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.


Congress taking aim at SpaceX and Starship testing

They’re coming for you next: The Democratic Party leaders on the House committee that normally does not overseer the FAA’s commercial space office have now raised their concerns about the recent test flights of SpaceX’s new rocket, Starship, in particular demanding an investigation into the flight of prototype #8, which the FAA claims had occurred despite one FAA issue.

The latest version of SpaceX’s FAA launch license for the Starship suborbital test flight program, issued March 12, allows those test flights to take place “only when an FAA Safety Inspector is present at SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch and landing site.”

The change stemmed from an investigation into SpaceX’s violation of that launch license during the SN8 test flight in December. SpaceX proceeded with the flight despite the FAA determining that the flight profile exceeded the maximum allowed risk to the uninvolved public for “far field blast overpressure” in the event of an explosion. While the SN8 vehicle exploded upon landing, there were no reports of damage outside of the SpaceX test site.

FAA directed SpaceX to investigate the incident, delaying the flight of the next Starship prototype, SN9. That investigation included “a comprehensive review of the company’s safety culture, operational decision-making and process discipline,” the FAA said in a Feb. 2 statement.

The FAA cleared SpaceX to proceed with launches, with SN9 and SN10 launching and landing — and both exploding upon or shortly after landing — on Feb. 2 and March 3, respectively. Neither caused any damage outside of the SpaceX test site.

The FAA’s response to SpaceX’s launch license violation, including the lack of any penalties beyond the investigation, prompted criticism from two key members of Congress. In a March 25 letter to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) sought to “register our concerns” with the incident. DeFazio is chair of the House Transportation Committee and Larsen the chair of its aviation subcommittee.

Much of these claims about the flight of prototype #8 however only appeared to become a significant concern after the Biden administration and the Democrats took power in January. Prior to that the FAA did not seem very troubled by that flight. In fact, the so called risk, “far field blast overpressure,” seems very contrived, especially since we have now had four Starship crashes on its landing pad, with no evident damage to even SpaceX’s own equipment nearby. Prior to January 20th the FAA was untroubled. After January 20th it suddenly became a deadly issue requiring stricter supervision by the government, though what that FAA inspector on sight can do or even know about the launch is baffling.

What these Democrats really don’t like is that someone is freely accomplishing something without their supervision or control. Like mobsters looking to exhort money, they are essentially telling SpaceX, “Nice business you got here. Sure would be a shame if something happened to it.”

With today’s fourth Starship crash, expect the Demorats in Congress now to swarm like flies over manure, all aimed at shutting down the most innovative new American space company in decades.

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21 comments

  • Richard M

    It’s worth noting that Boeing is a major employer in one of these chaps’ congressional district.

  • mkent

    In fact, the so called risk, “far field blast overpressure,” seems very contrived, especially since we have now had four Starship crashes on its landing pad, with no evident damage to even SpaceX’s own equipment nearby.

    Contrived? Considering this latest explosion rained charred debris down on Boca Chica Village and South Padre Island, I’d say the effect is not only real but the limits were way too lenient.

    These Congressmen are exactly right. The FAA is letting SpaceX get away with things that would get anyone else shut down for a long investigation, if not permanently.

  • mkent

    It’s worth noting that Boeing is a major employer in one of these chaps’ congressional district.

    This is what I mean by the SpaceX cult. It’s not enough to love SpaceX. To be a member in good standing, you also have to hate Boeing.

    To think that when the commercial airplane guys up in Seattle talk to their Congressman they don’t talk about Covid-19 costing them billions directly and possibly bankrupting every customer they have in the world, or the 737 Max investigation that has cost them $25 billion so far, or the troubles on the 787 that have cost them $26 billion so far, or the troubles on the KC-46 tanker that have cost them $5 billion so far, or the subsidy spat with Airbus that has turned into an international incident, or the funding of the Export / Import bank so they can compete with similar funding mechanisms in place in Europe and China, or the rise of a state-backed Chinese competitor. No, they talk about some outfit down in Texas who isn’t even a competitor of theirs crashing test vehicles trying to mimic what another division of their company successfully accomplished 25 years ago.

