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Save the Hubble



The Space Log
Space for Everyone - January 2004

Jan.31, 2004 Space News

Hubble Banner for your site. Link it to www.savethehubble.org

Save the Hubble

Reference material links for the Space Initiative and the Save the Hubble campaign are available on the Space Politics page in the Space Activism section.

Cosmic attention ... I often check in on Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log at MSNBC. He covers a wide range of space and tech related topics and he seems informed and open minded about things. I was especially pleased yesterday to see that he had linked to my recent comments on virtual vs. real travel to Mars: Virtual space travel - Alan Boyle: Cosmic Log - Jan.29.04.

News briefs... Space activists make their voice heard: To better understand Earth, we must explore outer space - BostonHerald.com - Jan.31.04 ...

... Get the latest news on attempts to contact AO-40, which recently went silent, at AMSAT-OSCAR 40 Information by AMSAT-DL. AO-40 is the largest and most expensive ($4.5M) amateur satellite ever built....

... Check in daily for a view of the moon at Lunar Photo of the Day - LPOD

Jan.30, 2004 Space News

Space myths of all kinds... Keith Cowing corrects Rick Tumlinson on his claim during the Senate Committee hearing this week that NASA vastly overpaid for a device to attach tethers during spacewalks: The Danger of Perpetuating False Urban Myths in Space - SpaceRef - Jan.30.04.

Keith makes a number of good points about being careful on such claims since analysis and experience may indeed show that there were excellent reasons for using an expensive, custom designed device instead of a cheap-off-the-shelf (COTS) item. Space is a whole new environment that can pull very unexpected and dangerous tricks on those designing equipment for space.

However, I think there is also a danger of encouraging the opposing myth held by many within NASA that whenever there are claims that a launch or space system could be done cheaper than they are doing it, this never holds true under detailed analysis. In fact there are several cases that can now be cited where the usual NASA and standard aerospace industry design and procurement system is shown to be far more expensive than necessary.

For example, just yesterday I was meeting with Pat Bahn who was back from Norman, Oklahoma where his TGV Rockets company now has a group of engineers doing detailed design studies of their Michelle B vehicle. While looking at cost estimates for their vehicle he decided to plug the numbers for the DC-X into the NASA Mission Operations Cost Model. (Pat should have the details of the DC-X since he has several former DC-X team members working as consultants.)

The NASA model predicts a development cost of "$4.461 Billion dollars, and a unit production cost of $68Million dollars." A RAND airframe cost model was not as pessimistic, coming in at a mere $510M.

The entire DC-X design and production was actually completed for less then $70 million in 1989 dollars according to Pat. The DC-X program was famous for being run by Pete Conrad in a tightfisted X vehicle project style with a very small team and using COTS parts and software wherever possible. I've heard similar such estimates before at presentations made by DC-X managers who said the project cost was a factor of ten or so below what would have been the "normal" price for such a project.

[Pat said he would write up a more detailed account of this study if he can find the time.]

There are other cases like this. The Clementine Moon orbiter and the Lunar Prospector (which actually began as a very lost private project by several space activist organizations) came in at $80M and $63M, respectively. They achieved such relatively low costs by follow nonstandard design and development approaches. Elon Musk said that the Falcon I launches would cost 3 to 4 times as much if he had contracted out the project to one of the major aerospace firms. (I hold with Henry Spencer's characterization of the majors as primarily "design bureaus" for their NASA/Pentagon funders.)

AMSAT groups have been building and launching spacecraft for several decades on the barest budgets imaginable and making tremendous contributions to small satellite development. Spinoffs companies, such as Surrey Satellite, from amateur/student satellite programs have also shown that spacecraft can be built far cheaper than by the usual big aerospace industry titans.

NASA has certainly accumulated huge amounts of data and experience in building launchers and spacecraft and in working in space. But it does not follow that the agency doesn't have to listen to anyone else or that only it can do space right. Instead, the agency should return to the model of its predecessor - the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It should enthusiastically assist the many innovative startups rather than ignoring, dissing, or competing with them. It should do all it can to provide easy access to its data and experience so as to assist these companies, which intend to make a business of space (as opposed to a business of supplying NASA or the Pentagon) and so have very strong motivations to keep costs as low as possible. The hardware and services provided by these companies will in turn provide great benefits to NASA as it seeks to explore beyond LEO while remaining within a realistic budget.

Update: Keith misunderstood Rick's remarks. In a comment to an item at Transterrestrial Musings (go to bottom of the page), Bill Haynes, who was quoted by Rick, says:

"...my source WAS producing NASA carabiners in accordance with NASA specs and for use in space by astronauts, and he said that the difference between the perhaps, $100 he could have delivered them for and $1,095 he had to charge was in the excessive and unnecessarily demanding need to track the metal used from the mine, etc.

I never suggested, nor did Rick Tumlinson, that NASA should buy available REI carabiners for use in space."

Hubble action ... Efforts to save the Hubble Space Telescope from de-orbit continue to grow: 'Save the Hubble' campaign soars - BBC - Jan.29.04. And the efforts seem to be having some affect. Today Sean O'Keefe announced that Harold Gehman, chairman of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), would review the decision to cancel the final shuttle servicing mission: CAIB chair to review Hubble decision - Spacetoday.net - Jan.29.04

Add your youself to the campaign via the online petition at Save the Hubble.

News briefs ... More about the Senate Science committee hearing Wednesday on the new space initiative: Lawmakers Express Cautious Support For Bush Space Vision -Aviation Week - Jan.29.04 & Tumlinson Tells Senate Committee to Involve Private Sector "From Day One" in New Space Policy Initiative - Space Frontier Foundation - - Jan.29.04 ...

... It's not only Spirit that gets long distance service for its computer system:
Stalling Moon probe to get new software - New Scientist - Jan.29.04 ...

... Japan is apparently reviewing its manned spaceflight options in light of the Chinese program: Japan to change space policy, aims manned mission: report -Spacedaily - Jan.29.04 (via Curmudgions Corner)

Jan.29, 2004 Space News

Trailblazer status... The privately financed lunar orbiter mission by TransOrbital (a long time advertiser at HobbySpace) looks probable for an autumn launch: Fly My Stuff to the Moon: Private Mission Slated for Fall Launch - Space.com - Jan.29.04. Be sure to sign up to place pictures and text on the data disk or even to put business cards in the spacecraft.

The Senate focuses on the space initiative... The Senate Committee on Science held a hearing today on the President's new space initiative. Senators Skeptical About Bush NASA Vision - Newsday.com - Jan.28.04. Lots of skepticism all around. Written statements can be found at Spaceref:

These guys argue for the US to exploit private initiatives:

Space album attention... The To Touch the Stars album of space songs is receiving increasing attention. According to the latest Prometheus Music newsletter, the CD is getting airplay on various folk music programs, has gotten the attention of people working in museum and education programs about space, and is getting noticed in the press.

The newsletter also reports that:

"Woody's Children, which has been running for over 35 years and launched the careers of folk musicians including Christine Lavin and Julie Gold, is airing four more (!!) tracks from To Touch the Stars on the Sunday 2/1/2004 show. We are unworthy.

But you can still hear it live at 7:30 PM ET in New York City on WFUV (90.7 FM), or by going to www.wfuv.org and listening to the audio stream. Highly recommended."

Be sure to hear producers Eli Goldberg and Kristoph Klover (who also performs on the album) on The Space Show about the project on Sunday, February 22, 2004.

News briefs... Contact with AMSAT AO-40 still not revived: AO-40 Still Ailing - ARRL - Jan.28.04....

