From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.
Last week NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) issued its 2017 report [pdf], detailing the areas it has concerns for human safety in all of NASA’s programs. Not surprisingly, the report raised big issues about SpaceX, suggesting its manned launch schedule was questionable and that there were great risks using the Falcon 9 rocket as presently designed.
ASAP was especially concerned with the issues with the Falcon 9 COPV helium tanks and how they were connected with the September 2016 launchpad explosion, as well as SpaceX’s approach to fueling the rocket. Below is a screen capture of the report’s pertinent section on this.
The report complements NASA and SpaceX for looking at a new design for the COPV helium tanks, but also appears quite willing to force endless delays in order to make sure the issue here is completely understood, even though this is likely impossible for years more.
ASAP also raises once again its reservations about SpaceX’s method of fueling the Falcon 9, which would have them fill the tanks after the astronauts are on board so that the fuel can be kept cold and dense to maximize performance. This issue I find very silly. The present accepted approach is to fill the tanks, then board the astronauts. SpaceX wants to board the astronauts, then fill the tanks. Either way, the astronauts will be in a rocket with tons of volatile fuel and oxidizer. I really do not see why it makes that much of a difference, especially with SpaceX building a successful track record using its approach with each successful commercial launch. They did 18 last year alone.
Below the fold is a screen capture of the report’s entire summary, with some sections highlighted by me.
This one-page summary reveals the absurdity of trying to do space exploration under NASA’s current bureaucratic framework. ASAP practically demands a risk-free space effort, and is quite willing to allow schedules to drag on forever to achieve this. NASA however is supposed to be in the business of exploration, which by definition means NASA is exploring the unknown, and cannot achieve a risk-free effort. In fact, the risks — and the failures — are exactly what NASA and the commercial companies require to learn and improve how they do things. If you try to eliminate them before you fly, you will never fly.
In discussing NASA’s deep space proposals, including its Deep Space Gateway idea of a Moon-orbiting space station, ASAP as usual sees only one problem: not enough money, which it couches in the phrase “Adequate resources should be provided.” This is the same argument that ASAP has been making for SLS and Orion now for more than a decade, resulting in those programs getting more than ten times the funds of commercial space, and yet, even now the report admits there are safety problems with both that might require further delays. For example, the cryptic sentence “The needed modification of the MLP to accommodate the SLS when fitted with the EUS” refers to the fact that — after NASA spent half a billion dollars re-configuring the mobile launcher (MLP) so that it can transport the first SLS rocket to the launchpad — the mobile launcher will need to be re-configured again for the second SLS launch because the second stage (EUS) will be different, resulting in a more than two year delay between the first and second SLS launches.
ASAP’s solution? “Adequate resources should be provided!” Build a new mobile launcher, at great cost, which would make the first launcher useless after only one use.
The report’s description of Orion is equally embarrassing, outlining how Orion’s first heat shield was a failure, and that there are even now questions about the new design.
Overall, the problem here is with ASAP itself. Imagine if we had had this kind of review in the 1800s:
The Government Safety Panel of Covered Wagon Design (GSPCWD) has found that Conestoga wagons do not have adequate safety protections against Indian attacks. The canvas walls cannot protect against arrows, and can burn too easily. Moreover, the wagon has too high a center of gravity, and can roll over too quickly. Before any settlers can move west using this vehicle it will have to be redesigned.
Exploration involves risks. If you want to explore, you accept those risks, while doing everything reasonable to address them, while moving forward quickly and practically. You do not try to eliminate all risks, only those that act to prevent you from moving forward. You then accept the tragic failures you couldn’t predict, fix what you can to prevent them from happening again, and quickly move on.
ASAP, and the philosophy that guides it, wants to eliminate all risks, even those that we can’t predict or might keep us from going at all. If we continue to allow this approach to remain in charge, the U.S. space program is never going to go anywhere.
Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.
This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.
This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.
Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
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