    It’s absurd. But since to the cultist, Starship is their world, that’s obviously what the commercial guys talk about.

    It’s not quite at the ULA sniper conspiracy theory level, but it shows the same level of delusion.

  • mkent: I have no problem with you posting comments here defending Boeing and NASA and attacking SpaceX. I also have no problem with you criticizing or disagreeing with my analysis.

    However, I have a big problem with your comments when they begin to verge on insults. Calling those you disagree with “delusional” and “cultists” is a good example.

    You are warned. Tone it down, or you will be suspended for a week.

  • Richard M

    To be a member in good standing, you also have to hate Boeing.

    I hate what Boeing has become.

    I grew up in St. Louis, many of my friends’ fathers were engineers at Boeing. The horror stories were kicking in two decades ago, as the Mickey-D crew asserted full control at corporate. “They’d outsource the janitorial staff if they could.”

    They’re reaping what they sowed now. It’s really sad to see.

    But really this is about Rep. Larsen. I know the Hill, and I know how often one discovers these “coincidences” when a congressman or senator blows up like this. I’m not saying Boeing sent a VP of legislative affairs into his office to order him to do this. I am saying that Boeing’s massive footprint in his district has long shaped how he acts and talks. It’s not just the donations; they employ tens of thousands of people in his district, mostly in high paying jobs. After a while, it’s internalized.

  • Ray Van Dune

    “…trying to mimic what another division of their company successfully accomplished 25 years.”

    Can you please clarify?

  • mkent

    Can you please clarify?

    Delta Clipper

  • Trent Castanaveras

    mkent: Delta Clipper

    I know right! Does this not look an awful lot like what SpaceX is trying to accomplish?

    https://youtu.be/XBvkyN9lcwI

  • Trent Castanaveras

    That X-33 proposal was 25 years ago.

    And there we hit upon precisely why SpaceX has a cult like following. Why wasn’t that craft built before now?

    Simple answer: the Oldspace industries have no desire to do anything without a cost plus government contract. That equates to markups, in some cases over 1000%, over what a company like SpaceX can accomplish. No entity anywhere can sustain that at volume.

    My disillusionment with that whole regime lies in the fact that no other entity offers the hope of a ticket to orbit, and beyond, for me, the common man. To date, the world space industry has put less than 600 people outside our atmosphere.

    Does this not astonish you?

    Does it not infuriate you?!

    When DC-X flew in the 1990’s I believed we would be building O’Neill habitats by now.

    Call me a cultist. I don’t care. I see the potential np where elsr.

  • eddie willers

    When DC-X flew in the 1990’s I believed we would be building O’Neill habitats by now.

    When I first watched “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968, all but the extraterrestrial elements and the Monolith seemed perfectly plausible. A Pan Am flight to a Hilton Hotel on a wheeled space station? Not only totally plausible, but actually expected. Look what happen from Kitty Hawk to 1969!

    If you had told me we wouldn’t have even visited the Moon again for more than 20 years after 2001, it would have be you who was considered crazy.

  • Richard M

    The DC-X? Seriously? Is this conversation happening *again*?

    The DC-X was an amazing experimental launch vehicle. No doubt about it.

    It also never flew higher than 3.14 km. It never even made it to suborbital flight, let alone sent a payload or upper stage to orbital velocity. But Falcon 9 has: 71 times to orbit and landing. Its entire reentry profile is something that had never been done before. And it does it for profit. Literally 2/3’s of the total payload mass that went to orbit in 2020 went up on Falcon 9’s.

    To simply dismiss Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy as just “mimicking” what DC-X did in 1993-96 is…well, it’s sophistry. (Sorry, Bob, if I’m pushing the boundary here.)

    One aside on Trent’s observation: “Why wasn’t that craft built before now?”

