Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Bigelow sues NASA for $1 million

The commercial space station company Bigelow Aerospace has now sued NASA for $1 million, claiming that the agency has refused to pay it for work done.

Bigelow Aerospace said it entered into an agreement with NASA on the B330 project in August 2016 to perform and complete a certain long-term pressure leak test on its prototype. The purpose of the test was to demonstrate that the B330 meets NASA’s standards of construction and reliability.

According to the lawsuit, Bigelow Aerospace was required to perform a leak test on its module and “provide certain periodic test reports” to NASA. The reports were scheduled and were required to summarize the results of the test, specifically whether the B330 had met certain standards set by NASA. “Importantly, the Contract contains no requirement that Bigelow Aerospace had to provide NASA with continuous and/or raw” data, the lawsuit alleges.

Bigelow Aerospace said NASA breached its contract with the agency by refusing to pay the full amount to the company. The company said that its damages are in excess of $1 million because it had to hire attorneys to bring the lawsuit forward.

According to the suit, multiple attempts were made between January and February to demand payment. The lawsuit said that NASA’s attorney requested raw test data from Bigelow’s testing carried out under the contract as a prerequisite of being paid the amount owed. “However, this requirement was not a term of the Contract, and was an attempt by NASA to place additional requirements on Bigelow Aerospace that had not been part of the parties’ agreement,” according to the lawsuit.

Until 2016, when Bigelow’s prototype BEAM module was installed on ISS, this company seemed the world’s unmatched leader in the construction of private commercial space station modules. It had already flown two prototypes successfully, and then built BEAM for NASA in only two years for a mere $17 million.

Since then it seems Bigelow has been stalled by Washington politics and some insider maneuvering at NASA. In January 2020 NASA picked Axiom to build the first commercial operational private modules to be attached to ISS, not Bigelow. I wondered then why Bigelow had been bypassed by a company that had never built anything. Noting how Axiom had numerous NASA insiders in its management, many with links to Boeing, I concluded:

In other words, it appears it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. This is not to say that the individuals and companies listed above do not know much, but that [Axiom’s] real experience with building private modules is lacking. Boeing has built NASA’s modules, but those were for the government and were therefore costly. I have grave doubts they could do this inexpensively, though I could be wrong.

With Bigelow having proved it could be done, the insiders in DC and NASA had apparently teamed up to use that knowledge and have it pay off for themselves. I was then skeptical about whether they could build something as Bigelow had, quickly, efficient, and inexpensively. Instead, I worried that they would do as old-time NASA insiders have done for decades, focus on getting big NASA contracts while gold-plating their work.

At this moment it is not clear whether Axiom will do this, as their modules have not yet flown, and it is only a little more than a year since this deal was struck. It is encouraging, however, that in the meantime they have arranged a private tourist mission to ISS next year on a Dragon capsule. This suggests they are aiming for commercial profit, not those juicy fat pork-laden NASA contracts.

As for Bigelow, I suspect he decided to sue because he finally realized he has nothing to lose. His chances of winning a new contract at NASA is probably slim, so why not make sure he can get paid for the work he has already done.

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25 comments

  • mkent

    Bigelow laid off his engineering staff years ago and shut his entire company down last year. There’s nothing left.

  • wayne

    For 189 minutes of Robert Bigelow, listen to episode #1612 (Feb 25th) of the Joe Rogan Experience.
    There are a lot of lengthy clips at Youtube but if you want the whole show you need to go to spotify.

  • Edward_2

    You know that Humanity’s understanding of Space is advancing…

    when Lawyers get involved.

  • D. Messier

    Axiom has good heritage in its management and suppliers. Mike Suffredini managed the ISS program for 10 years. He knows that station inside and out. Axiom has ordered two pressurized modules from Thales Alenia Space. The company built ESA’s Columbus module and several other ISS modules. They supply the pressurized modules for Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus and are supplying some elements of the Lunar Gateway.

    Experienced leadership. Proven hardware. Not surprising that NASA was confident enough to go forward with Axiom’s plan. We’ll see how well they are at delivering.

  • commodude

    D. Messier,

    Apologies, but the bureaucracy protects itself.

    Cronyism and “safety” outdoes new technology and suppliers all the time.

  • Jeff Wright

    I like metal modules that can be grounded, hold rigid structures. Inflates make for good bumpers, linings/coverings both in and around wet stage stations.