... Rand ponders space travel, NASA, and taking risks: NASA's Winter Curse by Rand Simberg - FOXNews.com/Transterrestrial Musings - Jan.28.04

Jan.28, 2004 Space News

Winter mourning... This time of the year now marks three tragedies in the history of the US space program: Columbia, Challenger, and Apollo 1.

Largest amateur satellite in trouble... The AO-40 AMSAT spacecraft went silent yesterday apparently due to battery problems - AO-40 Satellite Goes Silent - ARRLWeb - Jan.27.04 (via spacetoday.net). Operators are trying to tell it to switch to auxiliary batteries. The satellite, the most ambitious and expensive spacecraft ever built and launched by the AMSAT organization, was once before thought lost when its on board booster motor misfired shortly after launch in the fall of 2000. However, on Christmas Day of that year it began to respond and continued to work well for most systems until this recent problem.

Mars water mystery - whether large volumes of liquid water once lay upon the Martian surface - may be solved by the rocks around the site where Oppportunity landed: Opportunity Closing in on Scientific Jackpot - Space.com - Jan.27.04

Mars 3D... NASA Earth Observing System (EOS) Education Project (Univ. of Montana) and Skyline Software Systems are offering "TerraExplorer 3D Tour of over Mars" that allows you to "take a flyby trip around Mars and the Spirit landing site without leaving home." Universal exploration - Missoulian.com - Jan.28.04 (Requires installation of the free TerraExplorer software.

Jan.27, 2004 Space News

Observing waste ... We should remember that the destruction of the Hubble Telescope would not be the first time NASA has squandered a great scientific resource in the sky. The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, launched in 1991, got dumped in the ocean in June of 2000 despite the fact it could easily have continued to operate safely and very productively for several more years.

The failure of one of its three gyroscopes led NASA to decide to de-orbit it because of fears that if it lost the other two gyroscopes, it might reenter in an uncontrolled manner. NASA administrators said this resulted in an unacceptable 1 in 1000 chance of a fatality on the ground. However, the spacecraft operators showed that even with no gyroscopes they would not lose control for reentry and the actual fatality estimates were 1 in several million. Besides, there was certainly no reason not to wait till there was only one working gyroscope.

This FAQ posted at NASAWatch.com - FAQ: Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory - NASA Watch - 16 May 2000 - gives the details. It concludes with:

How do scientists feel about the current plan to reentry CGRO on June 3rd?

They believe that the risks of continuing to fly CGRO are extremely low, that the planned reentry is unnecessary and that the intentional destruction of the Compton observatory would be a tragedy.

Once a big bureaucratic organization like NASA makes a decision, the wheels begin to grind forward relentlessly and without regard to new options and even common sense. (NASA continued to use the 1 in 1000 figure even after it was shown to be invalid.) Unless NASA is forced soon to consider other alternatives, it will so arrange things that other options for the Hubble will become less and less tenable.

(Thanks to Pat Bahn for reminding me a few months ago about the CGRO loss.)

Mars fascinates... The Mars landers have had a really big impact on a lot of people according to this article: Eager NASA Is Bringing Mars Down to Earth - NY Times - Jan.27.04.

The article speculates that this sort of remote sensing of Mars via the internet will satisfy the public's interest in the planet. I think it will have quite the opposite effect. The landers' imagery transforms Mars from an abstraction into a real place and will entice and inspire many either to want to go there themselves or at least to want to see living, breathing, thinking representatives of the human race go there and report back their impressions and experiences in person.

In the 1930's most people in the US had never been more than 20 miles or so from where they were born. When Life Magazine appeared it had a huge impact with its big color pictures of exotic places around the world. Images that were almost as strange to farm folk as Mars is to people today. However, it didn't satisfy their interest in those places. Instead it inspired the post war tourist boom.

We won't see large scale tourist travel to Mars anytime soon but I'd bet that some of the kids watching those Mars pictures coming in will someday visit those sites in person.

News briefs... Dennis Wingo gives his description of the serious problems with NASA and mainstream aerospace and gives his prescription for reform: To Boldly Go ... - SpaceRef - Jan.26.04 ...

... The Mars Society specifies what the new space initiative should build: Mars Society Statement on Bush Space Initiative - The Mars Society - Jan.24.04 (link via Kaido Kert)....

... Recent spacecasts of interest: Space Tourism Race Heats Up - NPR - Jan.26.04 * Robert Zubrin Looks for 'Mars on Earth - NPR - Jan.23.04 ...

... A discussion of how a Moon base might develop: Working on the Moon - BBC - Jan.26.04

Jan.26, 2004 Space News

The Spaceshow this Tuesday at 7-8:15PM Pacific Time will include an interview with yours truly. David didn't learn his lesson from last time and will once again subject Seattle and cyberspace to my nervous rantings about space. Available via streaming from Live365.com.

The Space Review this week includes as usual a set of very interesting articles:

Moon base strategies... The Space Frontier puts forth various strategies for developing low cost bases on the Moon: Moonbases on the Cheap by Peter Thorpe - Space Frontier Foundation - Jan.24.04 (link via Kaido Kert)

The public prefers bargain space... This article gives a good overview of public attitudes towards space and the President's initiative: Space casts strong lure: The Capital Region sees endeavors to Mars and moon as costly but inspiring - timesunion.com (Albany, N.Y.) - Jan.25.04. Basically a majority of the US public is excited about space exploration and development until you put a huge pricetag in front of them. Then the support drops to about one third. So if you can show that space can be done for a much lower cost than expected, the support will be there.

Making it cheaper...This article continues the call for NASA to take advantage of the new commercial space opportunities: Commentary: Space Travel: Bringing Costs Down To Earth: NASA should give startups room to maneuver - Business Week - Feb.2.04 (via spacetoday.net)

Fine space arts program at NASA is profiled today in the Washington Post: The Fine Art of the Space Age: Little-Known NASA Program Documents History Through Various Media - Washington Post - Jan.26.04. While the commissions include music and other performance art, the emphasis has been on the visual arts. The NASA Official Art Gallery has commissioned over 200 artists over the past 30 years to document the course of space exploration. The collection now includes over 800 works of art in the NASA archive plus 2000 pieces donated to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. You can peruse the collection via the Copernica applet.

News briefs... Keith Cowing surveys the issue of the future of the Hubble Telescope and efforts to save it: Hubble's End - or a New Beginning? - SpaceRef - Jan.26.04 ...

... India maintains a vigorous space program with many practical benefits: India's Lofty Ambitions in Space Meet Earthly Realities - NY Times - Jan.24.04 ...I

... And now they have a neighbor they will want to keep up with: China may be worlds ahead in building lunar legacy / U.S. hampered by economy, short-term plans, analysts warn - SF Gate - Jan.26.04

Jan.25, 2004 Space News

Opportunity Lands Safely on Mars!
Congratulations to JPL/NASA

News briefs ... Amateur astronomer finds asteroid passing near earth: Online Spacewatch Volunteer Discovers Close-Approaching Asteroid - SpaceWatch PR - Jan.21.04 ...

... Historical highlights of speculation about and searches for Mars life: Life on Mars? A timeline of the debate - SpaceDaily - Jan.23.04 ...

... Rocketry leader John Wickman's rocketry students get some publicity: Young rocketeers ready for launch - Casper StarTribune (Wyoming) - Jan.24.04 ...

