurance infrastructure, reward performance with cash, etc.

    And NASA is not allowed to do that. It must spread the work around the country (NOT Vertical Integration), so the piggies in Congress can look good and get re-elected.

    GAS Light Industry engineers were also surely aware of the technology that Edison was playing with; however, they too knew it would be the end of their dominance if they went down that path.

    With few exceptions I’m sure, of which smarter people on this blog can point to, breakthroughs, either in technology, or in process, always come from OUTSIDE the establishment.

    This is what Elon is doing with Space X, and attempting with Tesla too. He is the outside agent leading breakthroughs in LV business model.

    If NASA leadership were smart, they create some kind of internal skunks works, with full CONGRESSIONAL support, to create from scratch, solutions to the myriad of technical and process problems they face. With no limitations imposed by existing parochial interests.

    NASA’s budget is shrinking, while its cost continue to rise. Musk can see this is a recipe for going out of business, and would never tolerate such a trend in his business.

    Give NASA some credit though for using Space Act Agreements to get work formulated, designed and built through CCDev. I believe a FAR type contract will come into play when CCDev gets into test and verification phase.

    It won’t be long I suspect when Space Act Agreements are used by the Robotic side of NASA to procure spacecraft bus’s from industry, as they items are now truly a commodity.

    Enuf said

  • DCSCA

    @James wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 8:55 am

    “And. He intends to save humanity.”

    So now he thinks he’s our Savior, too. To borrow a line from Gus Grissom… ‘Jesussss Christ.”

  • Heinrich Monroe

    Could NASA do it? Sure!! They just need to learn what Mr. Musk already knows. NASA knew how to work this way once, but it has long since been forgotten.

    Precisely. That’s because this isn’t about technology anymore, really. It’s about management and fiscal control. At least for the latter, NASA isn’t really allowed to have that control. Fiscally, NASA doesn’t control its own success or failure. Were this about technology, commercial space wouldn’t have a chance at doing what NASA does routinely.

    That’s where Cernan, Armstrong, and all the old human space flight advocates get the willies about Elon and the task he faces. They think it’s about technology development. It isn’t. It’s about space transportation development. They’re right to be skeptical about the ability of commercial space to make major advances in space technology, but that’s not what we’re talking about anymore. They see human space flight through the prism of technology development. When they flew, we barely had the technologies to know how to do it. They flew on a wing and a prayer and commercially unobtainable parts. But that’s not the way it is any longer.

  • ghowardharris

    Vladislaw wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Oh I think NASA could put a few hotshots on a tiger team and come up with some real surprises. The problem is congress, NASA is not allowed to do things that do not incorporate the heritage workforce

    James wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    There are plenty of people who work at NASA that know if you want to keep costs down, you get as vertically integrated as you can

    NASA is not allowed to do that. It must spread the work around the country (NOT Vertical Integration)
    ———————–
    While there is a lot of truth in these statements, the fact is that if management were on top of the situation, they would

    (1) define the goals, the requirements, the rationale and divide it into manageable vertically integrated projects
    (2) you likely have to rebuild some of the groups that provide in-house resources-the ability to design, manufacture, and test hardware in house instead of depending solely on outsourcing
    (3) divide the existing workforce into vertically integrated project tiger teams, covering more projects with fewer numbers of people on a particular function or job

    If you are correct that they have 4 people working now where only 1 is required (a reasonable assessment), then reorganizing and managing the workforce means you get four times the work done for the same price. You do not have to get rid of any people; you simply need to work each to the limits of his/her potential. If you are spending the same money for the same numbers of workers, then Congress and President have no issue, because you use all the same people as you have been using, but accomplish far more.

    Yes, you are right, there are people and managers (even within NASA) who know how to do this, and yes it has been done recently enough in the past that we know it could be done. I think the problem is that the managers in now in or recently experienced with the big programs, have only known their huge organizations with redundant sets of people making little progress at great expense and have come to resign themselves into thinking this is the only way. Many of these managers have never experienced the real potential of an efficiently run project.

    This is a problem with management; it is not a problem with workers-the workers are usually well trained and capable-their biggest issue may be little recent experience in working harder, smarter and making a big difference. This is not a problem with the Congress. They get to spend the same amounts of money in the same places.

  • DCSCA

    @ghowardharris wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 9:49 am

    “People like DCSCA, and also Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan….”

    Which puts DCSCA is some excellent company. Thanks! ;-)

  • James

    @ ghowardharris: wrote “Many of these managers have never experienced the real potential of an efficiently run project”

    EXACTLY!!

    Senior Mgmt has only ever known how to do things today, from what they did to achieve (their version) of success. Repeat what works, even if it’s bankrupt, and doesn’t address present reality and circumstances.

    And, in order to obtain a senior mgmt position, one is which you might be able to institute something breakthrough ish/transformational, on a large scale, sadly you have to cow tow the layer of management above you. And that eventually means doing what politicians want, not what makes sense. And those politicians/piggies are all short term thinkers, with no real regard to the long term interests of the United States – despite their rhetoric to the contrary.

    This then is the freedom that Elon enjoys. He has money. He is smart. He has a vision. He has passion. He has one person to answer to with regard to his ideas – himself

  • josh

    @dcsca

    is “except” your favorite word?

  • nom de plume

    ghowardharris wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 9:49 am
    Vladislaw wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 12:02 pm
    James wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Talent, Teams, NASA innovate?
    From my perspective, NASA and their contractors have some talented people and there are some innovative working teams in place. But they keep a low profile. Cynics would say that the old-guard is just letting the kids play in the sandbox. There are too many bureaucrats around NASA that are quick to point out why a new idea won’t work, why its against the rules, or that it is not how things are done; i.e., effectively stifle any perceived threat to the status-quo, the SLS, or the crew capsule (relatively well-funded programs).

    China’s space program? That’s ok. We have enough problems within our own space program to worry about at home w/out imagining new threats. For starters, NASA needs to purge the bureaucratic obstructionists from amongsts its ranks. Charlie needs to clean house badly, but he hasn’t taken much action in that area. Probably because the anti-progressive bureacrats and turf-protecting Managers are safe and politically connected, and Charlie seems risk-adverse about pissing off the politicians that control his budget.