  • D. Messier

    Commodude:

    Without knowing the specifics of how NASA evaluated various proposals and companies, it’s difficult to make a definitive claim that this is cronyism. What I see in this post is a lot of supposition without much to back it up. No mention that the modules are coming from Thales Alenia Space, which has flight proven hardware on orbit.

    Bigelow doesn’t have the best reputation in this industry. Axiom might well have simply had a better plan and organization to carry it through. Does safety play a big part in it? You bet. Nothing wrong with that.

    Also, remember that NASA wants private stations where it can use as customers after ISS is decommissioned. That’s exactly what Axiom plans to do.

  • 1. Thales Alenia is a European company. Bigelow was American. NASA chose which?

    2. All of Thales Alenia’s modules were built for NASA, either directly or indirectly, at much greater cost than demonstrated by Bigelow. Both companies demonstrated they could do this work. NASA chose which?

    3. I am very hopeful that Axiom will deliver. It is also wise as a taxpayer to note the possibility of cronyism, especially considering the facts, and especially considering NASA’s long term track record in this matter. Only recently has the agency been willing to consider new companies and new entrants. That it finally is doing so is good. That it might be favoring its buddies in this matter however sure looks possible.

  • David Eastman

    Everything I’ve heard is that Bigelow’s “secret sauce” was the inflatable concept. Which wasn’t proprietary. Apparently they didn’t demonstrate much competence at everything that needs to go inside such a module, nor were they a pleasant organization to work with. They chose to ignore the hints sent their way that they could have a small piece of an established company’s, pie, or no pie at all.

  • David Eastman: Everything you write may be true, but it also sounds like the same kind of scuttlebutt and slanders that were spread about SpaceX in its early days, usually by people linked to the big older space companies. None of it was true, but all of it was designed to discredit this new upstart in the eyes of NASA.

  • D. Messier

    Bob:

    1. NASA chose Axiom Space. An American company. The agency was apparently fine with Axiom subcontracting to Thales. Northrop Grumman subcontracts to Thales for Cygnus modules. Northrop is also subcontracting to Thales for the HALO module of the Lunar Gateway. Thales builds modules, but there is a lot to go into them.

    2. Bigelow demonstrated an inflatable habitat. It hasn’t demonstrated everything else you need to make the module work. You’re comparing apples and peanuts.

    3. Axiom is a new entrant. A commercial startup.

    4. David Eastman is basically correct about Bigelow. Not a particularly well run company or easy to work with.

  • PR

    I was always enthusiastic about Bigelow but there were always a lot of rumors about odd business practices. Their inflatables are probably the commodore amiga of space stations: a great design for a company with no idea what to do with it.

    Case in point – For this contract, at least, if we are discussing the same one, NASA did not choose Axiom over Bigelow. Bigelow did not even bid on the contract. He wanted a greater subsidy than he would have gotten. Maybe that’s legitimate, maybe it’s not but it’s certainly not the debate that’s going on here.

    https://spacenews.com/bigelow-aerospace-sets-sights-on-free-flying-station-after-passing-on-iss-commercial-module/

  • PR: You are correct. I had forgotten the Bigelow declined to bid. However, I do wonder if he refused because he saw how the wind was blowing and decided bidding would be a waste of time and money.

    I remain forever cynical about NASA and the federal government in these matters. Their track record in how they treat new and innovative companies is generally vile, often manipulating things so that innovations from the new companies are quickly absorbed by their favorites in the established companies, thus allowing the big companies to win the big contracts. (Remember the shenanigans with Boeing and the Gateway cargo bid?) This was one of the main reasons SpaceX decided to do things in-house. Allowed them to protect their designs from encroachment.

  • mkent

    So you’re unhappy that NASA awarded a contract to an American company with an engineering staff and a manufacturing subcontractor already building very similar hardware headed by a guy who operated the largest and most sophisticated space structure ever built over a shell of a company with no engineers headed by a hotel magnate that didn’t even bid on the contract?

    Axiom is a newspace startup. Are you at the point now that you dislike a company simply *because* it’s headed by a guy who knows what he’s doing?

