Saturday, August 12, 2006

Putting a Wrap on the SFF Discussion

He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass. ~ William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Frankly, I am now tired of this entire discussion. I don't regret bringing it up, but I'm getting more and more frustrated with the responses from Dr. Differ and Mr. Muniz. Mr. Muniz in particular seems to have decided to satirize my use of quotations and mocks my use of formal address ("whichever you prefer"). Just to clarify the latter, I was raised to cal people Mr., Miss, or Mrs (later Ms.) because that's the polite thing to do. When I went to Case Tech, professors addressed us in the same way It's a habit that I have carried over to my coworkers, none of whom have ever seemed to mind. I don't apologize for doing for being polite. Further, I do take pains to get their names right.

Beyond that, I've got other things I want to write about, and this discussion is simply circular.

Neither of these gentlemen has given me any compelling reason to change my views. Launching satellites and space tourists using the same old methods is not advancing space exploration or space settlement. Bad-mouthing the government while demanding $2 billion of taxpayer money, claiming that commercial companies have succeeded without governent help (as Burt Rutan claimed when SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X Prize) while using technologies developed under government contracts, claiming that comercial serices can supply the ISS (there's no evidence they can because they can't handle the needed payloads to adequately supply a fully-manned ISS, especially when it gets bigger), and claiming that using old methods is "innovation" isn't going to get us anywhere.

Dr. Differ goes so far as to say, "We all stand on the shoulders of giants and I won't detract from the miracles wrought by previous generations. However, I won't linger long on them either. That is work for historians. We must make the future." I would suggest that Dr. Differ refusal to linger means he will fall prey to Santayana's warning about those who do not learn from history. By the way, when Newton said, "If I have seen farther, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants," he was being sarcastic. He was referring, I believe, to Robert Hooke's claim of priority on some of Newton's theories (which was, of course, a false claim).

Perhaps I am as naive and ignorant as these gentlemen wish to protray me, but I find the study by Jonathon Huebner compelling. While one can dispute some of his conclusions, and I'm sure these gentlemen will, his data is unambiguous. The rate of innovation is dropping, a conclusion I came to by looking at the state of the computer industry. The constant drumbeat in the comments by Mr. Muniz and Dr. Differ about the reuse of technologies instead of developing new ones just fits the overall pattern.

Dr. Differ further says, "Innovation is occuring and I would argue that you may not be in a position to know it. My friends are, though. Some of us have some crazy ideas that are a mix of old and new and we are trying to get them funded. In the end, though, it only works if we have customers." I suspect I would have an inkling if some sort of revolutionary approach to space flight was happening or had happned in the last few years. I am aware of the true innovations of Deep Space I, the Liftport project, and Honda's developments in solar arays, anong other things. As to your "crazy ideas", perhaps you should contact Burt Rutan. He appears to be looking for some.

Burt Rutan, of whom I have been critical, believes current methods are getting us nowhere fast. In an interivew with Space.com, he says, “My bottom line is that we have to have some kind of breakthroughs. What’s needed is to create an environment to have breakthroughs … to try things that may seem illogical at first.” And Mr. Rutan is only speaking about advancing from suborbital to orbital commerical manned flight. The article goes on, 'Looking back on SpaceShipOne, Rutan said the focus was on safety, on recurring cost, and asking the question: “When we’re done with this, if it worked, could it lead right into flying the public? Could it be safe? I don’t think that’s been done to go to orbit,' he said."

So, at this point, space tourism isn't even safe using existing methods. And space tourism doesn't even begin to get us to a point where manned exploration and colonization can begin.

Dr. Differ is right when he says, "In the end, though, it only works if we have customers. Investors are justifiably wary of 'gee-whiz' ideas when they can't see who would buy them." That's why space research has been driven by the government, not by corporations. That's why corporations are never going to do anything meaningful in space exploration; they'll only do things that produce an immediate profit.. That's also why we shouldn't be raiding NASA's already slashed budget to support "free" enterprise.

I don't suggest eliminating commercial launch systems. I hope they freely compete to lower the cost of launching satellites and free up NASA and the ESA to concetrate on the big picture. But, don't go taking my tax dollars if you can't convince a free investment market that your industry is viable. And don't try to convince me that "space tourism" is ever going to be anything but a joyride for the rich, because the economics will never work using the same old methods. Ask Burt Rutan.

Yes, I'm a dreamer. I want to live to see humanity take the first steps to the stars. That's an idealistic vision, because there's no gain except the growth of our knowledge and our long-range survival.

There's not enough of us left for whom there is more than the bottom line.

3 comments:

Benigno Muniz Jr. said...

"Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle."
-- Thomas Jefferson

Mr. Gog,

Please accept my apology if I offended you by offering to address you by your first or last name, "whichever you prefer," as I was merely trying to be polite. I used "John" in one of my earlier replies, but you replied with "Mr. Muniz." That puzzled me, since in my 20+ years of using the 'net, I have found that it tends to lean toward the informal side of conversation. My professors at Clarkson, Polytechnic University, UCLA, and USC addressed me by my first name, and my 24 years in industry have reinforced that informal mode of address.

Also, please accept my apology if you name is not "John Gog", but that's what your blog says it is.

And I was not trying to be sarcastic in using the quotes in rebuttal to the ones you started your messages with, I was just providing an alternate point of you to the one you were providing.

As I said earlier, it seems you and I are meant to be reasonable people who disagree.

I have tried to lay out some facts in the field of space development, both from history and in current developments that you may be unaware of. You and your readers are certainly free to investigate those in more detail.