  • reader

    Haven’t you seen how many orders SpaceX has acquired, which are orders not going to China, Russia, EELV’s or Ariane?

    I see perhaps 9 flights manifested for 2015 that would be commercial customers, with 14 total. CZ, Proton and R-7 are launching this much or more right now. If ( not when ) they actually get to this rate, it still does not constitute capturing the worldwide launch market. At best, US will have caught up. It remains to be seen if they actually will manage to grow the overall market or take a slice away from current providers.

    And putting this into historical context, the launch rate would still be totally lethargic, as towards the end of the 70ies Soviets were launching nearly one R-7 a week.

  • ghowardharris

    reader wrote: Haven’t you seen how many orders SpaceX has acquired

    As I said on July 5, if Musk can pull off these launches in the next year or two, and keep in mind the launcher business is only one side of the equation-he also has the ISS logistics wrapped around his capsules, and future manned US capability also relies solely on Musk for at least the next five years. The old NASA era is gone now. A year after the last Shuttle and I dont think that NASA has yet come to grips that their program is severely constrained. For the foreseeable future it is up to Musk to re-establish American capability.

  • Coastal Ron

    reader wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    I see perhaps 9 flights manifested for 2015 that would be commercial customers, with 14 total. CZ, Proton and R-7 are launching this much or more right now.

    Who cares about right now? Those orders were placed years ago.

    Each one of the commercial orders SpaceX has today is an order that their competitors don’t. And their competitors are already feeling the effects, since they have lost launch deposits and their production rates are not going to be as high. You do know the demand for commercial launches is pretty constant?

    If ( not when ) they actually get to this rate, it still does not constitute capturing the worldwide launch market.

    I never said that was their goal. Companies can do pretty well carving out market niches – just ask Apple.

    As to their launch rate, apparently you haven’t heard of their plan to open up a new launch facility? And if they need more manufacturing capability, there is still plenty of low cost real estate and plenty of states willing to throw money at them. They have already proven they know how to successfully build and launch complex space vehicles, so while there is always the chance for a launch failure, they have proven they have the basics down.

    Ignore them if you want, but SpaceX is forcing every rocket manufacturer to reassess their value proposition, and what can be done to strengthen it. That’s a good thing, and the their customers will see better values regardless if their use SpaceX or not.

    It remains to be seen if they actually will manage to grow the overall market or take a slice away from current providers.

    With their far lower prices, they can do both.

    And putting this into historical context, the launch rate would still be totally lethargic, as towards the end of the 70ies Soviets were launching nearly one R-7 a week.

    Yes, and look what happened to the Soviet Union.. ;-)

    Here’s a suggestion – next time you want to use a reference to bolster your suppositions, use a successful example.

  • DCSCA

    Dave Hall wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    “to act the role of leading visionary….”

    Nonsense.

  • Malmesbury

    That vertical integration of the supply chain reduces costs in the space business is unsurprising. Most people are unaware of how custom made components are contracted out multiple times by the traditional players. ULA don’t employ that many people directly building rockets – but they employ ten times as many as subcontractors.

    It is simpler and cheaper to “pull” the tooling and staff into a single facility, rather than providing profit margin for seven different businesses for each widget.

    All of this is standard stuff in the text books for managing manufacturing. But why don’t others do this?

    A first cause is that reading that far into the text books is unusual. Most get as far as out sourcing and off shoring. The idea of bringing work on shore and in house sounds wrong to too many managers.

    The second is that it would destroy the existing structure – managers would have to directly manage people, rather than external suppliers. Which would mean having skills in dealing with actual manufacturing, rather than managing contracts. Generic managers are no use for this. So you are telling all the existing managers that they are surplus to requirements. Go fire yourselves

    In a cost plus environment, the size of your budget is the size of your worth. Try telling every manager to make themselves a lesser person. Go humble yourselves.

    As other have mentioned, Congress and the Senate hate this kind of vertical integration. They have explicitly stated on occasion that one reason they want to go to FAR contracts is so that *where* the money is spent can be *properly* controlled. i.e. spread around in direct proportion to the power of the various politicians. SAA involves telling politicians – “Give the tax payers money to people who may not be grateful to you”. Vertical Integration involves removing power from politicians. Make yourselves irrelevant and watch the donations roll in. Not.

    When you see this, you can understand why the traditional vendors & NASA *cannot* change. You are asking the people running, working in and controlling the whole system to destroy themselves *as individuals*.

    This should not be a surprise to anyone who has watch the airlines or the car industry (among a myriad of others) – time after time, a new method of doing things has appeared. Cheaper and better. Yet the existing players sit there and wait for their doom.

    This is relevant with respect to China. They cannot change either. All of the above goes about treble for their space complex. Political and managerial power is even more entrenched there.

  • vulture4

    “This is relevant with respect to China. They cannot change either. All of the above goes about treble for their space complex. Political and managerial power is even more entrenched there.”

    I’m continually amazed at how Americans assert all manner of conclusions regarding China as though it were an unknown planet, without any attempt to actually talk to the Chinese themselves.

    “In a cost plus environment, the size of your budget is the size of your worth.”

    I agree. What sank the US commercial launch business was that the US government was willing to accept “cost plus” and the commercial market was not. As a monopoly supplier to the US government, they had an incentive to raise costs, not lower them. A friend who worked on Delta II tells of an O-ring they made in house for $200. The company found an outside supplier who could provide it for $600. They promptly made the decision to outsource it. Lockheed and Boeing abandoned the US commercial launch business. Elon Musk wants it back. For NASA to help him get it is in the best tradition of the NACA.

  • Malmesbury

    I’m continually amazed at how Americans assert all manner of conclusions regarding China as though it were an unknown planet, without any attempt to actually talk to the Chinese themselves.

    No – it is simply a factor of an entrenched bureaucracy in a dictatorial state being very, very hard to shift. Their system is extremely hierarchical, with many layers of management in the state system.

    To change anything you’d have to break alot of rice bowls. Many more that in the US.