... More about supporting the Hubble rescue: How to Help Hubble - Sky and Telescope - Jan.24.04

Jan.23, 2004 Space News

Prices, paradigms & private space development... Nothing is more annoying in the discussions of the the new space initiative than the propensity of reporters and commentators simply to invent cost estimates. It's nice to see James Oberg contributing some reason and actual facts to the discussion: Bringing space costs back down to Earth: A trillion dollars? NASA initiative won't cost near that much - MSNBC - Jan.23.04

Since the beginning of the space age in the late 1950s, space has become synonymous with staggering costs. In the 1980's and 90's, the billions of dollars spent for a few shuttle flights per year and then the massive overruns of the ISS, which was supposed to cost a mere $8B when first proposed by President Reagan, have only confirmed to the public that space is and always will be gigantically expensive. It seems obvious to most people that an even more ambitious program must surely cost even more.

In the past decade there have been many credible detailed proposals for expanded human spaceflight efforts, including Mars missions, that showed that costs can be much lower than the $250B proffered by NASA's infamous 1989 90-day study for the first President Bush's Space Exploration Initiative. Most commentators, though, simply start from that number and rocket upward.

Furthermore, many then claim that since it's obvious that the missions will cost huge amounts, the President's proposal is misleading since he allocates only minor increases to NASA's budget. But they are missing the point. What the initiative focuses on is doing the R&D to learn how to do the missions within a reasonable budget. Clearly, if the costs aren't brought down, then Moon and Mars missions just won't happen.

Studies and reasoned articles, however, won't change deeply ingrained perceptions. Only facts on the ground, or in the sky in this case, will prove to people that technology really has advanced from the 1960s and that space can be explored and developed far more cheaply than they imagined. Ironically, private space ventures could provide the credibility for lower costs estimates for NASA's programs, despite the fact that the agency remains oblivious to innovative commercial projects.

This spring SpaceX will launch its privately financed Falcon I. During the year there will be many test flights by various X PRIZE competitors and most likely a winner before the January 1 deadline. TransOrbital is planning to launch its TrailBlazer to the Moon in the fall and the Planetary Society will attempt a launch of a solar sail. These and other projects and events done on tight budgets will get lots of publicity and chip away at the notion that ambitious space projects cannot be done at a reasonable cost. Critics who thus far could dismiss such private projects as space vaporware will find themselves dealing with hard cold facts in space and won't get away with preposterous extrapolations from the costs of past NASA programs to those of all space projects in the future.

Note that many of the op-eds on the new space initiative favor it in spirit but say that such marvelous space goals are just too expensive, at least for now. If the minds of these potentially strong supporters of space development can be changed, then it will make a huge impact politically. They will, for example, help to bring more and more pressure on NASA to take advantage of the resources and services of these private ventures and finally change the way it does business.

NASA distributes vision to its employees: "New Space Exploration Vision" Distributed to NASA Employees - SpaceRef - Jan.22.04.

Some commentators propose commercial options:

Hubble's vision should remain clear and keen. In fact, it would be a good way for NASA to show that it will reform by welcoming innovative proposals from outside the agency to save the HST.

Meanwhile, you can offer your support at Save the Hubble. It will help build the political pressure to save this great observatory: U.S. Senator Rushes To Hubble's Defense - Space.com - Jan.22.04

The Space Show Sunday, 12:00-1:30pm PST - January 25, 2004 "features returning guest Dr. Angie Bukley, now the Stocker Visiting Professor in the School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at Ohio University...has become an advocate for developing the technology required to make space a reachable destination for the general public...

... and Dr. Jim Burke, retired JPL lunar settlement and exploration expert...Burke's main professional interest continues to be in the exploration and settlement of the Moon."

Hear the show on the web via live365.com.

Jan.22, 2004 Space News

Hubble hope ... I think pressure will grow and grow to save the HST: Help for Hubble: Officials Mull Donations, Russian Service Mission - Space.com - Jan.21.04. As I suggested recently, NASA should just give Orbital Recovery a contract to either boost HST to a higher orbit or move it to the ISS if possible.

NASA budget ... It looks like NASA will get a budget increase above the rate of inflation this year: Bush Wants Bigger NASA Budget, Official Says - NY Times - Jan.22.04 * Bush Vision Was Key to Saving NASA from Budget Cuts - Space.com - Jan.14.04

Despite all the yelling about busting the budget, the increase is small enough to survive. Event before the President's announcment, because of the Columbia accident there was already a sizable group of members of Congress who wanted to assist the agency. In addition, articles like this - Heading for the Stars, and Wondering if China Might Reach Them First - NY Times - Jan.22.04 - are bound to help.

Space ops ... Jay Manifold has done a survey of about 100 opinion pieces on the new space initiative - Print Media Reaction to Moon/Mars Proposal - Jay Manifold - Jan.15.04 (via T.L. James)

Jan.21, 2004 Space News

New space sims ... Check out the free SpaceDev Lunar Lander Simulator, a 3D graphics simulation in which you must search for the lunar base and then safely land your SpaceDev craft.

The program was developed by the Beltminer group which is also developing the cool Claim Stake simulation. From the Claim Stake FAQ:

"...3D dexterity game about asteroid mining in deep space. You are a Beltminer. You have been issued a Prospector mining craft in order to land on asteroids and stake a cliam on valuable minerals. These minerals will be used for the good of the space station Terra. Your ultimate goal is to find water...and construct an Ice-water extractor on an asteroid.

At the end of each mission, you will will have to spend a percentage of you credits on repairing the Prospector, buying Mineral Beacons, and re-fueling your craft. Once you collect enough resources...you will be able to build an Ice Water Extractor."

They are offering a free trial version.

News briefs... Rand Simberg comments on various political aspects of the new space initiative: The Wrong Kind of Partisan - Transterrestrial Musings - Jan.21.04 ...

... One good solid application for a Moon base is to build and operate astronomical radio observatories on the far side where there is little background noise from manmade radio signals. Here is a site that deals with such a project: IAA SETI Taskgroup: Lunar Farside Radio Laboratory ...

... This ESA sponsored meeting will look at the intersection of art and space science: Space: Science, Technology and the Arts: (7th Workshop on Space and the Arts) - ESA - May.18-21.04

Mars briefs... I The second data set is available for your Maestro rover program: Maestro Data package #2 released - SpaceRef - Jan.21.04 ...

... More about the science coming from Spirit: NASA Mars Rover's First Soil Analysis Yields Surprises - JPL News - Jan.20.04 * New Mars rock hints at past water - BBC - Jan.21.04....

... For info on the scientific tools on the Spirit that reveal the properties of the soil and rocks, see Mission to Mars - Instruments at Cornell.

Jan.20, 2004 Space News

Space initiative updates... The New York Times give serious attention to the initiative:

Right stuff vs. space stuff... Last week a reader sent me this link - John Glenn doesn't think Bush's space plan will fly - Beacon Journal - Jan.15.04 - and expressed disappointment at John Glenn's put-down of the new space initiative. Glenn's criticisms are not totally unreasonable but it is not surprising to me that, as always, he finds it inconceivable that space development could ever be done far cheaper and with more ambition that it has been up to now. I know it sounds silly, but Glenn is not really a space guy (or space nut depending on your point of view). Let me explain.

If you read the Right Stuff, as well as Glenn's autobiography, you will see that he and most of the astronauts of that time were not people who grew up reading about space, daydreaming about space, and reading space sci-fi. They instead grew up wanting to fly planes and jets and to be the best pilots around. When the space program came around, rockets were just the next step up to the pinnacle of test pilot ace-dom.

