Monday, February 1, 2010

Rep. Bishop: You're a jerk. And a hypocrite.

Who knew that politicians were not beholden to their principals?

From The Standard Examiner:

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, whose district covers most of ATK's Utah employees, said Thursday that he hasn't seen Obama's budget yet to confirm the story, "but I have seen three very credible sources" that said the same thing.

"With this administration, their specific effort is to cut the crap out of the defense program, and what we're hearing from Florida is that (the NASA cut) will be an item in Monday's budget," Bishop said.

"Obviously, I don't agree this is the right direction. They'll basically be gutting our space program and coming up with a commercial alternative. It will be devastating."

Wait a minute... Bishop is a Republican. So, shouldn't he be *for* the commercialization of a nationalized system made large under Kennedy? Shouldn't he be for the reductions in regulation that will occur to make commercial space flights legal? If Bush had done this, it would be making our nation strong, by using our core values of capitalism and entrepreneurship to create high-skilled jobs and improve the quality of life for all Americans by getting government out of the way of business.

But Obama did it. That's where Obama went wrong. If only he were not himself.

Bishop, you're a jerk. And a hypocrite. If you were half the Republican you claim to be, you would be on the phone with SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace, and Virgin Galactic trying to entice them into your district. But instead you're a glorified welfare queen crying because Uncle Sam cut you out. Boohoo.

So let me ask you: is government still part of the problem? Or part of the solution?


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

WSJ: New Course for Space Exploration Promotes Private Firms

Here we go. The Wall Street Journal reports that Obama leans toward commercial space for Astronaut transportation, but will also fund a more traditional approach. You know--just incase.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Competition to Build Orion CEV

Conventional wisdom holds that the competition for building the Orion CEV is over. On September 1, 2006 the government selected Lockheed Martin. The combined Boeing/Northrop Grumman team lost. The rest was supposed to be history.

Instead we are days away from the conclusion of a panel created by President Obama and chaired by LM's former President and CEO, Norm Augustine, the "Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee".

Now LM is facing the prospect of at least two potential sort-of competitors, at least for a ship capable of reaching the International Space Station.

SpaceX "Dragon"

SpaceX has a contract to deliver cargo to the ISS via a NASA COTS-D contract. They're building the Dragon capsule (pictured above) to ride on a still-in-development rocket, the Falcon 9. As long as they're at it, though, SpaceX is building the Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule to human rating standards. They're not exactly shy either about publicizing that the Dragon supports a "Crew Configuration". They describe it on their Dragon webpage.

Bigelow Aerospace "Orion Lite"

Bigelow Aerospace intends to offer the first "space hotel". Of course, they'll need a way to get guests to and from their hotels. They're targeting to build a stripped-down Orion Lite and presented to the Augustine panel that they can have one ready by the year 2013. (Articles on MSNBC, That's mind-blowing and, probably, nowhere near the truth. But for now it doesn't matter so much because that's a strictly commercial endeavor. They should try for it. Maybe they'll surprise.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Aviation Week: “Nine-year U.S. Spaceflight Gap Seen”. Liars!

Aviation Week reports that our President's independent panel in charge of assessing our space programs sees a 9-year gap from the time the Shuttle is retired to the time the Ares rockets are carrying people into space again. The Ares rocket is foundational to NASA's plans to get us to the moon. So here's my rub: NASA may not equates to all of USA Human Spaceflight for much longer.

Bark predicts: private venture companies will (1) offer adventurous tourists access to space, and (2) will sell NASA privately-built spaceships with which to reach the International Space Station (ISS).

Pay heed to the following companies:

This company will probably be the first one to provide (suborbital) access to space. Sir Richard Branson will use a scaled-up version of Scaled Composite's Spaceship One system. Spaceship One won the Ansari X-Prize and now hangs as an artifact of American greatness at our National Air and Space Museum. That achievement was funded largely by Paul Allen who made his fortune as a Microsoft co-founder. Check out a cool Virgin Galactic promo video at metacafe. This is the record-holder for first privately-funded system to put a man in space (but not yet in orbit).

This company successfully launched and inserted two payloads into low earth orbit. They scratch-built a rocket and engines using $300M from Elon Musk who made his fortune by making PayPal and selling it to Ebay for $500M. (He's now CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla Motors.) They have a NASA contract in hand to create a system that will autonomously deliver payload to the International Space Station. To accomplish this they're currently working on a much more powerful rocket, the Falcon 9, which would rival any of the offerings from Lockheed Martin or Boeing. As a "side project" of sorts, they're building that rocket to human-rating standards and are exploring human-rating that payload capsule, named Dragon, so that it could carry humans to space, including the ISS. This is the record-holder for first privately-funded system to reach orbit.

This one requires a little history. Back when the International Space Station was being designed, there were two camps of engineers. The first wanted to send large, rigid, finished modules to space. The second wanted to send smaller, inflatable modules to space. The first group won and this is how the Space Station has been constructed to date. Enter one of Las Vegas' billionaire hoteliers, Robert Bigelow. He wants to build earth-orbiting hotels. He cherry picked many of NASA's engineers who were in that second camp: the inflatable modules group. He has launched two (Genesis I and Genesis II) successful scale prototypes into Low Earth Orbit. The group keeps moving forward with larger and larger modules. Eventually one of them will be human habitable. Their next expected launch is scheduled for the year 2011 on (drum roll please) a Falcon 9 rocket.