    Have you ever dealt with the Chinese system?

  • Dave Hall wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 5:15 am

    James wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 8:55 am

    I have enjoyed your comments (and quite a few others) on this thread…

    I would just add afew.

    It certainly is going to be an interesting decade. It will be interesting to compare the progress in say 10 years as oppossed to the progress over the last 10 in human spaceflight…more importantly it will be interesting to view any of the prognositications of today with what happens.

    When Bush 43 made his proposal on Vx one of the things that annoyed people here and elsewhere is that I posted a “Bet on failure” missive where I more or less detail the slide in Cx and how it will end up on the scrap heap of history. Sadly it was depressingly correct because one could see where the 2nd or 3 rate managers of NASA (and that included Griffin who is a real 3rd rater) were going to drag the program. They do this consistently and have taken an agency filled with mostly very competent and good people into a level of mediocrity that is simply stunning.

    we are in the midst of the second 20 year cycle since most of the Apollo managers “checked out” and the level of incompetence at the manager level just continues to grow.

    Musk strikes me (and I wouldknow him if he walked in the door but only through his photos and the Q and A I have watched) as a person who 1) has never forgotten that he came from pretty modest means and 2) sees technology as a driver to help change society along some of the lines he has talent in. I am sure that there are some (like his ex…heck some of my ex romantic partners have a low opinion of me!) who know him who have a low opinion of him…but what one sees is a person quite unlike most of the “wealthy” of today.

    Contrast Musk for instance with Romney. Mitt was given a lot of money and as basically used that money to make more money BUT has created little of substance along the way that has changed society. Romney’s only skill is in using money as an implement…he has no skill whatsoever apparantly in turning that money into a product. YOu dont see “romney started this or that business that made this or that new widget”.

    Musk has used his wealth to create products that ‘he” thinks are going to make more money and push society in a good direction. He is kind of to me at least a modern Herb Kelleher.

    The secret of SWA is not only in the people who they hired, but in the responsibility and authority they gave those people and how they were rewarded as well in much the same manner as Herb was…when success hit. This is in my view sort of a putting in place the lesson of the “talents” from the Bible….and most modern folks who are wealthy have no clue about that.

    The leadership for instance at Walmart is some of the richest people in the world…but up to a certain level of the organization the wealth is definitely not spread.

    Spreading the wealth is the capitalist notion of encouraging the smarts and innovation…and that is one reason (although not the only one) that the folks at Lockmart and Boeing are probably going to have a hard time following along with Musk…assuming his low cost access to space is a real success (sorry a bit jaded here).

    One reason I turned against the space station in the late 80’s was that say in 1989-92 it became clear to me what the “next 20 years’ were going to look like. It was going to follow the well worn path of the shuttle/Shuttle C/NLS/ALS etc where the program either went kaput after a lot of effort and money or simply lowered to some level of mediocrity that could deploy. One could predict, in fact I have a few op eds that do so, the shit we are in today…ie a very expensive facility with absolutely no clue what to do with it.

    The joy of today with me at least is that if Musk’s numbers are real…it is impossible to predict what we will be doing in 10 much less 20 years. It is predicting in 1960 the 747.

    and if NASA and the taxpayer spend about 800 million on getting SpaceX to commercial cargo/crew…it will be the best 800 million this nation has spent in human spaceflight in a long time RGO

  • Malmesbury wrote @ July 8th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    “No – it is simply a factor of an entrenched bureaucracy in a dictatorial state being very, very hard to shift. Their system is extremely hierarchical, with many layers of management in the state system.

    To change anything you’d have to break alot of rice bowls. Many more that in the US.

    Have you ever dealt with the Chinese system?”

    yes, both in the PRC and at NASA HSF/JSC and it is hard to do anything but say “Bravo Zulu” (well done) to your comments.

    NASA (and the PRC) have come to remind me of the sub plot in the movie Sand Peebles of Jake Holman trying to run the engine room with a commanding officer who is quite unsure of himself and a Chinese bureaucracy with the head coolie…and Holman trying to a) run the engines and b) trying to train a new head coolie.

    I would note this about NASA HSF.

    all organizations which at one point were great but are now “less” have a point where the middle management which eventually takes it into decline is tramautized by some event…and continually tries to ward off that same event from happening again. The folks who were leaders in the shuttle program were for the most part middle leaders in the Apollo days and sort of watched as the Apollo program went to its zenith and then was completely dismantled. The drive since then has been to develop the political momentum to stop any future such efforts.

    This is particularly true when the trauma is relived…the Challenger incident did nothing but drive the organization forward in a fly the shuttle forever mode.

    The Chinese have never been capable of serious innovation and their space efforts show that over and over again. NASA with its current management couldnt innovate its way out of a turd bowel. They just dont know how. RGO

  • reader

    Coastal Ron wrote @ July 7th, 2012 at 10:41 pm
    I never said that was their goal.

    I’m not sure what are you arguing with, scroll up in the thread, thats exactly the claim that was made above. My point is, they have a very, very long way to go before they significantly change the global market. As soon as they place the first bird in a GEO slot, things will start changing, but they are years away from that.
    All the claims on their manifest are really nice, but they have lost customers from there before.

    Note that you contradict yourself above by attempting to claim SpaceX has taken away customers from other launchers and the launch market size is static, and then later claim that their low prices are actually expanding the market. Which is it ?

    Oh and for picking working examples, leaving aside the complete non sequitur you made wrt soviets, Apple and “carving a niche out of market” ? Try again.

  • William Mellberg

    While China has been more forthcoming about its human space flight program than the Soviet Union was during the first decade or two of its human space flight program, none of us can say with any certainty what the Chinese are actually planning in the long run. Indeed, the Chinese themselves might not be certain of which direction(s) they will take in space.

    What is certain is that the Chinese have invested (and are investing) heavily in their human space flight program with the Shenzhou/CZ-2F infrastructure at Jiuquan, the development of new hardware (including the Tiangong spacelabs and Long March 5 rocket) and the construction of a new launch center at Wenchang on Hainan Island (well-placed for lunar missions).

