Tag Archives: capitalism

Remembering Boris Yeltsin

A monument to Boris Yeltsin was unveiled today in his hometown on the 80th anniversary of his birth.

In this week of memorials to American space tragedies, this event in Russia brings to mind the far more important and significant events, affecting millions of people worldwide, that unfolded in the Soviet Union during the late 1980s and mid-1990s. The communist superpower was collapsing, and there was the real possibility that that collapse could lead to worldwide war and violence.

Yeltsin, far more than any other man, helped shepherd the former Soviet Union out of that chaos, and he did it as a civilized man, with relatively little bloodshed. As he shouted defiantly as he stood on a tank in front of the Russian parliament building on the day of the August coup, “Terror and dictatorship . . . must not be allowed to bring eternal night!”

Unlike many former communist leaders, Yeltsin had the openness of mind to recognize that the state-run centralized command society that he had grown up in and had helped run for years simply did not work. “We have oppressed the human spirit,” he noted sadly during a press conference shortly after the coup. More importantly, he also had the courage to take action on this realization, and force the painful changes that were necessary to save his country.

Yeltsin was no saint, and the Russian transition from dictatorship to freedom was far from perfect. No one even knows if that transition is going to hold, today, twenty years later. Nonetheless, the world should remember Yeltsin for his success, and honor that memory.

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The difficulties of doing business in the socialist state of Berkeley

The difficulties of doing business in the socialist state of Berkeley. Key quote:

When a planner working in design review looked at Dalrymple’s plans, she told her she didn’t think a black and white awning would fit in with the neighborhood, said Dalrymple. The planner didn’t give her any specific recommendations for a different color, but just nixed her idea. . . . “Rules aren’t written down anywhere,” said [Dan Marks, director of the Planning and Development Department]. “But the planner has worked in the neighborhood a long time and she knows what the neighborhood likes.” [emphasis mine]

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The state of Virgin Galactic

The state of Virgin Galactic. Key quote:

One of the great things about Galactic is that it’s still built on a non-government market — that is to say, the individual spacefarer market, the space tourist market, call it what you will. As you know, we’re now over 400 people [who have paid deposits for a spaceflight], and over $55 million dollars in deposits. None of that is based on a government program. I think that’s really encouraging. It’s a sign that there are markets outside the government, and that you can build a human spaceflight business around those markets.

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Bad news for NASA, good news for private space

Earlier this week NASA submitted a report to Congress reviewing the design and construction status of the heavy-lift rocket and manned capsule that Congress has required them to build and launch by 2016. NASA’s conclusion: the space agency doesn’t think it can do the job in the schedule or budget that Congress has provided.

NASA does not believe this goal is achievable based on a combination of the current funding profile estimate, traditional approaches to acquisitions and currently considered vehicle architectures. . . . We will not commit to a date that has a low probability of being achieved.

NASA’s conclusions here are not surprising. The agency had been having trouble building Constellation on the much bigger budget and longer schedule given to them by past Congresses. For them to build the-program-formerly-called-Constellation for less money and in less time is probably impossible.

Nonetheless, this was the response of the Senate Commerce committee:

The production of a heavy-lift rocket and capsule is not optional. It’s the law.

This is why I have been saying that the money for this program is nothing more than pork. Congress knows that nothing can be built on this budget, but wants the money spent nonetheless, to keep people employed in their districts.

Meanwhile, in sharp contrast, Space Adventures yesterday announced a new deal with Russia, whereby the Russians have agreed to build and launch one extra Soyuz capsule per year, beginning in 2013, to fly 3 tourists to ISS. In addition, there is this report today about how SpaceX is successfully meeting all its milestones in building its cargo ferry for ISS. An earlier report last week also noted how Orbital Sciences is also moving forward with its cargo ferry, with a planned first test launch by the end of 2011.

All in all, this news is not good news for NASA. The space agency’s manned spaceflight program appears to have two futures, neither of which will involve it continuing to build rockets or fly humans into space. In one option, the new Congress, when it finally sits down to write a budget, will decide that pork and happy constituents are more important than a balanced budget, and will appropriate the money for the-program-formerly-called-Constellation. NASA will struggle hard to build it, but will not succeed. Thus, no government-built manned space program.

In the second option, Congress will agree with me and decide that it just doesn’t have money for pork, especially considering the terrible state of the federal budget. Moreover, seeing the success of the private efforts of SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, and Space Adventures, Congress will wonder why it needs to pour more billions into a vain effort by NASA to build something it can’t, when there are other private companies that can do it, and do it for less. In this circumstance, it will be very easy for them to cut the-program-formerly-called-Constellation. Once again, no NASA manned program.

Neither scenario is actually a bad thing. What we are actually seeing play out here is the free competition of different companies attempting to provide a service to a customer, and the customer eventually picking the best company from which to buy the product. NASA, as a government agency, simply can’t compete, and unless Congress decides to provide them welfare, will lose this competition hands down.

The U.S. will still have the capability of getting into space, but for far less money. And having multiple private companies competing to provide this service will also encourage innovation, something the rocket industry has sorely needed these past five decades.

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A new deal to fly tourists to ISS using Russian Soyuz capsules

A new deal has been announced to fly tourists to ISS using Russian Soyuz capsules. According the arrangement between Space Adventures and the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation (FSA) and Rocket Space Corporation Energia (RSC Energia), three seats will be made available on Soyuz spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS), beginning in 2013.

These seats will be made available through the increase of Soyuz production, from four to five spacecraft per year. Each flight will be short duration, approximately 10 days, and will contribute to the increase of launch capacity to the ISS.

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A private science mission to an asteroid?

A proposal to revive a project to send a private science probe to an asteroid.

The original project, NEAP, was proposed back in 1997 by the late Jim Bensen of SpaceDev (now Sierra Nevada). Benson wanted to not only do research, but he planned to claim the asteroid as his property upon landing. Though his proposal never flew, it was clearly a forerunner to today’s resurgence of the private space industry, and in many ways kickstarted that resurgence.

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Two old unused Soviet Almaz space stations sold to private company

Two old unused Soviet Almaz space stations have been sold to a private company and have arrived in their new home on the Isle of Man. Key quote:

The stations will be initially stored in Jurby, but there plans for research, testing and possible launch into orbit.

For those who do not know, the Almaz station was built in the 1970s by the Soviet Union to do manned military reconnaissance. Two manned Almaz stations were eventually flown, Salyut 3 and Salyut 5. The station hull itself became the fundamental module for all subsequent Soviet/Russian stations, including Mir and ISS.

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Arianespace Needs Aid To Avoid Loss in 2010

Another government-operated business that is losing money: Arianespace is requesting financial aid from the member nations of the European Space Agency to avoid a loss in 2010. This despite the fact that “the current request comes at a time when Arianespace might be expected to be in prime financial health.”

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China Matches U.S. Space Launches for First Time

The new colonial movement: For the first time China has matched the U.S. in space launches. Note that though the above article implies it, the U.S. has quite often not been the yearly leader in launches, as Russia has often topped the list. Nonetheless, with China now becoming more competitive the future of space travel can only get bettter.

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Automakers suing EPA over higher ethanol mix gas

Good intentions strikes again! Automakers are suing the EPA over its decision to allow a higher ethanol mixture in gasoline. Key quote:

Automakers say they are worried the EPA decision would eventually lead to motorists unknowingly filling up their older cars and trucks with E15 and hurting their engines. The problem could be exacerbated if E15 fuels are cheaper than more conventional blends, prompting owners of older vehicles to use the fuel despite the potential engine problems.

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