Tag Archives: capitalism

First tests of beer in zero gravity

Who says space exploration is dead? Sometime in November researchers will conduct the first zero gravity tests of the world’s first beer to be certified for drinking in space. The tests will take place during suborbital flights of what is commonly known as the Vomit Comet. Key quote:

Sampling the beer during weightless parabolas, the flight researcher will record both qualitative data on beverage taste and drinkability and biometric data on body temperature, heart rate, and blood alcohol content.

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The Space War, in a nutshell

Bumped, with update below

This Christian Science Monitor article gives a nice summary of the present state of war between the President, the House, and the Senate over NASA’s future.

All in all, things do not look good. With so much disagreement, whatever Congress and the President eventually agree to is going to be a mess, accomplishing little while spending gobs of money that the federal government simply no longer has. The result will almost certainly be a failed NASA program, an inability of the United States government to get astronauts into orbit, and an enormous waste of resources.

The one shining light in all this is that we still have a unrelenting need to get into space, not merely to supply the International Space Station but to also compete with other nations. It is my belief that this need — and the potential profits to be made from it — is going to compel private companies to build their own rockets and capsules for getting humans and cargo into space. And I think they will do it whether or not the federal government can get its act together.

Thus, though the U.S. might find itself a bystander in the space race for the next decade or so, in the end we will have a vibrant, competing aerospace industry, capable of dominating the exploration of the solar system for generations to come.

So buck up, space cadets. The near term future might be grim, but the long term possibilities remain endless.

Update: This announcement today from Boeing and Space Adventures illustrates my above point perfectly. For decades Boeing has been a lazy company, living off the government dole while doing little to capture market share in the competitive market. Now that the dole of government is possibly going away, however, the company at last appears to be coming alive. Instead of waiting for a deal with NASA, Boeing has been going ahead with its CST-100 manned capsule, figuring it can make money anyway by selling this product to both private and government customers.

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Engineering in the Columbia River Gorge

Because yesterday’s hike up Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls (see picture below) was particularly long, 12.5 miles, I took a break from posting when I got home. Today (Monday), however, was a more easy-going day, as we did more ordinary tourist stuff, driving from place to place with only short strolls at each stop.

Tunnel Falls

The most fascinating tourist stop of the day was by far Bonneville Dam. Just as the security guard at the gate let the car in front of us through, her phone rang. When she was finished and came up to our car, she explained that we would have to wait about a half hour before going to the visitor center, as they needed to open the swing bridge so that a barge could go through the locks. At first I thought this was very unfortunate timing. In the end, it turned out to be fortuitous indeed. We parked at the viewing area above the locks and watched five barges, tied tightly together as a unit and pushed upstream by a tug, slide gently into the lock with barely inches on either side. Neither Diane or I could believe how little spare room the tugboat captain had to pilot this massive object. The gigantic downstream doors then closed (while I quipped that music from Star Wars should be playing) and the lock was quickly filled with water, raising the barges/tugboat up almost a hundred feet. The upstream doors than opened and the barge headed out. All told, the whole operation took less than 45 minutes.

The barges enter the lock

The barges with the lock filled

We then took a tour of the dam’s first power station, with its ten turbines all in a row. Unfortunately, none were operating at the moment. Nonetheless, whenever I see places like this (such as when I visited Hoover Dam back in 2005), I can’t help but be reminded of the scene from the science fiction movie Forbidden Planet, when Walter Pigeon gives us a tour of the Krell underground machine. Unlike the Krell, however, it didn’t take millions of years for us to learn how to build such breath-taking big dams and power stations. We did it less than 150 years after the discovery of electricity!

Bonneville Dam power station

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Why SpaceX is winning the race

An unidentified administrator of the University of Michigan space engineering program has some interesting thoughts on why SpaceX has been so successful. Key quote:

I recently performed an analysis of the very best students in my space engineering programs over the past decade, based on their scholarly, leadership and entrepreneurial performance at Michigan. To my amazement, I found that of my top 10 students, five work at SpaceX. No other company or lab has attracted more than two of these top students.