    I’m reminded of a booklet I just read commemorating the Shenzhou missions. An official Chinese publication, it concludes with these words:

    “The achievements in China’s manned space technology have attracted worldwide attention. In the years to come, we will shoulder very heavy responsibilities in this field. We are confident that China’s space undertaking will achieve more brilliant successes and make greater contributions to the development of the Chinese nation and all mankind.”

    China’s human space flight program serves several purposes. Among them, it has tremendous propaganda value at home and abroad. It draws attention to China’s commercial space capabilities (and technical capabilities, in general). And it places China, as the booklet also states, “among the world’s most advanced countries.”

    Also worth noting is this statement:

    “This [China’s human space flight program] is a great accomplishment of the Chinese people, representing a milestone in the resurgence of our nation.”

    I believe Douglas MacKinnon is right in his assertion that China intends to replace the United States as “the world’s leading spacefaring nation” — a goal President Kennedy set for this country in his September 1962 speech at Rice University:

    http://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm

    And I believe Dean Cheng is correct when he draws the distinction between government sponsored space exploration programs and private sector space exploitation projects:

    ““Space exploration arguably requires the government; the business of space exploitation, whether resupplying the ISS or promoting space tourism, does not.”

    Of course, the Chinese are on a different path. Space tourism is unlikely to be a priority for the statists in Beijing. But space exploration serves the State in both direct and indirect ways. Thus, I expect to see China taking longer and bolder strides in the next few years. The Shenzhou-9/Tiangong-1 mission marked the beginning of that quicker pace.

    I do not believe that China is engaged in another “Space Race” — or that the United States should start another “Race to the Moon.” But I do think the Chinese see potential value in the Moon’s resources, and so do I.

    Whoever pursues the goal of going back to the Moon — to stay — will find it a very expensive undertaking. As President Kennedy said in that Rice University speech:

    “To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money … I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.”

    Which takes me back once more to the statements in that Chinese space booklet:

    “In the years to come, we will shoulder very heavy responsibilities in this field. We are confident that China’s space undertaking will achieve more brilliant successes and make greater contributions to the development of the Chinese nation and all mankind.”

  • Dave Hall

    I wrote: “to act the role of leading visionary….”

    DCSCA responded: Nonsense.

    Fair enough. I’m interested in learning here. Who do you see acting as leading visionary?

    Arguably Wernher von Braun was first in the 1950s with his writing and actions of 60s, with Robert Zubrin a generation later.

    By leading, I mean being in a position to do something about realising his vision … a decade ago Musk was just a fairly wealthy dreamer. Now he’s got a decade of engineering experience, built a competent and motivated team and chalked up a few successes. The next 10 years will be a lot more interesting for spectators than the previous decade, with tests of Grasshopper and Dragon 2 coming up. The release of a believable Mars strategy sometime in the near future will of course be the acid test.

    FYI Musks’ last tweet after a week vacation was “Now back to work. Intense months ahead as we ramp production of rockets and cars.”

  • common sense

    @ reader wrote @ July 8th, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    “I’m not sure what are you arguing with, scroll up in the thread, thats exactly the claim that was made above.”

    I said it and I stick to my comments.

    “My point is, they have a very, very long way to go before they significantly change the global market.”

    So? How long? Please show us.

    “As soon as they place the first bird in a GEO slot, things will start changing, but they are years away from that.”

    And *you* know that “they are years away from that” because?

  • William Mellberg wrote @ July 9th, 2012 at 2:34 am

    My theory is that if the Chinese want to “shoulder a lot of reponsibilities” and go back to the Moon and even try and mine its resources as a function of some state driven “point with pride” program…we should all sit back and applaud.

    Any such effort from scratch ie a Paul Spudis action where the government commits a lot of money and resources to go do something that has not a chance of succeeding economically or standing on its own two feet economically will be good for us and bad for the Chinese.

    What is wrong with the US is not that we spend to much; it is that we spend to much on things which have not a chance of ever returning the value for the dollar invested.

    ISS is such a vehicle but there are others; the wars in Iraq and Afland, a bloated defense department; various little wars everywhere; lots of corporate gifts…all these spend money to do things that promote national greatness and yet return almost nothing of value.

    Here is the question one has to ask of the Chinese recent effort to their “station”…how much time was spent fixing the space station and how much time doing anything productive?

    Right now if you read NASA’s own words ISS is consuming about 5 person days a day to simply make the space station work…so if there is a crew of six that leaves about 1 “person” day for science. If we assume (and I think it would be generous to do so) that say a station at one of the Moon L points or on the Moon consumes about the same proportion of time…well they could put a crew of six on the Moon and get 1 person out doing lunar resource stuff…

    Some pretty reliable reports are that Russian hardware is worse in terms of people time…so I bet the Chinese have a similar problem.

    If they want to spend the bucks to go and have six people (or three or two) on the Moon singing “The East is Red” and getting propaganda points…great. It will be one of the first stupid things that they have done.

    RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    reader wrote @ July 8th, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    My point is, they have a very, very long way to go before they significantly change the global market.

    They have already affected the global market. You just don’t see it because you think the indicator is the number of launches, where in the business world it’s price of a comparable product or service – and everyone is talking about the low prices SpaceX is offering. It’s the same in the world of airliners, where the indicator is how many Boeing or Airbus have sold, not necessarily how many they have delivered.

    China has already publicly stated that they can’t beat SpaceX prices, and ESA is considering breaking apart their work-share agreement for building the Ariane 5 so that the next rocket they build can stay competitive.

    SpaceX has already changed the starting point for negotiations on future launch services with non-SpaceX launch providers. If that’s not a significant change, I don’t know what is.

    As soon as they place the first bird in a GEO slot, things will start changing, but they are years away from that.

    You must mean months instead of years, since they have an SES launch to GEO manifested on a Falcon 9 due to arrive at the launch site in early 2013. That bird should fly in the first half of 2013 (less than a year from now). The next launch after that is scheduled to be another launch to GEO (a Thaicom 6 GeoStar-2), which ironically is built by Orbital Sciences (their competitor on COTS/CRS). In all they plan to do six launches in 2013, ramping up to 12 launches in 2014. I thought you said you looked at their launch manifest?