  • PR

    I understand where you’re coming from here and I get the suspicion and frustration. NASA’s nurturing of private space companies has come grudgingly and lots of people in the system would like to kill the whole sector off. But not all new space companies are models of efficiency and accomplishment and deserve to be nurtured. A company that manufactures private space station modules but refuses to bid on contracts for private space station modules is not a company likely to succeed.

  • Doubting Thomas

    mkent – I THINK what Bob said is that he is “cynical” about the contracting playing field in these kind of matters. For those of us who have played in Aerospace & Defense, we’ve seen USG employees move from Labs and Agencies into Companies and there are a significant number of “coincidences” that seem to occur. Sometimes people do extreme things and get caught but there is a tremendous amount of back scratching and log rolling going on.

  • pzatchok

    Why would Bigalow make a bid on a NASA project when NASA is refusing to fully pay on a project that is already finished and in use by NASA?

    NASA was in no way going to hire them no matter what.

  • mkent

    Doubting Thomas: I don’t deny that. Why should I? I’ve lived through it a number of times in my career. But our host has gotten to the point where he sees corruption everywhere, even in the most ridiculous of places.

    Like here for instance. NASA awarded a contract to a company with an engineering staff led by the man who oversaw the operation and maintenance of the largest and most complex space structure ever built and a manufacturing subcontractor which built a number of the pressurized modules on the ISS over a shell of a company led by an eccentric hotel magnate whose engineering staff had all been laid off years ago and who didn’t even bid on the contract. That’s not corruption, and it’s ridiculous to suggest that it is.

    Another recent example includes the Space Force awarding a launch contract to a contractor which, along with its predecessor companies, has over 1,000 successful launches to its credit — more than every other non-Russian source on the planet combined — over a contractor that in its 20-year existence has never launched a single gram to orbit at all. Still another is the Air Force refusing to fund a vehicle that it has no use for and didn’t even meet the contract requirements of the proposal it was bid for.

    These are not examples of corruption. They’re examples of common sense. But the rise of SpaceX for some reason has caused the Newspace fanboys to exhibit an almost cult-like following of certain companies that, frankly, should be embarrassing to them. It’s causing them to miss a lot of good things happening in the aerospace industry.

    ULA is cutting the cost of launch in half — again — and they’re angry about it because SpaceX and Blue Origin are the only launch providers approved by the NewSpace cult. Boeing saved the Commercial Crew program from oblivion, and they’re angry about it because SpaceX is the only manned launch provider approved by the NewSpace cult. Axiom is building a private space station, and they’re angry about it because Bigelow is the only manned space module provider approved by the NewSpace cult. And so on.

    This attitude is neither healthy nor productive. If it could be curtailed a bit we’d all be better off.

  • pzatchok

    If Axiom builds modules to the exact same requirements that were imposed in Bigalow then I will happy.

    NASA demanded self sealing, radiation resistant fully conductive outer skins.

    Then NASA demanded years of testing in space before they would sign off on it.

    If Axiom has to build a module and send it to space for years of testing before approval then fine.
    Otherwise its just like SLS. Requirements dropped during construction until now they are planning on manned flights with no test flights. Sort of like the Shuttle of old. Orion plans on flying with busted equipment, but NASA if fine with it.

  • pzatchok

    And as for ULA cutting the cost of launches in half.
    BS.
    They are dropping the costs of their own launches. They do not have control over anyone else on the planet.

    And if they could cut the cost in half and still make a profit then why didn’t they do it before?

    SpaceX forced them to drop prices, not the other way around.

    I am not angry about them dropping their prices I am angry at how much cash we gave them before the drop.
    You would be just as angry if you spent 50,000 on a new car and the very next week the dealer dropped the price by half. Then told you to pound sand when you raised a complaint about it..

  • mkent

    See? This is what I’m talking about.

    SpaceX forced them to drop prices, not the other way around.

    ULA and its predecessor companies have been dropping the price of and increasing the reliability of launch since before SpaceX even existed. But you can’t acknowledge that because it would make SpaceX seem less special. So instead, by your own admission, you get angry. That is no way to go through life.

    Expand your horizons out beyond SpaceX. There’s a whole other world out there.

  • pzatchok

    Can you illustrate those price drops and their dates”

    I do not seem to remember those prices coming down more than a percent or two at any time.

    How much did Space X undercharge them for its first government contract bid?