I also noticed that SpaceX recruited only two of them directly from the university. The others were drawn to the company after some years of experience elsewhere—joining SpaceX despite lower salaries and longer work hours. Why do they leave successful jobs in big companies to join a risky space startup? A former student told me, “This is a place where I am the limiting factor, not my work environment.” At SpaceX, he considers himself to be in an entrepreneurial environment in which great young people collaborate to do amazing things. He never felt like this in his previous job with an aerospace company.

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Rebuilding the American space program — the right way

In reading my post, Both for and against the Obama plan, reader Trent Waddington emailed me to say that this “is so fatalistic that it seems you don’t think it is worthwhile even spending a few minutes explaining why the policy is good. It’s easy to dismiss something a politician says as the stopped clock that is right twice a day. It’s harder to set aside your skepticism and explain why something is good policy.”

Trent is absolutely correct. What I wrote was very depressing and fatalistic. However, I think it very important to be coldly honest about things, no matter how bad they look. Once you’ve done that, you then have the right information necessary for fixing the situation.

My problem with most of the debate about the future space policy of the United States, — as well as innumerable other modern issues faced by our government — is that people don’t seem to want to face up to the reality of the problem. In the case of space and Obama, I doubt any advice, gentle or otherwise, is going to move him into putting forth a plan for NASA that has any realistic chance of getting passed by Congress. As I noted in a different post, he doesn’t play the game. He acts like the worst sort of autocrat, convinced that if he simply says what he wants to do, everyone must agree.

The reason the good part of his plan (commercial space) is not passing Congress is not because people think it is a bad idea. It is being rejected because » Read more

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Interview with Elon Musk

Spacevidcast has posted on YouTube as well as on their own webpage the first 10 minutes of a 20 minute interview with Elon Musk of SpaceX. You can see the full 20 miutes if you sign up for their Epic service.

For me, the interesting part of the interview is when he discusses the recent story about SpaceX’s plans to build a heavy-lift rocket, dubbed Falcon X. He explained that the proposal was not actually part of the company’s official plans. but the brainstorming ideas of one of the company’s engineers at an engineering conference. He also made it clear that he did not reject the idea. He likes giving his engineers the freedom to talk about such things publicly, even if the company is not yet ready to pursue them.

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Griffin’s take on the Obama space plan

On August 6 former NASA administrator Mike Griffin bluntly attacked the Obama proposals for NASA in a speech at the 13th Annual International Mars Society convention in Dayton, Ohio, Key quotes:

We’re not going anywhere and we’re going to spend a lot of money doing it.

The US space program has not accomplished as much in its last 15 years as in its first 15 years, given more money. So, if you like that, you’ll really like the next decade, in which we do almost nothing and spend just as much.

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Boeing cutting metal on its new capsule

Boeing is cutting metal on own privately funded new space capsule, planned for completion in 2015. Key quote:

“We’re at a point in the development of human spaceflight where there’s a market emerging beyond the ISS, beyond NASA,” John Elbon, Boeing’s vice president for commercial space programs, said in a briefing Thursday. “And that piece of this is really exciting as well.”

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Burt Rutan on future of space

At an airshow on Thursday, July 29, in Oskosh, Wisconsin, Burt Rutan, designer of SpaceShipOne, made some interesting remarks about the past and future of private space flight. Key quote:

Rutan said NASA should give 10 to 15 percent of its budget to new space companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX without regulating how to spend the money. “That would allow them to not (have to) beg for commercial investment, while still working in an entrepreneurial mode.”

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Senate moves towards House NASA plan

In a blunt rejection of the Obama proposals for NASA, the Senate Appropriations Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee today reworked the NASA plan — handed to them last week by the committee that authorizes NASA’s budget — so that it more closely matched the House version. These changes cut in half the money for private commercial space while adding $3 billion to continue the development of the Orion capsule and the heavy lift version of the Ares rocket.

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