  • http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/08/robin-mckie-higgs-boson-discovery-where-next?INTCMP=SRCH

    It is an interesting almost entertaining quandry. Had the US say cancelled the space station and poured the 100-120-200 billion depending on how you count money into the SCSC well…it would at least be doing real science.

    What we have now is 200 billion or so invested in a station that might be really worth 8-15 billion and 1 person on the station doing something other then maintaining it.

    So the Chinese are going to rush to duplicate this feat on the Moon?

    I know Dennis lurks here so I am curious if he would respond to this. What in your estimation Dennis is the crew size of a lunar base that would be needed to do more then just experiments in lunar resource use?

    (BTW entertaining article on lunar steel making…) RGO

  • DCSCA

    @William Mellberg wrote @ July 9th, 2012 at 2:34 am

    Well said.

    Brings to mind a comment made by author Richard Lewis some 35 years ago regarding the collateral effects of America’s space efforts and the ensuing perceptions both in national prestige and the more down-to-earth pragmatics of intenational comemrce– the sale of goods, services and machinery, etc., U.S. made, worldwide. China has learned from that effort and will avoid the more quicksodic mistakes and false starts. They are making the ‘long march’ to Luna at their own pace- for it is not a race to be won, but a perception to be gained; a means of demonstrating activity on and around a highly visible target up there while hallmarking this century as theirs down here. Any on-going activity -or a long range view to secure a permanent foothold- will draw attention and credibility in the 21st century…. unlike Americans four decades past, who were smart enough to walk on the moon in the last century and dumb enough to walk away from it.

  • vulture4

    RGO: “what in your estimation Dennis is the crew size of a lunar base that would be needed to do more then just experiments in lunar resource use?”

    I would say the answer is zero since such a base could easily be entirely robotic.

  • Robert G. Oler wrote:

    What we have now is 200 billion or so invested in a station that might be really worth 8-15 billion and 1 person on the station doing something other then maintaining it.

    You ignore the benefits to the economy from the research. For example, let’s say Dr. Satoshi Furakawa’s research last year into angiogenesis leads to an effective means of defeating cancer. How much will a cancer cure be worth on the pharmaceutical market? How much money will be saved by insurance companies that will no longer have to pay cancer treatment claims? How much will American productivity be improved by trained workers no longer missing work due to cancer treatments and perhaps death?

    We already know we have a pretty good potential salmonella vaccine going through FDA trials, and the MRSA vaccine is right behind it. If you want to measure the true value of the ISS, then don’t ignore its potential benefits, many of which won’t be known for years.

  • “As soon as they place the first bird in a GEO slot, things will start changing, but they are years away from that.”

    really? All they have to do is get it to the transfer orbit…I dont think that SpaceX or many other rockets actually do the “placing” of the bird in a slot. Happy to be wrong here RGO

  • Vladislaw

    200 billion for the station? So NASA has spent the entire human spaceflight budget of ten billion a year for twenty years? Even for NASA that seems a bit much. The ISS has been slated for about 1-3 billion a year and if you add in the 1.5 billion for the 35 shuttle flights you do not get to that amount.

  • Stephen C. Smith wrote @ July 9th, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    “You ignore the benefits to the economy from the research. F”

    I am NOT saying that ISS cannot be useful or might not be doing some things that are useful…but except for the things you mention…well we have a long way to go in my view to get some sort of structure in place to allow ISS even at 1 or 2 people for science…to do useful things.

    Maybe Justin K can enlighten us…maybe you can…if there is an additional person because say a Dragon gets berthed/docked whatever there at the US nickle…what are the nationality issues on that? Ie is that person an American or do we have some goofy time sharing thing?

    I am starting to think of the space station as a “Silverleaf” complex. RGO

  • William Mellberg

    DCSCA wrote:

    “They are making the ‘long march’ to Luna at their own pace – for it is not a race to be won, but a perception to be gained; a means of demonstrating activity on and around a highly visible target up there while hallmarking this century as theirs down here. Any on-going activity – or a long range view to secure a permanent foothold – will draw attention and credibility in the 21st century …. unlike Americans four decades past, who were smart enough to walk on the moon in the last century and dumb enough to walk away from it.”

    Well said!

    A thousand years ago, the Vikings left their footprints in Vinland. They came and went. The Norse influence in the New World was nil, and their presence wasn’t even confirmed until fifty years ago. (That doesn’t stop my relatives from celebrating Leif Erikson Day!)

    The Chinese know that it isn’t always who was first that is most important.

  • vulture4 wrote @ July 9th, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    “I would say the answer is zero since such a base could easily be entirely robotic.”

    then the question is what size would we need to maintain the robots? RGO

  • DougSpace

    I have just written up a description of a proposed cis-lunar architecture that I think can be set up with the launch of a single Falcon Heavy rocket. It would harvest and electrolyze lunar ice on the first trip and so would bootstrap the rest. I would like to share it with anyone who is interested for constructive input. Please email me a request for that at dougspace007 – gmail.

  • BeanCounterfromDownunder

    Stephen I think you’ve missed Robert’s point which is the total under-utilisation of the ISS for research up ’til now and not what it could be used for hence the devaluation. CASIS appears to be failing miserably and the expense of getting people to and from the ISS also devalues the research capability of the vehicle. These factors unless addressed, add up to a no-win situation for the ISS and any future research capability which is what you’re referring to.

  • BeanCounterfromDownunder wrote:

    CASIS appears to be failing miserably …

    Huh?! CASIS just started.

    Some people are so impatient.

  • CASIS just started.

    It’s not off to a good start.

  • BeanCounterfromDownunder wrote @ July 10th, 2012 at 2:42 am

    Stephen I think you’ve missed Robert’s point which is the total under-utilisation of the ISS for research up ’til now and not what it could be used for hence the devaluation. CASIS appears to be failing miserably and the expense of getting people to and from the ISS also devalues the research capability of the vehicle. These factors unless addressed, add up to a no-win situation for the ISS and any future research capability which is what you’re referring to.”