There are exceptions to this generalization. Buzz Aldrin and Harrison Schmitt continue to live and breath space long after leaving NASA. Hear, for example, Schmitt on the radio last week - NPR : Former Astronaut Advocates Return to Moon - telling a skeptical interviewer that there really will be people living in settlements on the Moon.

Furthermore, Glenn is a solid FDR New Deal style Democrat who genuinely believes in the essential competence and beneficence of the government. He see NASA as rightfully dominating all space development and exploration and doesn't take private space ventures seriously. He was solidly opposed to the flights of Dennis Tito and other tourists to the ISS.

It must have been in the mid-1960s when I got up to go to school one morning and my Mom told me that Glenn had just been on the Today Show. He had said too much money was going to the space program and more should go to social programs. Looking back now, I know that I sensed then that a big change was happening. The space age that had blossomed in the post-Sputnik period was dying. There were, of course, huge social and political forces killing it so no one could have prevented that enthusiasm from fading. However, I've sometimes wondered if Glenn had been a real space guy whether, with all of his fame and charisma, he could have ameliorated the decline and helped to prevent some of the bad decisions that were made at the end of the Moon Race such as with the Space Shuttle program.

Unfortunately, he wasn't and didn't. So while I greatly admire Glenn for his many accomplishments, personal bravery and decency, I don't have any interest in his opinions on space policy.

Spinning mice in space... NASA science news reports on the student led Mars Gravity Biosatellite project: Mars Mice: In 2006 a group of mice-astronauts will orbit Earth inside a spinning spacecraft. Their mission: to learn what its like to live on Mars. - Science@NASA - Jan.20.04. Maybe this will help them get money to carry out the project.

Space modellers and collectors take note - Caltech makes green off red planet rovers - CNN.com - Jan.19.04 - the Mars rover designs have been licensed to various model builders.

Space initiative updates... Jeff Foust's Space Review issue this week includes four reports related to the new space policy:

I think Taylor is right that this initiative has a lot more going for it than that of the 1989 SEI proposal. Though the polls and and the editorials are running slightly against it, the attention and support it has received are far beyond what the SEI received, which was hardly even noticed by the press and the public. The people who like it are strongly in favor of it and will work hard to get it implemented, while those against it are lukewarm in their oppostion (as long as the NASA funding increases are modest) and will forget about it when other issues come up. In that situation, the politics almost always favor the proponents, regardless of the polls.

Other articles of interest:

Mars briefs... I thought the images from the Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey 2001 have been amazing but looks like the Mars Express orbiter will soon blow those away: Europe's eye on Mars: first spectacular results from Mars Express - ESA - Jan.19.04 ...

... Real science by the Spirit rover has already started to come in: Hollow mystery for Mars rover - New Scientist - Jan.19.04 ...

... Mars is a real place with weather and everything: Martian weather challenges rover team - Florida Today - Jan.19.04

News brief... JP Aerospace, which began as a amateur rocketry and high altitude balloon organization (it still involves some volunteers last I heard) has gotten some serious military work according to this article: Military Space Engineers Explore Broad Spectrum of Technologies - Aviation Week - Jan.18.04

Jan.18, 2004 Space News

Space initiative updates... Frank and Keith Keith complete their 3 part series on the development of the new space policy:

Other articles:

Space activism gets results ... Its common on space forums to hear dismissive putdowns of public space advocacy and of the various space activist groups as ineffective and powerless. I certainly wouldn't claim that the new space policy was in any way dictated by space activists. The influences on the new space policy came from many sources and directions. It would be unconvincing, though, to argue that setting missions to the Moon and to Mars as long term goals would have happened if there had not been persistent and loud calls for the past couple of decades by the many advocates of such missions.

For example, the books and technical papers of Robert Zubrin convinced a lot people to think seriously about the possibility that Mars missions could happen at a cost much, much lower than what NASA proposed back in 1989 when the first President Bush tried to aim NASA at Mars. The Mars Society, led by Zubrin, gets some credit for the new NASA focus on Mars in this article: New cachet for Martian wannabes: The Mars Society has long urged exploration. Now NASA does, too. - Philadelphia Inquirer - Jan.18.04

Saving the Hubble with a commercial space tug would be a great campaign for space activists to push (NASA cancels last Hubble servicing mission - spacetoday.net - Jan.17.04.)

Orbital Recovery Corporation is developing a space tug system aimed primarily at saving comsats in geostationary orbit when they run out of station keeping fuel. The company, however, has also proposed that the tug, which could be ready in the 2006-2007 timeframe, could be used for a Hubble rescue:

"..with the appropriately size solar arrays and fuel load, [...] our solar electric propulsion system could either boost HST to a very long lived high earth orbit where it could be stored or even do a plane change to move it to the International Space Station (ISS) where it could be serviced repeatedly and reboosted by the SLES to a high orbit above ISS."

For the Hubble to be deliberately deorbited into the ocean without a serious consideration of this alternative would be a staggering waste of money and a huge loss of scientific discoveries.

Your name in a comet... Still time to get your name on a disk that the Deep Impact spacecraft will carry when it dives into a comet on July 4, 2005: Deep Impact: Send Your Name to a Comet! (Deadline Jan.31.04)

Space elevator guru Brad Edwards now works at the Institute for Scientific Research, Inc. - Research & Development in West Virginia. The web site there includes a section on the Space Elevator along with an animation and a FAQ.

Note that the Space Show has had two interviews with Edwards (most recent June.24.04) and one interview with former co-worker Michael Laine, now President of LiftPort, Inc.

The AMSAT Echo project needs to raise money for the launch of the microsat, also known as AMSAT OSCAR-E. It will be the first microsat launched by AMSAT-NA (NA - North America) since the early 1990s because of the focus over the past decade on contributing to the construction and successful launch in 2000 of the large, sophisticated, and expensive AO-40 satellite, a project led by AMSAT-DL.

"The AMSAT Echo fund currently stands at nearly $49,000. AMSAT-NA says it will need $110,000 for the launch--currently scheduled for March 31, although the launch window remains open until May. A Russian Dnepr LV rocket--a converted SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile--will carry the approximately 10-inch-square satellite into a low-Earth orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan."

They are holding an auction of an original AO-40 Sculpture to help raise the money: Auction of AO-40 Sculpture to Help Fund AMSAT ECHO Satellite Launch -AMSAT News - Jan.18.04. More links about the Echo in the Satellite Building section. For example, see the microsat in assembly and testing.

Mars briefs... People show their interest and support for Mars exploration via their mouse clicks: Millions Flock to NASA's Mars Web Site - ABCNEWS.com - Jan.16.04 ...

... More about Earth-Mars time frame synchronization: To Be in Sync With Mars, Team Resets Body Clocks - Washingtonpost.com - Jan.17.04 ...

... Adobe construction proposed for Mars shelters: Down-to-Earth Housing From the Mojave to Mars - Washingtonpost.com - Jan.17.04 - about architect Nader Khalili ...

... Lots of student activities developed by the Planetary Society around the Mars lander activities. Students Get a Chance to Work with Mars Exploration Rover Team - VOANews.com - Jan.17.04. See also the Society's Red Rover Goes to Mars progam and its various projects like the MarsDial (sun dials on the Mars landers.)

Jan.17, 2004 Space News

Space for everyone is the theme of this opinion piece - The Citizen Astronaut - NY Times - Jan.17.04 - by Greg Klerkx, author of the new book: Lost in Space : The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age (Amazon). He argues that only when NASA helps to make space acessible to the general public will that public become really enthusiastic about space.