These are just three of many companies trying to burn through mega-fortunes in a privately funded space race. There are others. There's Rocketplane Kistler founded by Jeff Bezos of fame. He wants to build a rocketplane not unlike Virgin Galactic. Armadillo Aerospace founded by John Carmack (he made his fortune with the Wolfenstein/Doom/Quake video games). He wants to build a lunar-lander type vehicle.

Notice I am not predicting that private companies will outdo NASA overall. But I do take umbrage with the lingering sentiment that NASA is and will be America's only access to space. Mark my words: we will not experience a "nine-year U.S. spaceflight gap".

Friday, July 24, 2009

On Mental Health Care for Wounded Service Members

A congressman from North Carolina met with 15 Army kids. According to an article by that name on

...the last child, Rep. Walter Jones recalled July 22 during a House Armed Services Committee subcommittee hearing on family support programs, left him stunned and speechless."The little boy looked up at me and said, 'My daddy's not dead yet,' " Jones said, then repeated the question more slowly for emphasis: " 'My daddy's not dead yet.' "

Back in DC, this Rep. Jones is now trying to figure out how to do more about mental care for service men and women and their families, and good for him.

This is the shtick behind so many of my posts: we can spend billions buying weapons systems, but what are we doing for the men and women actually using them on our behalf? We can debate whether or not certain programs should be canceled or not (such as F-22, Presidential Helicopter, FCS), but the budget is in many ways a zero-sum game. When it comes to taking care of people who give us their all vs. paying for a program, I would vote for people every time.

This is not about politics or ideology, it's not about jobs or economics. Everybody who fights for our country deserves our gratitude. A wounded soldier and his/her family deserve our best medicine, including the best mental health help, nothing less. The article sites a study grading mental health care performance for our military. It sighted excellent care for the few who can get it. Accessibility is the big problem. For starters, many private mental health companies will not accept Tri-Care (according to that study).

That's despicable. This is a moral issue. We should be better than this.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Good Job Gates. Stick With It.

rom our Secretary of Defense, a snippet of a speech delivered to the Economic Club of Washington this past Thursday:

"What is needed is a portfolio of military capabilities with maximum versatility across the widest possible spectrum of conflict. As a result, we must change the way we think and the way we plan – and fundamentally reform – the way the Pentagon does business and buys weapons. It simply will not do to base our strategy solely on continuing to design and buy – as we have for the last 60 years – only the most technologically advanced versions of weapons to keep up with or stay ahead of another superpower adversary – especially one that imploded nearly a generation ago.

To get there we must break the old habit of adding layer upon layer of cost, complexity, and delay to systems that are so expensive and so elaborate that only a small number can be built, and that are then usable only in a narrow range of low-probability scenarios.

We must also get control of what is called “requirements creep” – where more features and capabilities are added to a given piece of equipment, often to the point of absurdity. The most flamboyant example of this phenomenon is the new presidential helicopter – what President Obama referred to as defense procurement “run amok.” Once the analysis and requirements were done, we ended up with choppers that cost nearly half a billion dollars each and enabled the president to, among other things, cook dinner while in flight under nuclear attack.

We also had to take a hard look at a number of weapons programs that were grotesquely over budget, were having major performance problems, were reliant on unproven technology, or were becoming increasingly detached from real world scenarios – as if September 11th and the wars that followed had never happened."

DoD Public Affairs posted the full text of the speech. It's worth a read. In another part of the speech he lashes out, in the measured tone of a bureaucrat, at critics who may try to paint him as a dove.

We in the aerospace and defense establishment have probably grown complacent and forgotten exactly how much we cost our nation. I believe that defense should be the highest priority, and that we probably should spend this much on defense, but I think our Secretary of Defense is right to expect more war fighting capability for these sums on behalf of our taxpayers and especially our service men and women.

I happen to agree with these remarks. Mark this one in the Bark! predictions box: Gates will stay on as SecDef until 2012. He has spent 40 years serving our country as a consumate bureaucrat and not as a politician. I think that for personal sense of patriotism and duty, Gates will stay to try to see these reforms through. Feast your eyes on this beauty of a flow chart. I think that changing this chart will be one of his highest goals. Of course, that's really hard because each box represents physical organizations with lots of people, so you can't just redraw the picture.... (Image from Defense Acquisition University website.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Congratulations SpaceX! You Did It Again!

Today, SpaceX executed its second successful launch of the Falcon I. Now it's 2 for 5, but it's 2 in a row and I predict a string of successful launches from here on. I bet SpaceX's customer list just grew today.

The next big venture for the company is scheduled for a maiden flight this fall: the 9-engined Falcon9. Fingers crossed.

Great job, SpaceX. Here's the video from today (oh, and Happy Bastille Day, if you're into that).