    Sadly that is my viewpoint expressed better then I did Sigh…

    One of the things you find endless numbers of at NASA are “lessons learned” documents…and they always end with “we will do the next program differently” and yet those same talking points remain for the next program when it fails.

    The space station is going down the same road as the space shuttle…ie now that they have it they dont have a clue what to do with it. I HOPE THIS CHANGES and maybe people like Justin will help it change…but so far…no cigar RGO

  • A modest thread shift if Jeff would allow

    Anyone want to weigh in on the 50th anniversary of Telstar 1…pros and cons of the 1962 communications act? RGO

  • pathfinder_01

    “A thousand years ago, the Vikings left their footprints in Vinland. They came and went. The Norse influence in the New World was nil, and their presence wasn’t even confirmed until fifty years ago. (That doesn’t stop my relatives from celebrating Leif Erikson Day!)”

    And in that thousand years technology progressed. Viking ships of that era only hold a crew of 20-30 and the gun (for handling native issues) had not been invented at the time of their crossings and their ship could carry 24 tons. The largest ship Columbus had, the Santa Maria could carry 108 tons, a crew of 40 and was nowhere near the largest ships in Europe at that time, some of which could carry 1,000 troops. The smallest a crew of 24 and able to carry 50 tons. Notice how the tonnages increased without much increase in crew size (i.e. the ships were more efficient). In short the latter ships were likely cheaper to run. In short a Viking colonization or resupply mission would take more manpower than the latter Spanish one.

    In addition there were improvements in sail technology: Vikings only have square rig and oars, Spanish use both square ad lateen. Plus the discovery of the trade winds that helped later European colonization.
    If you want a genetically viable colony, you need about 200 people. Anything less than that and you risk genetic disease and lack of variation among the descendants. Maybe with careful screening it could be dropped to 170ish. Apollo like technology or frankly current technology just can’t support that number of people at any reasonable cost anywhere in space not even the moon. Even with a rocket the size of a skyscraper, Apollo could only land 2 men on the moon for 2 days CXP wasn’t much better in that regard (4 for 2 weeks).

    Also in both cases economics drove the exploration and formation of colonies. The Vikings wanted timber and furs. The Spanish wanted precious metals. The moon lacks any resource that can be harvested and sold on the market right now for a profit. Tiber and Precious metals had a market before the lands were discovered. Unlike Spadis who puts the cart(lunar propellant) before the horse(a market that uses lox/loh in space period).

    In short any nation that wishes to colonize the moon is going to have to figure out how to do it more cheaply such that lunar resources make economic sense to harvest and such that it isn’t 100% dependant on government funding. I don’t see China making much progress here.

  • BeanCounterfromDownunder

    common sense wrote @ July 10th, 2012 at 4:15 pm
    ‘How about trying to stop hypocrisy?’

    Sorry, snowball’s chance in hell !

  • BeanCounterfromDownunder

    As per Robert thread shift – CCiCap out in a day or so. Any opinions on the winners?

  • The problem with the anti-moon crowd is that they still seem to have a Ptolemaic view of the universe– with the Earth fixed firmly at its center.
    The promise of space is that it creates wealth by utilizing extraterrestrial environments. Exploiting LEO and GEO environments have have already created wealth for people on Earth. And the Moon’s extraterrestrial environment will also create wealth for people on Earth.

    If there was an industrialized colony on the Moon today then such a colony would easily dominate the multi-hundred billion dollar a year satellite manufacturing and launch industry thanks to the Moon’s low gravity well. And space solar power plants supplying clean energy to Earth would probably already be a reality.

    The US navy has already invented a portable electric rail gun that could potentially be used to launch objects into lunar orbit from the lunar surface to lunar orbit or to L1 or L2. And the Moon could be one of the primary destinations for the emerging space tourist industry for the super wealthy and space lotto winners.

    If the $220 billion dollars (in today’s dollars) that NASA has spent on sending humans around in circles above the Earth for the last 40 years had been spent establishing a permanent presence on the Moon, we’d have a much richer country now with total economic domination of cis-lunar space!

    Marcel F. Williams

  • Harris Tweed

    Hey Marcel,, from a societal, political, and cultural perspective, the Earth IS at the center of the universe. Get used to it.

    The promise of space in creating wealth has never been demonstrated, and there are good reasons why it won’t happen, until the cost to orbit becomes vastly cheaper. LEO and GEO have created wealth for people on Earth BECAUSE THEY ARE CLOSE TO THE EARTH, and hence are relevant to people living here. The Moon is, because of its distance, marginally relevant. The importance of launching things into space from the Moon presumes that there is stuff that needs to be done in space.

    If there was an industrialized colony on the ocean floor today then such a colony would easily dominate the mining industry up above, thanks to the low gravity (neutral buoyancy) one finds down there. The mineral riches on the ocean bottom are well understood. So, um, why aren’t we putting outposts and colonies down there?

    The “economic domination of cis-lunar space” is blather. Most of cis-lunar space is empty. The economic domination of places on Earth is vastly, vastly more important.

  • Coastal Ron

    Marcel F. Williams wrote @ July 10th, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    And the Moon’s extraterrestrial environment will also create wealth for people on Earth.

    The only way to create wealth for people on Earth is to bring the riches of space back to Earth. That’s what Planetary Resources is planning to do – their goal is to increase Earth’s GDP.

    So far all I hear from lunar ISRU supporters is that they want to make water, and water-derived propellants. That doesn’t enrich the people of Earth. Maybe it lowers the amount of spending that they will have to be doing in space, but it doesn’t increase the Earth’s GDP.

    If there was an industrialized colony on the Moon today then such a colony would easily dominate the multi-hundred billion dollar a year satellite manufacturing and launch industry…

    I normally ignore you when you truly sound like a lunatic, but I just had to jump in to remind people that this won’t happen. It would take a “colony” of hundreds of thousands of people before they could start competing with Earth by manufacturing complex mechanical and electronic assemblies.

