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May 14, 2024 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay, who also tipped me off to the Starliner and Ispace stories earlier today.

This post is also an open thread. I welcome my readers to post any comments or additional links relating to any space issues, even if unrelated to the links below.






Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Milt

    As indicated, the last Saturn V flight was over half a century ago, and “[h]ad we harnessed that technology then, Americans would already have viable colonies on the Moon, Mars, and the asteroids.”

    Two observations. First, there is a critically important “why” question here in terms of effectively terminating a perfectly functional (albeit very expensive) manned space program that could have — as suggested — put human beings on the moon to stay and later on Mars. And, yes, the Shuttle was supposed to be the follow-on program that “opened the space frontier,” but could we not walk (with
    additional Saturn V missions) and chew gum (deploy the Shuttle) at the same time?

    Second, fifty years on, with greatly improved materials and technology, NASA *still* can’t put human beings back on the moon — or even into lunar orbit, cf. Apollo 8 — and we may not see such a return until the end of the decade.

    The only “rational” explanation for this that I can offer would draw heavily on Robert’s insights about the fundamental role of the private sector in making all of this happen. That is, absent working for the government and until such time as there was an ecosystem of free standing, for profit industries who could make their fortunes by building and launching sophisticated space hardware, there simply wasn’t the ability / funding to develop a more organic, non-government directed pathway to space.

    Bottom line, once the government (for whatever reason) lost any sense of a “mission” with respect to what to do in space, it took the private sector all these decades to reach a critical mass of capabilities that now allow it to make the same kinds of decisions about space exploration / exploitation that NASA once did. Welcome to the Second Space Age.

  • David M. Cook

    Milt – The real problem was congress, who didn‘t want to spend any more money on space activities. Skylab & ASTP were just using up leftover equipment from the now-completed Apollo project. Congress grudgingly approved the Space Shuttle only after NASA “cooked the books” to make it appear to be a cost-saving program; congress went along with the charade to help the aerospace industry retain some employees. It‘s amazing to contrast today‘s spendthrift congress with yesterday‘s concern for the budget!

  • Edward

    Milt asked: “… but could we not walk (with additional Saturn V missions) and chew gum (deploy the Shuttle) at the same time?

    Yes, we could, but not with a government-run operation. NASA’s biggest problem is that Congress holds the pursestrings, and Congress’ priorities are earthbound, not space ward. For them, solutions are not found in space, despite the evidence since 1960.

    With government being the big customer, a virtual monopsony, as well as the big launch provider, a virtual monopoly, investors were reluctant to compete with the government Space Shuttle and other launch vehicles. Funding for launch vehicles mostly came from government sources.

    This is one of the advantages of a free market capitalist economy: Customers, not governments, choose what is purchased, and it is customer demand that drives the development of new products and more efficient means of production. In the 1990s, commercial orbital launch customers expressed a desire for less expensive launch vehicles, saying that there would be many more customers if only launch prices would come down to $2,000 per pound. However, government controlled the development portion of space and was the biggest existing customer, so it drove what happened in space and in the launch industry. Government was not as concerned about costs, nor was it much concerned about results.

    In the past ten years, we have learned that the commercial customers were correct. SpaceX has reduced the cost of an orbital launch to less than the figure requested in the 1990s (especially after adjusting for inflation), and we have seen that the number of customers and the number of launches has skyrocketed. The combination of lower launch costs and smaller satellites has greatly increased the number of commercial space companies buying space on launchers, and the commercialization of manned space has resulted in several private space missions — so far all of which have performed research in orbit.

    There was a time, ten years ago, when people were still arguing about which to spend our resources to reach: the Moon, or Mars. These days, that argument is over, and both are being pursued by commercial companies.

    ‘There is far more capital available outside of NASA [for use by commercial space marketplace] than there is inside of NASA.’ — paraphrased from an interview with NASA Administrator Bridenstine on the Ben Shapiro radio show on Monday 3 August 2020.

    Today, investors are willing to provide funding to develop both lunar landers and Mars landers, because these investors believe that there is money to be made in both places. You may not think so, but the investors have done their research.

    I think all of this also supports the “role of the private sector in making all of this happen” logic.

    it took the private sector all these decades to reach a critical mass of capabilities that now allow it to make the same kinds of decisions about space exploration / exploitation that NASA once did.

    Here, I disagree. Robert Truax was eager to start a commercial launch company back around 1980, but investors were reluctant to fund his dream, because the Space Shuttle was going to be a major competitor. Robert Zimmerman, our host, has pointed out that government had stifled commercial space aspirations back in the 1960s. What took all these decades was for government to relinquish its stranglehold on commercial space’s hopes and dreams.

    But, yes, I agree: “Welcome to the Second Space Age.

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