    It’s a great question. And then we ask why DC-X got developed in the first place. It wasn’t because McDonnell Douglas was trying to innovate on its own hook, or transform the launch market. It was because Jerry Pournelle, Dan Graham, and Max Hastings basically browbeat Dan Quayle and SDIO into funding it. SDIO contracted McDonnell Douglas to build it, and McD dutifully did. But they had zero interest in doing anything more with it without a penny more funding from the federal government.

  • mkent

    I know right! Does this not look an awful lot like what SpaceX is trying to accomplish?

    Yes it does! But that link is video of a proposal, not much more than Powerpont. Here’s one of actual hardware doing the swan dive and hoverslam 25 years ago:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wv9n9Casp1o

    Why wasn’t that craft built before now?

    No market.

    DC-X was originally built to test re-usable rocket technology for the Delta Clipper. Its customer was the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO), who needed a launch vehicle to launch 10,000 satellites to LEO for the Brilliant Pebbles program. The need for it died when the Clinton administration killed Brilliant Pebbles.

    Simple answer: the Oldspace industries have no desire to do anything without a cost plus government contract.

    There you go again. The fact is that in the late 1990s Boeing began to commercially develop (with their own money, not the government’s) a Delta-II-sized Delta Clipper for the commercial market in order to launch Teledesic and other large internet constellations. That’s why there was never a Delta IV Lite. It died when the market for it died in the 2000 NASDAQ crash.

    And also, most of Boeing’s contracts with the government are firm, fixed-price, not cost-plus.

    That equates to markups, in some cases over 1000%

    Ahh, no. By law the largest mark-up on a government contract is 18%, but I’ve never seen anyone get that. Typically it’s 8-10% for most contracts and 12-15% for contracts the government deems high risk.

    When DC-X flew in the 1990’s I believed we would be building O’Neill habitats by now.

    There’s no market for that. That’s the problem with most of the advanced concepts like O’Neill habitats, manned lunar bases, cities on Mars, and asteroid mining — there’s no market for it.

    The same with re-usable rockets. Nobody has a flight rate high enough for them to be profitable. Not even SpaceX, with one exception. Boeing, Lockheed, Ariane, NASA, the Air Force — they’ve all studied re-usability and know the technology and economics required. But without the flight rate, it won’t happen.

    If you had told me we wouldn’t have even visited the Moon again for more than 20 years after 2001, it would have be you who was considered crazy.

    That shows a common misconception: That the moon landing was about space. Heck, I had it myself during high school and college. The fact of the matter is that the moon landing really had nothing to do with space. It was a battle in the Cold War and nothing else. Once the battle was won, there was no reason to go any more.

    To justify going there has to be a market need that justifies the cost. We’re just now getting to that point with manned space. But it took 50 years of technological development and 50 years of economic growth to get there.

    So you’re right. Oldspace won’t spend billions to take you to the stars. But that’s because you can’t pay them enough to make it profitable, not because they’re evil or short-sighted. When the market is there, they’ll spend the money. Historically Boeing has been by far the most commercial space company in existence, so it’s particularly funny (and annoying) to see them hated so much. But even Lockheed, Northrop, and Space Systems Loral (SSL especially) will follow where the commercial markets will lead.

    Hmmm. I seem to have gotten off-track. At any rate, enjoy the video.

  • mkent

    To simply dismiss Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy as just “mimicking” what DC-X did in 1993-96 is…well, it’s sophistry.

    Nobody is dismissing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy as mimicking DC-X. This is a Starship thread. We’re saying *Starship* is mimicking the Delta Clipper program, starting with the hopping, swan dive, and hoverslam and going all the way to its orbital ambitions.

    Functionally Falcon 9 is an upgraded Delta II and Falcon Heavy is an upgraded Delta IV Heavy. But, again, the comparison is between Starship and Delta Clipper.

  • Trent Castanaveras

    Excellent points, mkent.

    And would you believe i have every flight video of the DC-X on my hard drive? Good stuff.

    Only one quibble: by “markup” I meant the contracted company often runs into issues, delays and engineering problems, the cost of which is passed on to the contracting agency, with a fee tacked on to ensure profit. That’s cost plus- no incentive to produce a product under budget. See James Webb Telescope. One example among thousands.

