In Part 1, I began my response to Mr. Benigno Muniz Jr., Chief Technical Officer of CSI, whose owner is a member of the Space Frontier Foundation's board, who posted a comment to my rant about the SFF and private enterprise space efforts in general. I'm sorry to take so many words to do this, but his post was not one of those “you're an idiot” sorts of comments that often appear in blogs, so it deserves something more than a “well you're one, too, nyah, nyah, nyah” in return.
He and Dr. Alfred Differ have both posted additional comments since the ones that prompted all this verbiage on my part. Saturday, I hope to do a sort of wrap on this that takes those comments and any others they post in the meanwhile into account.
And thanks to Dr. Differ for putting a link on his blog to Explorations.
I left off at the Bigelow inflatable device, so let's move along.
Mr. Muniz allows that I may have a point when I described the flawed launch of Falcon I, but he goes on to say, “ I imagine the same things were being said as NASA struggled with its Vanguard program.” You bet they did. In fact, “they” (including a young kid in Ohio named Gog who didn't even know good cuss words yet) said much worse things. But, we should clarify something. Vanguard was a Navy project, just as Jupiter and Explorer were Army efforts. In fact, Vanguard was selected as the first U.S. satellite launch attempt in 1955, by the Ad Hoc Committee on Special Capabilities. NASA as NASA didn't yet exist and wasn't formed (from the old NACA) until 1958 by President Eisenhower.
But for a modern rocketry company to make mistakes on a par with the earliest days of space launches is inexcusable.
Mr. Muniz then turns to my concerns about the Russians selling EVA's. He compares it to the risks someone takes scuba diving. I'm sorry, but that's a bit short of the mark. The more apt comparison is to think of someone with minimal training paying to accompany a trained diver to the Andrea Doria wreck. We're not talking about a 20 foot dive in clear waters off Mexico; we're talking about a dangerous situation where a mistake on the part of the novice could kill people.
He then states that my mention of the Russian commercial launch in no way denigrates the Soyuz return capsule. True, although my point was about the trustworthiness of the complete systems, not just the capsule. As to SpaceShipOne, yes, Mr. Muniz, the government did (via the Defense Department) develop the composite materials. As to the wing-tilt mechanism, I'll give Mr. Rutan that, but that's pretty small potatoes compared to all the technology he borrowed.
Ironically, he then agrees with me on the one point I keep driving home. He says, “The US commercial launch vehicle industry that NASA uses today (see link above) got its start with technology developed under govt. contract.” Isn't that what I've been saying?
He takes issue with a few of my comments about CSI board members. No, Mr. Muniz, I didn't mean to imply that you took your name from the TV show; I'm just tired of seeing those initials everywhere I turn. That's no fault of yours, and I apologize if you found that insulting. He also takes exception with some of my snarky comments about the founders and board of SFF, which he is entitled to do. I could answer each of them, but I'd just get snarky again. Suffice it to say that I linked to the SFF site to allow anyone to make up their own mind about whether “these people bring much more to the discussion of space than your brief summary would indicate.” I can't say that I think they do, but that's my opinion.
Mr. Muniz reminds us that the mission of SFF “contains the phrase 'opening the space frontier to human settlement as rapidly as possible'...” Vision statements are lovely. Actions like taking NASA's budget to create space flights for millionaire tourists has little to do with human settlement. He further says, “I believe the emerging private space companies merely want NASA to expand what it already does in commercial launch services. I also know of no space company that is seeking to kill off their customers.”
In other words, SFF wants more money to go to commercial space flight even if it means curtailing scientific research and development of new systems. Intentionally kill off science programs? No. But, the SFF and others supporting the government funding know that it's essentially an either-or situation.
Mr. Muniz, I do believe in free enterprise. But I don't believe in corporate welfare. The American business community which once gave us Bell Labs and Xerox Parc now gives us one money-grabbing scam after another. The great corporate research facilities are essentially dead as our business leaders look only to short-term gain. The long-range thinkers like Henry Ford and Tom Watson (who were certainly no angels) are gone. The SFF seems to represent that part of the current corporate culture that screams about the need for free enterprise and a competitive environment while jumping at federal contracts, begging for corporate welfare, and killing competition wherever possible.
Just to make it abundantly clear, here are my problems with the current approach to space flight, whether based on NASA efforts or commercial efforts.
- Reuse of out-of-gate technology is like hitching a horse in front of a Ferrari. It looks pretty, but it doesn't run very well.
- All of the grandiose visions all boil down to the same thing: Let's do what we already did the same way we did it. You can attach a Mars mission to it, but it won't succeed using Apollo, Soyuz, or Vanguard methods.
- Space flight is too complex and costly to succeed as a private enterprise project at this point. Corporations in competition do not share research and engineering resources, leaving each one to reinvent the wheel (or use old technology).
Private enterprise can fly us to New York, deliver packages, and sell us all sorts of useful things. But, we have planet-wide problems that need planet-wide cooperation. Exploring the cosmos can be a way of bringing us together to do these things.
Mr. Muniz, we aren't going to agree on much except that NASA's current direction of space flight is to nowhere. Perhaps the SFF and groups like it will manage to make a difference. Frankly, I doubt it, but I would be thrilled to be proved wrong.
Sacrificing my ego would be a minuscule price to pay.