  • mkent

    Can you illustrate those price drops and their dates

    During the 1980s and early 1990s, our large military reconnaissance satellites were launched by the Space Shuttle at a total government cost of about $1.6 billion per flight in current dollars. With a phase-in beginning in 1989, the Titan IV (built by Martin Marietta, a predecessor company to ULA) took over these launches at a price of about $750-800 million per flight in current dollars. The Titan IV was replaced by the Delta IV Heavy beginning in 2004, and it launches these payloads for about $400 million per flight.

    Most experts expect that, once initial development costs are paid for, both the Falcon Heavy and the Vulcan Centaur Heavy will run about $200 million per flight for these payloads (Vulcan perhaps a tad higher and Falcon perhaps a tad lower, but both in that ballpark).

    Each generation of launcher is running about half the inflation-adjusted cost of the generation that preceded it. $1.6 billion –> $800 million –> $400 million –> $200 million. SpaceX had the advantage of introducing their latest generation of launchers a half cycle ahead of ULA, but that’s only a few years.

    How much did Space X undercharge them for its first government contract bid?

    Quite a bit. SpaceX hasn’t had to bid under EELV rules until just recently, and we see now what that has done to their prices. EELV rules require all bidders to meet all requirements. Bidders cannot just meet the lower-cost requirements, underbid some launches, and forego the expensive ones. That’s why comparing a $150 million Falcon Heavy flight to a $400 million Delta IV Heavy flight was always bogus. SpaceX until now just hasn’t had to meet the same requirements as ULA. Now that they do, their prices are much closer to ULA’s.

    I still expect SpaceX to be a bit cheaper in the end, but the difference will not be as stark as some people are expecting.

  • pzatchok

    “Most experts expect that, once initial development costs are paid for, both the Falcon Heavy and the Vulcan Centaur Heavy will run about $200 million per flight for these payloads (Vulcan perhaps a tad higher and Falcon perhaps a tad lower, but both in that ballpark).”

    By this statement they have not yet come down to Falcon Heavy pricing. But might possibly sometime in the future.

    Whats the difference between a low cost launch like the ones Falcon Heavy took and the high cost ones they didn’t bid on or at the time were not allowed to bid on.

    As for EELV rules. (Now called National Security Space Launch) They only cover government contracts.
    As I recall SpaceX had to take the AirForce to court in order to even be allowed to bid on Defense Department contracts.
    And at that time they did follow ALL of the EELV rules in their bid and final cost.

    And if SpaceX raised its costs for Defense Flights then I bet it was only because the government was willing to pay that amount. Why leave cash on the table if all the other bidders would take it as well.

    This explains a little of the dance SpaceX has had to do to even be allowed to make bids.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Security_Space_Launch

    As for the Shuttle. It crashed and was canceled.
    As for all the other launch vehicles you listed. Didn’t the US Government also pay for their development? And did you amortize their development cost over all the flights they have done?

    SpaceX did not get development money from the government.

  • mkent

    As I recall SpaceX had to take the AirForce to court in order to even be allowed to bid on Defense Department contracts.

    No, this is another SpaceX myth. They were allowed to bid as soon as they were certified.

    As for all the other launch vehicles you listed. Didn’t the US Government also pay for their development?

    The government paid the development cost of the Space Shuttle, the Titan IV, and the Delta IV Heavy. It did not pay for the development of the Delta IV Medium or its Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS). Both of those were commercial products.

    Boeing spent $1.5 billion of its own money developing the Delta III including the cryogenic DCSS. It was the first non-small launch vehicle, first liquid-engine-powered launch vehicle, and first cryogenic stage ever commercially developed.

    Boeing paid $2 billion out of its own pocket to pay for the development of the Delta IV Medium. That included the Common Booster Core (CBC), the RS-68 engine, the new factory in Decatur it is built in, the launch site at Cape Canaveral, the launch site at Vandenberg, and the Delta Mariner ship to transport it all. The government only spent $500 million to develop the Heavy variant because there was no commercial market for it.

    Lockheed Martin paid for about half of the $1 billion development cost of the Atlas V.

    And did you amortize their development cost over all the flights they have done?

    No, but that would increase the cost of the Titan IV, showing even more costs savings by ULA.

    SpaceX did not get development money from the government.

    Not for the Heavy itself, no, but they’re getting government money for vertical integration and other EELV-related costs that ULA and its predecessor companies paid out of their own pocket just to be allowed to bid on EELV launches.

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