    O’Neillian habitat market: We don’t reslly know, do we. Up to now there has been almost no possibility of any human activity in the Cis Lunar environment. Just too expensive. Drop the cost to orbit by a couple orders of magnitude and suddenly some of these concepts become not just viable, but attractive.

    In fact, the Starship capabilities and potential pricing rates are so new there don’t seem to be many companies conceptualizing how to put it to use. A couple years from now, when Starship and New Glenn are regularly flying, I expect to see Hilton eyeing up some high orbit space.

    Naively optimistic, probably lol

  • Richard M

    We’re saying *Starship* is mimicking the Delta Clipper program, starting with the hopping, swan dive, and hoverslam and going all the way to its orbital ambitions.

    In which case the comparison makes even less sense. All that the DC-X of 1993-96 and Starship have in common is that they are a) both reusable rockets that b) land retropropulsively.

    What McD “successfully accomplished” 25 years ago was to launch and land a small prototypeechnology demonstrator powered by a legacy engine (RL-10) several times in low (sub-3km) hops, using a very different descent and landing profile, as a development vehicle which could lead eventually to a SSTO launcher (DC-1). What SpaceX is attempting now is high altitude hops with a *full-scale* prototype (using a new full flow staged combustion engine) of what is intended to be a two stage to orbit super heavy lift launch vehicle, *and* at the same time develop a means to put it into low cost mass production.

    Now, to get back to your original larger point, I likewise don’t think Boeing’s board or CEO spends nearly as much of their mental energy thinking about SpaceX, because the Space Division is a fairly small part of their total portfolio. But that doesn’t mean that Rick Larsen doesn’t think about it, or that he even needs much prodding from Boeing lobbyists to run some easy regulatory interference on a high profile secondary business rival of the largest employer in his congressional district.

  • Trent Castanaveras

    Delta Clipper vs Starship:

    Gotta go with mkent on this one. The programs have far more similarities than not.

    The differences that matter:
    1. DC-X was a subscale demonstrator, Starship is using full scale prototyping.
    2. Both projects had/have a ridiculously low budget, in aerospace terms (the entire DC-X/A program came in under $100ml).
    3. Starship is not being funded solely by the government, and therefore will succeed in it’s long term goals.

    Since SpaceX’s first re-use proposals I’ve thought that the DC-X was a, if not the only, spiritual ancestor to their goals. Fascinating time to be alive.

  • Trent Castanaveras

    Oh wait, the budget thing was a similarity lol

    I was listing the similarities out in my head, but the list was getting pretty long so I went with differences instead. And then mixed them up.

    Ok, lets say instead that Starship has a far greater profitability than DC-Y would ever have had. SSTO makes no sense with our current technology level, and would not be profitable enough to survive in the market.

  • mrsizer

    Is “retropropulsively” really a word? I understood it, so I suppose so. Great discussion. I had not heard of Delta Clipper.

    Good thing South Korea is interested in helping “international” SpaceX, eh? A country in Central America would probably be a better choice, though.

    And people wonder why jobs flee offshore.

  • Jeff Wright

    DC-X was also flat on the bottom. It used hydrogen. Methane can be more a hazard than hydrogen which goes up, or kerosene which spills down and can be hard to light. Methane clouds and GOX are a fuel-air explosive waiting to go off.

    Starship might be inducing a “low” in the aft skirt with the jet-stream coming out

  • Jeff Wright

    DC-X may live again as the Mars Basecamp lander.

  • Edward

    mkent,
    You wrote: “This is what I mean by the SpaceX cult. It’s not enough to love SpaceX. To be a member in good standing, you also have to hate Boeing.

    Wow. It sounds like there may be a Boeing cult that not only must love Boeing but must criticize all competition. However, as a defense of the company you pointed out that Boeing is incompetent by tens of billions of dollars. Up to now, I have been a fan, but now I see that they don’t have a clue as to what they are doing. Perhaps the success of ULA is due to the Lockheed Martin side. Meanwhile, I will have to rethink favoring Airbus as an aircraft manufacturer.