    Having spent my career around manufacturing facilities, I can tell you that you have no clue how complicated it is to create and support even a simple manufacturing facility, such as a machine shop. Transporting that to the Moon, and trying to staff and support it is beyond the realm of possibility at anytime in the near future.

    No one in their right mind believes you, so if you want to sound halfway serious, stop spouting this nonsense.

  • Marcel F. Williams wrote @ July 10th, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    you really think the NASA that took 200 billion to build a space station/fly a shuttle and waste money on various SLS/NLS/ALS/Cx could have built a lunar base with rail guns? Seesh RGO

  • BeanCounterfromDownunder wrote @ July 10th, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    It will probably be SpaceX, Boeing and 1/2 to Sierra Nevada

    I wish it was SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and 1/2 to Boeing…

    if ATK gets money wow the fix is in RGO

  • Vladislaw

    “LEO and GEO have created wealth for people on Earth BECAUSE THEY ARE CLOSE TO THE EARTH, and hence are relevant to people living here. “

    I tend to disagree, I believe it was because the property rights regime was established for those areas. Sat operators refer to orbital slots as “real estate” and owning a slot is the reason we have prospered there.

    Hot Orbital Slots: Is There Anything Left?

    “With satellite operators around the world looking to gain an edge in terms of offering new services, access to real estate is vital. However, with most of the so-called hot orbital slots taken, what opportunities remain for satellite operators to develop new positions or make better use of the existing slots?

    As satellite operators seek to make the most of their orbital slots, developments in satellite technology and a more progressive approach by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) offer the most promising methods to meet this goal. This is a multi-faceted debate with no easy answer as to what can be done to create additional room for more spacecraft. Most industry experts agree, however, that more can be done to free up slots and developing existing locations more effectively”

    Another one:

    The World’s Hottest Real Estate: Orbital Slots Are Prime Property.

    “What is the world’s most valuable orbital slot? DirecTV’s 101 degrees W appears to be at the top of the list, bringing in more than $4 billion a year from three satellites located at the position over the United States and generating more revenue than any other.

    Trailing behind is a pair of slots, 119 degrees and 110 degrees W, shared by Echostar and DirecTV. Together they brought in $2.7 billion for Echostar in 2000. And, while DirecTV also has satellites at that location generating revenue, they are not DirecTV’s core money-producing spacecraft. Next in line is SES Astra’s 19.2 degrees E position, where seven satellites reside, generating the majority of SES’ $735 million in revenue last year. Other runners-up for the short list of the world’s most valuable orbital real estate are Eutelsat’s 13 degrees E slot, the company’s premier Hot Bird position, holding five satellites and bringing in $263 million in revenue in 2000, and Intelsat’s 335.5 degrees E, a historically valuable slot in use since the mid 1960s that generated $111 million in 2000.”

    Coastal Ron wrote:

    “The only way to create wealth for people on Earth is to bring the riches of space back to Earth. That’s what Planetary Resources is planning to do – their goal is to increase Earth’s GDP.”

    I disagree with this as well. Granted you can bring stuff back, but a property rights regime established for the moon would immediately start creating wealth if there was a market established for all the rights that will have to settled. Water rights, regolith rights, mineral rights et cetera. A speculation market should already be well established for Luna.

    Get the rights, find the PMG’s and hang a sign on your lunar habitat .. BANK. Then just do electronic banking over the ownership of the gold bars. Just like on earth. Gold goes into vaults and the address doesn’t change, only who owns how much. No need to ship it back to earth,

  • red

    Bean: CASIS appears to be failing miserably …
    Stephen: Huh?! CASIS just started.
    Rand: It’s not off to a good start.

    Some are saying that CASIS is failing. Others (e.g.: Alan Stern for CASIS) are saying that it’s about to really get rolling, and we can’t afford to stop CASIS and wait to stand up another organization in its place.

    Does it have to be an all-or-nothing case? In other words, could we split off, say, 30% of the National Lab responsibility and future funding for a new organization while still allowing CASIS to proceed? Then if CASIS fills up the National Lab facilities, whatever new organization is selected would have nothing to do, but we would have a success. If facilities are still unused, the new organization could go after them up to its allocation (taken from CASIS). As time goes by the balance of allocation could shift based on competition between the 2 organizations.

  • @Marcel Williams
    A bunch of us in the antiSLS crowd aren’t against going back to the moon. What you don’t seem to get is that if that is the direction that is chosen, we want it done in a way so that there is more than a snow ball’s chance in hell of completing the job and being able to afford return trips on an indefinitely sustainable basis. Even if we cancel ISS, SLS still would not meet that criterion.

  • @Harris Tweed

    Exploiting LEO and GEO for telecommunications doesn’t create wealth? You must be joking! Space has been creating wealth for several decades now. CNN, HBO, even FOX wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for satellites. And most athletes would still have to get part time jobs during the off season:-)

    Marcel F. Williams

  • Coastal Ron: “I normally ignore you when you truly sound like a lunatic, but I just had to jump in to remind people that this won’t happen. It would take a “colony” of hundreds of thousands of people before they could start competing with Earth by manufacturing complex mechanical and electronic assemblies.”

    Well right wing extremist like yourself usually have trouble with economics in the first place: you guys have a great history of causing great depressions and great recessions.

    1. I’m surprised you think hundreds of thousands of people can’t get to the Moon since you seem to think that Elon can transfer people into space for a dime:-)

    2. Most jobs on the Moon will probably be on Earth with machines teleoperated by humans on Earth– maybe from their bedrooms. There are more than 7 billion people on the surface of the Earth that could potentially operate such machines. So there are no shortages of employees:-)

    3. A lot can happen in 40 years (40 years ago, America’s Moon program ended). If an outpost is established on the lunar surface in 2022 then 40 years later (2064) there could well be hundreds of thousands of people on the lunar surface. If you doubt that then you don’t know much about the history of progress and migration in America and the world.

    4. There’s no way terrestrial launch companies could compete against a lunar colony. The delta-v requirements for a reusable vehicle to deploy a satellite at GEO from the lunar surface is approximately 3.92km/s while the delta-v requirement from Earth to GEO for an expendable space craft is more than 13 to 14 km/s.