Jan.16, 2004 Space News

NASA's memory problem ... I wish I could get Sean O'Keefe to read the excellent essay by Constance Adams in the latest issue of Popular Science: It Doesn't Take a Rocket Scientist by Constance Adams - Popular Science - Feb.04 issue. From her experience working with the Transhab project, she has a lot of insight into NASA's problem of "institutional memory", or lack thereof. The problem ranges from failing to maintain archives of the results of previous projects to the terrible practice of disbanding successful groups.

"The result is that young engineers constantly redesign programs without being aware that previous designs for the same item already exist. They may thereby introduce a new problem or layer of risk, and this gets to the heart of the matter: As has been pointed out with regard to the Columbia disaster, there is within NASA a creeping lack of interest in real expertise. When any bureaucracy supports its mandarin culture over real intellectual capital -- precisely what the board that investigated the Columbia disaster accused NASA of doing -- it becomes stagnant rather than productive...."

"...Any team that takes on a project is going to amass some truly valuable information. What happens then? At NASA, more often than not, project teams get disbanded and people with unique knowledge get poached away. Whereas other industries actively encourage the capture of knowledge in team environments -- where the sum of knowledge is measurably greater than any individual effort -- NASA seems unaware of the value of a stable, successful team and its ability to store, transmit, and use accumulated knowledge."

(I previously mentioned similar problems with the Mars lander mission in 1999 that failed to build on the knowledged gained by the Pathfinder team.)

The TransHab project got a tremendous boost from a detailed technical review carried out by several very knowledgeable retired "old guard" types like Chris Kraft. It led to significant changes for the better in the design. Unfortunately, those walking archives won't be around indefinitely.

She goes on to criticize the OSP program:

"...One result of the retrofitting rush that gave us the OSP initiative is that the smaller, more risk-taking and often more dynamic companies were knocked out of the bidding before it even got going. Now that the OSP only need accommodate four people and ride atop an expendable, commercial launcher, it's beginning to look to me an awful lot like the various vehicles being developed by the contenders for the X Prize. Yet by the nature of the bidding, none of those 25 teams has any chance of bringing its space-plane concepts to OSP. What would be the result if NASA were to enable this sharing of ideas by inviting competition and reopening the field of design solutions? Most likely cost savings and superior design."

Sean, read the whole thing.

Note: the article includes sketches of the TransHab module as it progressed through the design process: It Doesn't Take a Rocket Scientist - Transhab development sketches.

More space speech aftermath... Jeff Foust at spacetoday.net continues to collect tons of links to articles related to President Bush's new space initiative. It would be interesting to count the number of pro vs. con editorials but I don't have the time. My impression is that the cons are in the majority but I'm still impressed by the large number of pro views.

Many of those attacking the plan do so on the presumed very high cost (hundreds of billions is usually their estimate), not because they are against space exploration in general. If it could be proven that space development can be done far cheaper than it has been, then support would grow substantially.

Unfortunately, many commentators who should know better, continue to promote the idea that it is impossible for launchers and spacecraft ever to be developed for less than tens of billions of dollars. For example, Greg Easterbrook - Exploring the Crew Exploration Vehicle - Greg Easterbrook - Jan.15.04 - says that since the Saturn V cost $40B, then any new heavy lift vehicle would also have to cost that much. In this worldview of space, the technology never improves, productivity never rises, and new approaches always fail. (See also Nonsense from Easterbrook - Rand Simberg - Jan.16.04)

Fortunately, a few are starting to see that their are in fact alternatives to the way it has been done before. For example, this article - America's space programme: Pie in the sky - Economist.com - Jan.15.04 - argues that the way to go is to "Privatise It!". The article cites the progress made by the X PRIZE competitors, space tourism, and other private space development efforts:

"This is not exactly a grandiose vision compared with a manned base on the moon. But it is a more realistic one and, if successful, it can be built upon. NASA has done great things, of the sort that private enterprise would not and should not cough up for, with its unmanned scientific space missions. It should concentrate on those and leave the business of putting people into space to business itself."

Other articles of note:

Space IQ acceleration... Today I came across this site The 2001: A Space Odyssey Collectibles Exhibit via Curmudgeons Corner. It reminded me of the disappointment that many space fans feel about the fact that we did not achieve the accomplishments depicted in that movie.

One aspect of these shortcomings I'd like to focus on has to do with HAL. Many very serious and distinguished scientists argue against human spaceflight and laud the capabilities of robotic systems. In a different context, however, in a discussion of artificial intelligence and robotics, many of these same people would point out how far short AI has fallen from the predictions of the 1960s. Robots today still cannot carry out the simplest autonomous activities with any degree of robustness and reliability. They remain stuck in very narrow, specialized domains. It will probably be many decades before we have robots that come even close to solving problems, making decisions, and taking independent actions of the kind that even dogs or cats can do, much less what a child can accomplish.

Yet from the criticisms of human spaceflight one would think that robotic space machines are just as brilliant as any engineer or geologist. So apparently we have one truly great benefit of space. Just launch a robot there and its IQ increases by many orders of magnitude!

Mars sims ... Yesterday I came across The Mars Game (via Martian Soil), which is a new on line participatory simulation of a Mars base: About The Mars Game. I've now created a collection of several other Mars related programs in the Simulations section.

Mars briefs... Mars funnies at Mars Rover! - cartoons at Slate (via Martian Soil)...

... Hey, Mars is starting to look like a balmy vacation spot: Temperature for Mars rover at lunchtime: 12 degrees; temperature in U.S. Northeast: minus 13 to 9 degrees - Cornell News - Jan.14.04 (via spacetoday.net) ....

... Mars Scorecard details all the Mars missions and their success or failure....

... Details of the Mars rover cameras: How Spirit makes great photos: Rover's panoramic camera takes IMAX quality images - MSNBC - Jan.14.04 ...

... This overview of Mars in the arts - The Chronicle's Martians - SF Gate - Jan.14.04 - mentions To Touch the Stars

Jan.15, 2004 Space News

Space speech aftermath... The attention to the President's speech has really been impressive. Every news program has given it top story treatment and on line newspapers have put it on their front pages.

Here is a sampling of articles and comments I found particularly interesting:

In case you missed it, you can watch the speech on line: President Bush's Speech on New NASA Initiative - NASA - Jan.14.04 - (Real Media ram)

Meanwhile, at Mars on Earth... The latest crew manning the Mars Desert Research Station seems to be exploring near the Spirit landing site.MDRS - Log Book for January 13, 2004

Mars Desert Research Station

Jan.14, 2004 Space News

Update: the new space initiative was finally announced by thePresident: President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration Program - Transcript - Jan.14.04 * Fact Sheet. Jay Manifold parses it nicely in Project Management "Triple Constraint" Summary of Bush Space Proposal - Arcturus - Jan.14.04 (link via Transterrestrial Musings)

In general, it sounded like a sensible plan. It doesn't give NASA a blank check but sets out a clear sequence of goals. If the agency can achieve one goal it can then get the money to go to the next one. A new outside advisory board will monitor its progress.

As I've indicated before, I wish the plan stated explicitly that it required that the projects cost as little as possible and that it must work with the new private space companies to achieve this. Since the budget is only increasing very modestly, it looks like the agency may not have any other option.

Nevertheless, this may become a huge landmark event for the agency and for space development in the US. (It's much more serious than the initiative offered by the first President Bush.) I can remember in the 1970s when it became totally verboten for anyone at NASA to even mention one of the M words (Moon, Mars) and humans in the same sentence. The huge funding and personnel cutbacks after the end of the Apollo program left the agency shell-shocked, hunkered down, and unwilling to look farther than LEO for human spaceflight for nearly two decades. Gradually, in the past few years this has worn off (relentless advocacy from space activists has certainly contributed to changing this attitude) and we see today that it really looks like it is willing to begin heading outward.