    When you have tens of billions of dollars worth of problems, why get concerned over the loss of a mere billion in space business? When you have such problems, why be concerned over a cash cow that no longer supplies as much revenue to support the cash flow? Revenue that is desperately needed to solve the chronic problems on the aircraft side.

    It seems to me that any company should be worried that a new competitor to their one-time monopoly has cost them not only hundreds of millions of dollars for each launch lost to that competitor, but that the competitor has caused them to reduce the prices of launches, costing tens of millions of dollars for each launch retained, so it is not so delusional that Boeing may want its congressman to delay or prevent an even more cost efficient launch vehicle from the competition. Especially since that vehicle can do more than ULA’s upcoming Vulcan vehicle and for a lower price. After all, congressmen are there to solve their constituents’s problems.

    Unless you are right., and Boeing would be delusional to ever be concerned that such competition could put their investment in ULA at risk of becoming worthless. After all, Boeing’s and ULA’s customers love to overspend when they could get more for less cost.

    In the meantime, shouldn’t we be supportive of a company that may reduce per-pound launch costs by a couple of orders of magnitude? Should such support really be thought of as cultish, or should it be thought of as a good thing?

    By law the largest mark-up on a government contract is 18%, but I’ve never seen anyone get that.

    James Webb is already at almost 2000%.

    trying to mimic what another division of their company successfully accomplished 25 years.” Meaning Delta Clipper.

    Delta Clipper was not as successful as you seem to think it was. DC-X didn’t even complete its test plan before it was abandoned, so the single stage to orbit (SSTO) was not much more than a sketch on paper. I don’t think that crashing and burning on the landing pad counts as a success, either, otherwise Starship would be more successful than most of us consider it to be.

    DC-X didn’t get far enough to come across some of the types of problems that Starship has to overcome.

    The same with re-usable rockets. Nobody has a flight rate high enough for them to be profitable. Not even SpaceX, with one exception. Boeing, Lockheed, Ariane, NASA, the Air Force — they’ve all studied re-usability and know the technology and economics required. But without the flight rate, it won’t happen.

    You’re right, SpaceX is on the verge of bankruptcy with their reusable Falcon. Unless all those studies were wrong. Or maybe the reduced launch cost is increasing the market and the flight rate.

    The fact of the matter is that the moon landing really had nothing to do with space. It was a battle in the Cold War and nothing else. Once the battle was won, there was no reason to go any more.

    There were and still are plenty of reasons to go. It is just that we depended upon government to pay the bills, not commercial, free market capitalist companies. For 50 years, we depended upon government to reduce costs, and we thought the Space Shuttle was the first step on that path. Unfortunately, when we let government be in control, all we get is what government wants. Now that we are taking control, we are starting to get what we want. Indeed, when the Shuttle didn’t work so well, government reverted back to Apollo methods rather than learn from the mistakes and advance the technology.

    A major difference between oldspace and newspace is that the former is content to depend upon government for revenue and the latter prefers commercial customers. Unfortunately, government is still the virtual monopsony.

    Functionally Falcon 9 is an upgraded Delta II

    Functionally, the Falcons have revolutionized orbital launch. Its reusability has brought down launch costs and increased launch rates. These are not mere upgrades, they are serious advancements that the other operational launch companies are having difficulties catching up to. So far, the most successful is Rocket Lab.

    Trent Castanaveras,
    You wrote: “O’Neillian habitat market: We don’t reslly know, do we. Up to now there has been almost no possibility of any human activity in the Cis Lunar environment. Just too expensive.

    It isn’t only the expense, but it is the lack of interest by the government, the monopsony in the space business.

    Other important differences between Delta Clipper and Starship are size and SSTO vs two stage to orbit. SSTO provides reusability, thus low cost and more airliner-like operation, but it has greatly reduced payload capability. Making booster and upper stages reusable seems to be a reasonable compromise. Skylon may also turn out to be a reasonable solution to SSTO.

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