    You need to learn some physics Coastal Ron:-)

    Marcel F. Williams

  • Robert G. Oler said: “you really think the NASA that took 200 billion to build a space station/fly a shuttle and waste money on various SLS/NLS/ALS/Cx could have built a lunar base with rail guns? Seesh RGO”

    The Apollo program which gave us lunar landings plus a space station (Skylab) cost less than $130 billion in today’s dollars (per Obama’s Augustine Commission). So the answer is clearly, Yes!

    Marcel F. Williams

  • Rick Boozer wrote: “A bunch of us in the antiSLS crowd aren’t against going back to the moon. What you don’t seem to get is that if that is the direction that is chosen, we want it done in a way so that there is more than a snow ball’s chance in hell of completing the job and being able to afford return trips on an indefinitely sustainable basis. Even if we cancel ISS, SLS still would not meet that criterion.”

    How is a $3 billion a year SLS/MPCV development program unaffordable when Obama inherited an $8.4 billion a year man space flight related budget in 2009 ($3 billion for the Shuttle, $2 billion for the ISS, and $3.4 billion for the Constellation program). Both the Constellation program and the shuttle program are gone, yet the SLS/MPCV is only being funded at $3 billion a year. And Obama is trying to lower that even more! The idea that the SLS is financially crippling NASA’s beyond LEO efforts doesn’t reflect reality!

    Marcel F. Williams

  • Vladislaw

    Marcel F. Williams wrote:

    “1. I’m surprised you think hundreds of thousands of people can’t get to the Moon since you seem to think that Elon can transfer people into space for a dime:-)”

    If SpaceX launched seven passengers daily it would take 78 years to get a couple hundred thousand on the moon.

    “2. Most jobs on the Moon will probably be on Earth with machines teleoperated by humans on Earth– maybe from their bedrooms. There are more than 7 billion people on the surface of the Earth that could potentially operate such machines. So there are no shortages of employees”

    There we have some agreement. I do not picture big heavy machines operating at first on Luna. More like swarms of micromachines teleoperated. If one fails they can be cheap enough to let die in place for later robotic pickup and repaired indoors by human hands.

    I honestly do not see a person needing a PHD to use a joystick to run a microrobot excavator/dumptruck.

    “4. There’s no way terrestrial launch companies could compete against a lunar colony. The delta-v requirements for a reusable vehicle to deploy a satellite at GEO from the lunar surface is approximately 3.92km/s while the delta-v requirement from Earth to GEO for an expendable space craft is more than 13 to 14 km/s.”

    Yes there is, they could use reusable vehicles to launch the sats from Earth. Tons of the terrestrial infrastructure is paid for or the amortization costs are so low now they are not a huge factor of price. The first launch of a sat from luna would have to amortize literally billions.

    Will it happen in the future? More than likely. In the near term? Not so much. The price of entry to the market from the two locations are so skewed towards earth makes it a no brainer.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “4. There’s no way terrestrial launch companies could compete against a lunar colony. The delta-v requirements for a reusable vehicle to deploy a satellite at GEO from the lunar surface is approximately 3.92km/s while the delta-v requirement from Earth to GEO for an expendable space craft is more than 13 to 14 km/s. ”

    This has to be one of the dumbest statements ever on this forum.

    Making up 10km/s of dV is just a question of propellant. And compared to the costs of building launch vehicles, and certainly compared to the costs of establishing and supplying a “lunar colony”, propellant costs are small fractions of a penny on the dollar.

    For example, the cost of liquid hydrogen is about $1 per pound or about $0.45 per kilogram. A single-core Delta IV requires about 200,000kg of LOX/LH2 propellant. Even assuming all that propellant was LH2 (LOX is about one-fifth cheaper), it costs less than $91,000 to fuel a Delta IV. That’s 0.006% of the ~$140M cost of a Delta IV. It’s going to be even less when the cost of the satellite is included.

    So even if the Moon had no gravity _and_ no propellant was required to move from the Moon’s surface to GEO _and_ even if all the lunar infrastructure was already in place and paid for to build launchers and satellites on the Moon by some lunar tinkerbell fairy, launching comsats from the surface of the Moon won’t even save one-hundredth of one percent of the cost of launching from Earth.

    No one is going to spend hundreds of millions to trillions of dollars on a lunar colony to save one-hundredth of one percent of anything. It’s economic stupidity of gargantuan proportions.

  • pathfinder_01

    “ The Apollo program which gave us lunar landings plus a space station (Skylab) cost less than $130 billion in today’s dollars (per Obama’s Augustine Commission). So the answer is clearly, Yes!”

    However that130 billion dollars was spent in a very short amount of time compared to both the ISS and the shuttle. In short Apollo was more expensive than both the shuttle and ISS. It is like comparing a $15,000 vacation where you need all of the cash NOW to a five year car note. One is going to be harder to afford than the other and one is going to be a lot more disruptive of the budget than the other. I can use the car while paying the note. I can’t use the vacation while saving(or paying) for it and it does not help me in anyway(like say getting a better job further away).

  • @Earth to Planet Marcel
    “How is a $3 billion a year SLS/MPCV development program unaffordable when Obama inherited an $8.4 billion a year man space flight related budget in 2009 ($3 billion for the Shuttle, $2 billion for the ISS, and $3.4 billion for the Constellation program).
    Because both the economic and political realities are vastly different today than in past decades. Please note, even though Ares I was to be a much smaller vehicle than SLS is proposed to be, it still vastly overran its budget in a very short time. Yet, you claim a much larger vehicle can be built with an even more constrained budget? Also, remember that according to Booz-Allen, even if SLS’s budget was greatly increased it still would blow its budget. The opinion that “doesn’t reflect reality” is yours.

  • vulture4

    Apollo at its peak was consuming 4% of the total federal budget. Today NASA gets .5%. The budget for Constellaiton/SLS/Orion was vastly underestimated, which was why John McCain opposed it. And unlike Apollo (which was a substitute for nuclear war) Constellation provides no practical value to America that is comparable with its cost.

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