by Alex Gimarc Mon., April 19, 2010
Interesting Items 4/19 –
Howdy all, a few Interesting Items for your information. Enjoy –
In this issue:
1. Space. The fight over Obama’s change in direction for manned spaceflight was joined last week as The One went to Florida in an attempt to mend fences with NASA employees and contractors. Surprisingly enough, I strongly support the cancellation of Ares and moving NASA from a owner-operator of spacecraft to an entity that outfits exploration trips. Why is Obama correct on this? Who knows? I mostly think that space is far too small to be of interest to him, so he has fortunately been listening to the right people – the entrepreneurs – instead of the Usual Suspects on the left. NASA was set up as a Big Government solution to a Big Government problem – that of beating the Soviets to the Moon 50 years ago. Unfortunately, in doing so, the central planning model became entrenched as the single way to conduct manned spaceflight. And as we all know, anything that is centrally planned and executed becomes ossified, bound by its bureaucracy, and over time, becomes unable to get anything done. This is why NASA has done little on the manned spaceflight side over the last 30 years other than drive in circles. Yes, we have a $100 billion manned space station. But the only people who can visit are people flying in government transportation. It is 40 years after we landed on the Moon. Why aren’t there more Americans, Americans who don’t draw a federal paycheck, in space on a daily basis? It is because we have a taxpayer supported government monopoly on manned spaceflight. This monopoly must be broken. The new Obama space budget is the vehicle to break that monopoly. It essentially tells NASA that they must contract with the private sector for transportation into space. That transportation will eventually include all people and cargo. The notion that NASA will have to buy tickets rather than be the owner-operator of the hardware is what will get the private sector off the dime. This is not unlike what the USPS did in the 1920s when contracts for hauling mail from one point to the other fueled the rise of a vibrant civil aviation industry that was ready just in time to fight WWII. The Ares program was far over budget and was in danger of eating up all available NASA budget authorizations. This restructure does not mean that we will give up the moon. Rather, it means that we may very well get there faster. The notion that we will start visiting asteroids is very exciting, for asteroids have the potential to be used as interim refueling stops from here to the outer planets. A number of them are relatively close in terms of Delta-V (velocity change necessary to make the trip). And a number of them are thought to be rich in ices, which can be mined on site and turned into propellant, water, or oxygen for breathing. If we can figure out to use extraterrestrial resources, we open the entire inner Solar System for exploration and settlement. We also end up using the asteroids as a series of stepping stones or refueling stations for a trip from here to Mars and elsewhere. Once people start flying in ever increasing numbers, costs will decrease as competition between vendors takes place. When that happens, we start going places other than in circles around this planet. This is a Very Good Thing. Buzz Aldrin is correct. The other guys are not. And nothing in this new direction touches any military space funding, as MilSpace does not have an active manned component (that I know of). For more information, do a search of the following terms: Bert Rutan, X-Prize, Space Frontier Foundation, newSpace, Space X, Elon Musk, Armadillo Aerospace, Bigelow Aerospace. There is a lot going on in the entrepreneurial space world. Now that we can get the government monopoly out of the way for even a little while, we have to opportunity to apply the power of the free market to manned spaceflight.
2. Volcano. What a hoot, I get to write about two favorite topics back to back this week – space and volcanoes. A volcano in southern Iceland with an unpronounceable name (at least for me) has been erupting over the course of the last month. The initial stages were a pair of small vents that erupted very fluid, basaltic magma for a couple weeks. Last week, the eruption moved up to the top of the mountain and opened up a vent underneath an ice cap. Melting ice and magma don’t play well together, and the mountain blew, dusting most of Europe with volcanic ash. The European Union, using flawed computer models of airborne ash migration shut down most aviation in Europe for almost a week. It turns out that the computer models over-predicted the presence of volcanic ash above Europe. Flights started toward the end of the week as most of the melt water into the volcanic vent was gone. There is still ash, but it better characterized and is blowing in a different direction. This very expensive screw up illustrates nicely the problem with relying on computer models for decision making (manmade global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions, anyone?). A variation on a Frank Box quote observes: “All models are wrong, but some models are useful.” We have too many people in government relying on computer models and too few out there actually taking measurements, plotting data and looking at the results. This eruption is not over yet. The last time this particular mountain erupted, the activity took years to finish. There are a number of web sites that specialize in volcanic eruptions and current activity. I have enjoyed the following site: http://scienceblogs.com/eruptions/ The participants tend to be moderately insufferable, but appear to know their stuff (so far).
3. Waxman. Henry Waxman (D, CA) cancelled his Grand Inquisition into corporations that have revised their SEC financial reports in response to the passage of ObamaCare. The hearings were intended to be a vehicle for Waxman to beat up on the corporate heads. But since the corporations were all following the law that Waxman and his congressional cronies wrote and passed to the letter, someone close to Waxman figured out that the intended show trial was not going to go well for Waxman or the democrats on the committee. So they cancelled the hearings.
4. ObamaCare. Just when you think it can’t get any funnier, it appears that congress managed to garbage up the language in the 2,000+ page ObamaCare legislation sufficiently so that it is no longer clear if they are exempt from the legislation or not. While they did write a section exempting them from the medical coverage forced down the throats of everyone else in the nation, they did not specify an effective date for that exemption to kick in, meaning that they are now all covered by ObamaCare. When you write legislation, it is always a good idea to keep it short, comprehensible, and logical. It is also a good to read the bloody thing before you vote for it. Otherwise, strange things can happen. NYT via Hot Air, Tues.
5. Hunting. The National Parks Service stepped up their war on Alaska last week by closing all hunting and trapping in three national wilderness preserves in interior Alaska last week. The dispute was triggered when state wildlife biologists killed a pack of wolves that had wandered out of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve a few weeks ago. Apparently the feds didn’t teach the pack leader map reading skills or their electric fence surrounding the preserve was down and the wolves escaped. While they are not all that good to eat, their pelts make great shoe shine rags. ADN, Weds.
6. Zales. Dallas-based Zales Jewelers announced last week that they would join the boycott of gold produced at the proposed Pebble Mine in western Alaska. This bit of ecological grandstanding probably got them good media for a day or two, but did not win them a lot of friends up here. Now I don’t know how you can refuse to purchase gold from one particular mine or another after it has been turned into jewelry or even why you would try, but whatever floats their boat.
"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."
- Samuel Adams, speech at the Philadelphia State House, August 1, 1776.
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