Ironically, you quote Santayana on the importance of history in support of your views. My views on space development have been greatly influenced by reading about its history, and not from just the typical "here's how we ran mission control" type books, but real investigations of the political motivations behind the past programs that we all admired. Anyone who thinks we went to the Moon to explore should start by reading McDougall's Pulitzer Prize-winning "... the Heavens and the Earth." Or even just JFK's 20 April 1961 memo to LBJ: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset+Tree/Asset+Viewers/Image+Asset+Viewer.htm?guid=%7B3BF2B938-43EE-44CC-AE9A-06FD7A4C63AF%7D&type=Image.

I do not expect the similar, politically-motivated current plans by the Administration to get NASA to return to the Moon and then fly to Mars to lead us in a different direction than the "flags and footprints" of Apollo program, to lead to actual bases and settlements, without involvement of the commercial sector that provide us day-to-day benefits on Earth.

I'm not going to drag this out, but I do want to comment directly on some portions of your last message.

Since you are so focused on technology, and you say "I am aware of the true innovations of Deep Space I", then you should know that ion propulsion technology was funded throughout its history by *both* NASA and by the Hughes Electron Dynamics Division (EDD), the company that actually built the N-STAR h/w & electronics.

NSTAR was derived from EDD's XIPS 25-cm thruster, which 1st flew on PAS-5, a commercial satellite, in August 1997. Galaxy VIII-i and Astra 2A, also commercial satellites, flew with XIPS before DS-1 was launched on Oct. 1998. I worked at Hughes during those missions, a friend and fellow OASIS member worked at the same time at JPL as a Flight Director and a systems engineer on the DS-1/NSTAR project. But if you don't believe me on the history of XIPS, as Yogi Berra said, you can look it up.

So I don't know how you could reconcile that fact with your statement that "That's why space research has been driven by the government, not by corporations. That's why corporations are never going to do anything meaningful in space exploration; they'll only do things that produce an immediate profit." This is just one of many examples in this field, some of which I have provided to you earlier, which you seem to discount.

You say "I don't suggest eliminating commercial launch systems. I hope they freely compete to lower the cost of launching satellites and free up NASA and the ESA to concetrate on the big picture. But, don't go taking my tax dollars if you can't convince a free investment market that your industry is viable."

So NASA can use commercial systems, but they can't pay for that use? Somehow it seems to be bad to you that NASA should award fixed-price contracts of a few hundred million dollars where the companies will only get paid as they achieve carefully laid out milestones (see terms & conditions of the COTS announcement), instead of having NASA continue down the same track of development they've followed for decades -- which you yourself says has failed.

You say "Yes, I'm a dreamer. I want to live to see humanity take the first steps to the stars. That's an idealistic vision, because there's no gain except the growth of our knowledge and our long-range survival. There's not enough of us left for whom there is more than the bottom line."

I could not agree more. That is why got involved in this industry.

But 45 years after man breached the barrier to space, I ask myself today: why has our progress lagged so far behind in manned space compared to commercial aviation, compared to commercial satellites, compared to nearly every other industry I know?

You and I would seem to have different answers to that question. I have tried to show you that the commercial space sector has already done much that people don't know about, and stands poised to do more if the government space program wishes to take advantage of that. You have criticized that approach. So maybe our differences are ones of principle after all.

So let me leave you with this thought, quoted by Jess Sponable of the USAF/AFRL in his presentation "Military Space Access Activities" delivered to the FAA COMSTAC on 24 May 2006:

“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institutions, and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones.”

The Prince, Machiavelli, 1513

http://ast.faa.gov/ppt/COMSTAC/Sponable,%20%2024%20May%2006.ppt

This is my last post on this topic. Anyone who wants more info should feel free to contact me via our website.

I now return to working to extending the successes of commercial space. Good luck in your endeavors.

Ben

The Gog said...

Just to set the record straight, what I found offensive was that you didn't take the effort to get my name right. Take a look at your posts; my name is not now nor has it ever been "Goff". I have nothing against the name "Goff"; I've known a few good people by that name. But it isn't my name.

I doubt you would have allowed me to call you "Munoz" repeatedly without making comment.

I, too, have been using BBS' and later the Internet to communicate for over 20 years. In the early days, things were a little more formal; as time has gone on 'Net posters have gotten more anonymous and more prone to disrespect. Being a bit formal is my way of fighting back. Besides, as I once told a director who said, "Just call me Al", I don't know you well enough to do that. It's not the way I was brought up.

Another reason I grew increasing irritated was your equating "free enterprise" with government handouts to business (like $2 billion dollars from NASA's budget) and protectionist legistlation. Yet when I suggest that you compete without corporate welfare, I'm being a "socialist."

If businesses competing is socialism, I'll take all I can get.

Oh, and I'm sorry but your response "So NASA can use commercial systems, but they can't pay for that use?" is unbelievable. Of course, NASA would pay for services rendered. And so should Hughes or any other company that wants a satellite launched commecially.

There's a world of difference in paying for services and having the government hand out $2 Billion to private companies. There's also a world of difference between NASA partnering with companies to develop and build technologies and simply handing over the dough carte blanche.

Yes, we won't agree, and I can certainly accept that. I sincerely hope I'm wrong, and your people will somehow turn the pumpkin that is commercial space flight into a gilded carraige to the planets.

But I won't hold my breath.

adiffer said...

There is a Jon Goff in our community at http://selenianboondocks.blogspot.com/

Perhaps it is a case of mistaken identity or typos.

I don't want a handout. I want a fair playing field. Federal Purchasing Rules largely put the kibosh on that. The high degree of movement between the contractors and the government agencies also create a time delayed conflict of interest that is nearly impossible to beat.