News briefs... Leonard David surveys opinions of the new space initiative: America's New Space Plan: A Vision in Search of Focus, Observers Say - Space.com - Jan.14.04....

... Looks like it involves less money than both supporters and critics expected: Price tag detailed for space initiative: Official says budget - MSNBC - Jan.14.04 ...

... Meanwhile, the Mars Gravity Biosatellite Program based at MIT continues development of a spacecraft that will test Mars level gravity on a group of mouse-tronauts: Space mission will explore effect of Mars' gravity on mammals - MIT News - Jan.9.04 (via spacetoday.net)

The new space initiative will presented today by the President at 3pm EST. Hear his speech on NASA TV and CSPAN if you have cable/satellite TV. Or via NASA TV streaming (see the SpaceCasts section for more links).

Space ramblings... Here are some miscellaneous comments on the new space program:

  • I think we (not the metaphorical "we" that is used all the time but those of us who actually want to go in person) will get to space regardless of NASA and its programs and funding levels. The continuing expansion of technological capabilities tied with rising wealth, such as demonstrated by investments of the space angels, will make ambitious private space ventures feasible and access to space affordable by large numbers of people in the next decade or two.

  • However, that doesn't mean the six billion dollars or so at NASA that is currently spent on human spaceflight can't do great things. And if President Bush kicks in a few billion more, then good for him. The private companies can often achieve lower costs by using "off the shelf technology" as much as possible, but somebody has to put the stuff on the shelf in the first place. NASA's funding helps to fill those shelves (and build the shelves) by maintaining a sizable space infrastructure of suppliers and service companies of all sizes. NASA and these companies provides jobs and training to a high percentage of aerospace engineers and technicians (some of whom then leave to form private companies.)

  • NASA also supports a great amount research at the infrastructure level - an improved composite tank, a better thermal protection material, etc - to an extent that private ventures cannot afford.

  • A lot of NASA projects like the X-33, however, have been wasteful disasters. If the new policy doesn't include substantial reforms in the way NASA develops hardware, especially launchers, then there is good chance most of the money will accomplish very little in the long run. Getting NASA to work with the new generation of space companies should be a high priority.

  • Many articles have noted that the polls don't show an enthusiastic majority in support of a new expanded space program: Poll reveals mixed reaction to proposed space initiative - spacetoday.net - Jan.13.04. However, I'm very encouraged that an impressive 30-40% of the population does in fact show a strong interest in space. These numbers indicate an astoundingly large potential market available to support space related businesses. The prospects look solid to attract, for example, hundreds of thousands of people to come see manned rockets fly during an X PRIZE Cup air show or to get a few hundred people lined up each year to pay to ride suborbital rockets.

    (I talked about useful degrees of popular support for space that in this article)

See also some interesting comments from Rand Simberg: Mission Worth It? - Transterrestrial Musings - Jan.13.04 * A Cowboy Space Program? - Transterrestrial Musings - Jan.13.04

Jan.13, 2004 Space News

Space initiative... More articles about the new space policy:

Mars briefs ... See the cool 360 degree Mars panorama at JPL and in this QuickTime Color VR Panorama of NASA Spirit's Landing Site on Mars - SpaceRef - Jan.12.04 ...

... See also the cool Mars views in simulation (but based on Mars orbiter data) at Red Planet :: Martian Terrains

Heinlein still manages to raise a ruckus as seen in this discussion Electrolite: "He was the train we did not catch." about this review "For US, the Living" By Robert A. Heinlein - Review by John Clute - SciFi.com - Jan.04 (via BongBong.net)

Space Cargo company Constellation Services, which was founded by some long time space activists, released this announcement last night:

Former Acting NASA Administrator
Joins CSI’s Board of Advisors

Alexandria, VA, January 13, 2003 – Dr. Daniel R. Mulville, who served as NASA’s Associate Deputy Administrator until last year – and a brief stint as Acting Administrator – today announced that he is joining the Board of Advisors of Constellation Services International (CSI), Inc.

“CSI’s LEO ExpressSM Space Cargo Service is the fastest and best way for NASA to get more U.S. resupply for the International Space Station (ISS),” Dr. Mulville said. “NASA has investigated the LEO ExpressSM system for two years, and now it’s time to move forward and buy this service.”

“The international partners could have 3 astronauts at ISS right now, even with the Space Shuttle grounded, if we had a backup resupply system,” Dr. Mulville continued. “In my opinion, CSI's off-the-shelf approach is the lowest-risk and highest-payoff option for the U.S. to get contingency and/or additional baseline cargo quickly and affordably.” In May of 2003, the crew complement of the ISS was reduced from three to two persons primarily because of insufficient water and other supplies, due to limited cargo deliveries after the Space Shuttle fleet was grounded after the Columbia tragedy.

"We appreciate Dr. Mulville’s public endorsement of the LEO ExpressSM Service, and welcome him to our Board of Advisors,” stated Charles Miller, CSI's President and CEO. “Dr. Mulville and many others understand that the LEO ExpressSM paradigm provides several unique benefits for NASA’s Human Space Flight program: it is faster, cheaper and lower risk than all other resupply approaches we know about.”

“The CSI team looks forward to working with NASA to quickly and affordably build a more robust ISS resupply capability by supplementing and backstopping the Space Shuttle and international partner systems with our service in the next couple years,” stated Mr. Thomas Moser, former NASA Space Station Program Director and currently CSI’s Vice President for Programs.

CSI was founded in 1998 as a commercial space services company and is currently focused on space station resupply. CSI leads an industrial team that is currently under contract to NASA’s Alternate Access to Station program to define evolutionary capabilities of the LEO ExpressTM system, having successfully completed a full System Design Review in July of 2003.

CSI has offices in Los Angeles, California, Houston, Texas and Alexandria, Virginia. For more information on CSI or the LEO ExpressSM Space Cargo Service, call +1-818-710- 3877, visit our World Wide Web site at http://www.constellationservices.com, or send an email
request to press@constellationservices.com.

Jan.12, 2004 Space News

Speaking of space politics, here are three interesting articles posted today at Jeff's Space Review:

See also this article - Stanley Kurtz on Space Exploration on National Review Online - Jan.12.04 - which reviews the spectrum of responses to the new space initiative.

Political space blog... Jeff Foust of spacetoday.net, has spun off a new weblog site called Space Politics from his regular Spacetoday.net weblog."Because sometimes the most important orbit is the Beltway..."

Even before the recent news of a space program revival by the president there seemed to be an unusually large (by the standards of the post Moon Race period) amount of discussion about space by the Democratic candidates. Looks like this will be an interesting site to monitor for the latest developments in the policies and politics of space.

More space policy links... Jeff has tons of links on spacetoday.net to articles about the new space policy that will be announced this week but here are some I found of particularly interest:

They deal with the the costs of the program and the need to involve commercial efforts to keep the costs affordable.

Mars briefs... Aviation Week gives a detailed account of the Spirit landing: Spirit Rover Lands Well; Rolloff Delayed by Bulky Airbags - Aviation Week - Jan.11.04 ...

... And what if bacterial life was found on Mars: A Cosmic Ego Trip: Be Careful What You Look for on Mars - NY Times - Jan.11.04 ...

... Speaking of Mars life, there has been something of a controversy over the radiation exposures that human explorers would undergo in a mission to the Red Planet. Via a web forum I found this excellent radiation primer, along with a page on solar flares at the Clavius Moon Base website.

Sponsoring spaceflight... The Spacefleet project in England seeks to build an organization that will support commercial space travel the way auto race teams are sponsored. See also their Spacefleet Portal forum site.

Jan.10, 2004 Space News

New space policy prospects... Things sure are a'changing when Rick Tumlinson gets quoted twice in the New York times: For Space Glory, Reach for the Stars, Experts Say - NY Times - Jan.10.04.

So far the expected new space policy is getting plenty of criticism but it is also getting far more support than I expected. It is certainly receiving lots more attention than given to the previous President Bush's Space Exploration Initiative in 1989, which even the White House forgot after NASA put out a prepostrous $250B price tag for the Moon and Mars program.

Unfortunately, that price tag (some commentators even round it off to an even trillion dollars) is being used as a sledge hammer to whack this plan. Space to most people is synonymous with staggering costs so it's easy to do.

I can suggest a few ways the administration can sell this plan more effectively than the old one:

  • Make it clear that this is not a program to go the Moon and Mars at any price but one that will only proceed if the costs are brought way, way down.

  • Make it clear that it will only require a modest increase in NASA's current annual budget.

  • Combine it with some serious reform of NASA and the way it does development projects.

  • As this site constantly preaches, go outside the NASA/Big Aerospace complex and take advantage of the incredible talents, skills, drive, and imagination of the new commercial space companies.

  • Buy off the science community by making it clear that this plan will mean significant new funds for space science if it goes into effect and no new funds if it doesn't. From this article - Space plan to push robots By Frank Sietzen Jr. and Keith L. Cowing - UPI - Jan.9.04 - it sounds like it is going in this direction.

  • In fact, I would combine it with an across the board increase in funding for all science and R&D programs. For example, double the NSF budget, continue significant increases for health research, offer new programs to improve technical and science education, etc. Then the new NASA program becomes just one essential part of an overall new push for improved US scientific and technical capabilities.

Mars briefs... Living according to Mars time can be confusing: Mars time warp enfolds researchers - ajc.com - Jan.9.04 (See also the Mars clocks links) ...

... Mars impacts the arts: Artists and the Red Planet - BBC - Jan.9.04 ...

... and also students High School Students Land on Mars - JPL News - Jan.8.04 .

Jan.9, 2004 Space News

The new space policy (maybe) is discussed in the RLV News section.

Space settlers ... William Burrows (This New Ocean and other space books and articles) in an editorial in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) says settlement is the only legitimate motivation for a human spaceflight program. Settlements will extend life out into a larger domain and also offer a backup in case something destroys life on Earth. He wants to start with lunar bases. ...

... Mars settlement, on the other hand, gets serious discussion in this unlikely publication: Is Mars Ours? - The logistics and ethics of colonizing the red planet by David Grinspoon - Slate - Jan.8.04. He makes a big deal about the political correctness of Mars settlement, such as the need to avoid the lable colonization. (See the Curmudgeon''s comments.) However, he does make settlement seem almost inevitable.

Mars brief... I can't say the vehicles really jump out but it's still amazing they can even be seen as vague splotches: Orbiter Photographs Viking 1 and Pathfinder Landers on Mars' Surface - Space.com - Jan.7.04

Jan.8, 2004 Space News

Space contests in Europe... I came across links to several space related contests sponsored by ESA - Education, Eurisy - "Education & information activities for the advancement of space technology and its applications in Europe" and the Norwegian SpaceCenter:

Mars briefs... The traffic rates to the JPL Mars rovers sites indicates about 10 million people are really into Mars exploration: Mars rules the Net - Alan Boyle: Cosmic Log - Jan.7.04 ...

... Alas, the Beagle 2 remains lost: No bark heard from Beagle 2 probe - BBC - Jan.7.04 but just as the US came back from Mars failures, the British can do the same: Beyond Beagle: Where now for British space? - BBC - Jan.8.04

Lunar exploration ... Inspired by my recent note about the SpaceDev lunar study, reader Kaido Kert sent me info about these lunar projects:

  • At one time, LunaCorp was planning IceBreaker mission, lunar lander and rover, two-in-one, that was designed to go looking for the speculated ice at poles. From what I understand, Carnegie Mellons robotics researches did most of the detailed design, an early quite detailed version of the concept is available as a 120-page PDF: ( A very interesting read )

  • From what the later news reports indicate, I gather it was in the active planning stages until sometime in 2000-2001. http://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Aspace.com+lunacorp+million

  • There are several somewhat contradicting reports on the cost of the mission, according to this [space.com article from May 23, 2000] "LunaCorp's Gump has said the mission would be budgeted at $80 million - with NASA providing $22 million under its Discovery exploration program. The rest would come from private investors, including entertainment companies. "

  • Unfortunately, the latest news regarding the proposed mission, is from 2001, and now it seems to be disappeared from the launch radar entirely. According to this story...LunaCorp hasn't given up the idea though, but now they are thinking of putting the comm relay sat (dubbed SuperSat ) up first, which in turn is dependant on how things work out with ISS. Apparently for IceBreaker they had trouble working out a reliable method f communication from within the crater, as direct radio link would have been obstructed.

  • "Via Hobbyspace i also found the name of Red Whittaker, the leader of the project at CMU, which further lead me to CMU's project page, It has some more updated PDFs, one of them actually referring to Rotary Roton as a potential launch vehicle, and presenting the rover design where lander is separate from the rover.

    A quote from the reports summary section: 'The Moon is of interest to many different parties including lunar and planetary scientists, developers of systems for human space exploration and colonization, commercial pioneers of space, and the general public. However, with NASA's eyes fixed principally on Mars, the development of missions to explore the Moon may be relegated to teams of partners who each satisfy a need of the composite lunar interest community.' Indeed.

    BTW, Red Whittakers 'current research' page has this little interesting sentence: 'Lunar Rover Initiative: a pair of mobile robots for the first privately funded lunar mission with telepresence for public participation and education' So, perhaps theres more to it than has been published lately."

Jan.7, 2004 Space News

Curiosity driven funding... Most of the articles and editorials (spacetoday.net) about the Spirit mission have been quite positive. Some say it's good preparation for a human mission while others say it proves that robot explorers willl suffice.

A typical case of robot love is given here: Essay: In Search for Life on Mars, Machines Can Boldly Go Where Humans Can't - NY Times - Jan.6.04. Scientists who oppose human spaceflight, however, should note that their arguments against it can also be turned on them. As this rant against space exploration (see responses from Mark Whittington and Rand Simberg) illustrates, there are plenty of people who can use the same rhetoric against expensive space science projects as are used against human spaceflight: no near term benefits, very few absolutely certain long term benefits, "I'm not interested in this area and I'm a smart person with these [fill in the blanks] credentials, so obviously no one else should be interested in this area.", etc.

It is an anomaly of history that so much money is spent on space science in the US. Without the Moon Race, the space science budget would probably resemble the money spent on high energy physics or nuclear fusion (~$200-300M each). As the late Carl Sagan argued, US space science spending rose so high because it was pulled up by the manned program. The Beagle 2, for example, shows that the absence of a manned program in Britain did not result in a windfall for space science.

Sputnik led to huge increases in funding in ALL areas of basic science and R&D. Like a stone dropped in the water, the benefits rippled in every direction. Conversely, funding sank for almost all areas of science and R&D in the early 1970's along with the collapse in space funding. This is perfectly consistent. Whether it is human spaceflight, Mars rovers, quark hunting, or long shot cancer cures, you ultimately have to appeal to a sense of curiosity and a faith (yes, a vague, non-scientific, unprovable faith) that such pursuits will ultimately prove of great value, even if only indirectly. When a successful attack is made against one such pursuit, it can't help but be successful against them all.

Space books for young people... Ruth Lubka sent me the following info about her new space book:

PUPNIKS: The Story of Two Space Dogs
(Marshall Cavendish, 2003)
ISBN 0761451374

"[Pupniks] tells the story of Belka and Strelka, whose flight and earth orbit in 1960 paved the way for Gagarin's flight one year later. For very young children (4-7), PUPNIKS includes photos of the dogs and facts about other animal astronauts, as well as info about Krushchev's gift of Strelka's pup Pushinka to JFK in 1961. For more info, see www.marshallcavendish.com. The Russian ambassador in Washington has forwarded a copy of my book to Oleg Gazenko!" Amazon (affiliate commission link) Pupniks: The Story of Two Space Dogs

I also recently came across the adventure series Space Junk The Book - Amy Tucker Carroll and Peter Framson intended for young teenagers. Amazon (affiliate commission link) Space Junk: The Future is Yesterday

Mars briefs... Glad to hear about this memorial on Mars: NASA Memorializes Space Shuttle Columbia Crew on Mars - SpaceRef - Jan.6.04 ...

... So where can you find those stereo glasses to see Mars in 3D? Alan Boyle found out: Souped-up views from Mars - Alan Boyle: Cosmic Log - Jan.5.04

Space business briefs... More signs of stabilization Arianespace earns profit in 2003 - spacetoday.net - Jan.6.04...

... and strength XM Exceeds 1,360,000 Subscribers at Year-end 2003 - XM Radio - Jan.7.04 in space related businesses.

Jan.6, 2004 Space News

Big budget comeback? I hope that the lesson of Beagle 2 and Spirit is not that "You can't do space on the cheap". The low cost 1997 Mars Pathfinder was once hailed as a triumph for the faster, cheaper, better (FCB) approach that NASA supposedly tried to follow in the aftermath of the loss of the Mars Observer spacecraft (a $1B project.) However, the failure of the Mars orbiter and lander missions in 1999 led to the cliche that you can only accomplish two of those adverbs at a time. The success of at least half of the $800M Mars Exploration Rover program and the apparent failure of the much lower cost Beagle 2 will likely be attributed to their relative budgets but I think that is a false conclusion.

First of all, statistics, i.e. luck, play a big part in the success of these landers since there are so many variables involved - the multiple failure modes during the reentry and landing, the type of terrain landed on, etc. However, the program management and its available resources obviously play major roles as well.

It's been pointed out that a successful FCB program must use incremental, step-by-step development and allow for the accumulation of knowledge by the people involved with each step[*]. The 1999 lander mission failed in both of these guidelines. It involved almost none of the managers from the Pathfinder mission and the vehicle used a completely different landing system. (It was said that airbags would not work with a larger and heavier payload, which Spirit proves is not true.)

If I were in charge of ESA, I would allow the Beagle 2 team to stay together and to learn from this failure so that it can apply its experience to the design of the next mission. Instead of starting from scratch with an entirely new vehicle and landing system, the team would focus on the weak points in the current design and make the system more robust. If there is more money, it would go for more landers, at least two per mission as with Spirit & Opportunity, to fight the statistical demons, rather than for more managers and gold-plating.

See also Chris Hall's take on the comparison of the programs: A Tale of Two Spacecraft - Spacecraft/Chris Hall - Jan.5.04 (via Rocket Man Blog).

[*Update Jan.7.04 - I don't have my notes to find his name but a space analyst gave a talk at the 2000 Space Access Meeting about the essential elements of a successful FCB program. He listed the above two elements as well as several others, almost all of which NASA failed to follow.]

Mars briefs... A crew has begun a new season of missions at the The Mars Society: Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. You can follow their progress via the MDRS: Daily Field Reports....

... Mars rover simulation software is available at Drive on Mars ...

... A history of manned mission to Mars concepts is available at Humans to the Moon: A Survey of Mission Scenarios - David S. F. Portree

Space business briefs... Spacedev says it can do a lunar lander for a lot less than $100M: SpaceDev Completes Lunar Lander Study - Spacedev PR/SpaceRef - Jan.5.04 ...

... Bigelow Aerospace may announce this year a development in its space hotel project: Big things to come at Bigelow - spacetoday.net weblog - Jan.1.04

... The space business continues its recovery as one of the remote sensing startups gets back on track: ORBIMAGE Officially Emerges From Chapter 11 - SpaceRef - Jan.5.04 ...

... It seemed a good idea at the time, but lately I've regretted selling my Sirius (and XM) last year at what seemed like great gains before they were sure to fall back: Delirious for Sirius [Commentary] - Fool.com - Jan.5.04

Jan.5, 2004 Space News

More Mars images... Galleries of Mars rover images, including stereographs, can be found at these sites:

See also the panorama at "Spirit lands and sends 360 degree postcard" - collectSPACE - Jan.4.04

News briefs ... Politics and space in the 2004 election season: Howard Dean: Making the solar system safe for Republicans (and most Democrats) by Taylor Dinerman - The Space Review - Jan.5.04 ...

... A behind the scences view of the ESA Mars mission: Christmas on Mars - The Space Review - Jan.5.04 ...

... This centrifuge flight simulator is aimed currently for training jet fighter pilots but could be adapted for space transports: Dynamic Flight Simulator Lets Swedish Pilots Pull Gs - Aviation Week - Jan.4.04 ...

... GPS systems used in more and more applications: Horse trainers receive a little help from above - New Zealand News -Jan.4.04

Jan.4, 2004 Space News

Mars photos for today in the MER Image archive for Jan.4.04 at JPL. Another site to follow the latest developments is at Spaceflight Now | Destination Mars | Mission Status Center.

Rover data viewer... At the Maestro Headquaters you can download a special viewer (39MB) for viewing Mars rover data and images that is similar to what JPL uses. (I'm currently away from home and on a slow link so I've not tried this program myself.)

YES!! Spirit lands on safely on Mars! Monitor developments via the Mars News Viewer. Congratulations to NASA and the mission team.

Links to latest news articles can be found at spacetoday.net: Spirit lands on Mars - spacetoday.net - Jan.4.03

Jan.1, 2004 Space News

HobbySpace continued to progress in 2003. The site received more than a million page views during the year, which gives a total of over two million since the site opened in January 1999. Average page views per day exceeded 3000 during the past couple of months and visits (pages delivered to a unique IP address within a half hour window) exceeded 2000 per day as well during that time. (I don't monitor unique visitor rates.)

More interviews, special articles, and features like the Space Company novel have contributed to the increasing traffic. Also, the RLV News page has become very popular.

The traffic has attracted several regular, and much appreciated, advertisers. If traffic continues to grow, the site will graduate from a part time hobby to a genuine part time business. I have lots of plans and ideas for the site that I hope to implement this year.

Thanks for visiting HobbySpace and please drop by regularly.

News briefs ... The President's new space policy could be one of the big space news stories of the year: Speculation at the new space policy - Curmudgeons Corner - Dec.31.03....

... NASA looks back and doesn't see any places where it assisted development of commercial/private space enterprises: NASA's Year of Sorrow, Recovery, Progress, and Success - SpaceRef - Jan.1.04

Continue to December 2003 articles in archive

HobbySpace News Articles Index 1999-2003


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