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Pournelle Interview (from long ago) 
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
JamesGifford wrote:
Too bad there was no Gap. Too bad the Soviets were ten years from lunar launch capability in 1969.


Yeah, and most of their ICBMs never worked, either. The guvmint fed us some half-truths to advance its own agenda. I think the last unvarnished truth a president told us with no thought for his own standing was Eisenhower and the military-industrial complex.

I am reminded of the axiom that a people do not get the government they want, or the government they need, but the government they deserve.


Mon Apr 30, 2012 5:39 pm
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
I have been involved with the US space program since Project Mercury when I was part of the McDonald Aircraft Mercury design team and contined in a minor way with wind tunnel tests of Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle so I am very familiar with what went wrong with our space program. The answer is Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. The original proposal for the Space Shuttle featured a two stage vehicle where the first stage flew back to the Cape and was fully reusable. This was too expensive so short sighted politicians went cheap to save money for the Great Society programs and substituted strap-on solid fuel boosters and expendable tanks with no route for future expansion. The first shuttle was a commendable first effort but there was no follow on program for the next generaton shuttle.

Kennedy gave us Apollo and our space program. Lyndon Johnson gave us the Great Society. Compare the cost of these programs and the return on investment. In spite of it's inefficiencies, the Space program has paid for it's self many times with spinoffs while the only payoff of the Great Society program is more uncivil nonservants and more wellfare clients .


Mon Apr 30, 2012 7:35 pm
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
ChuckA wrote:
...the Space program has paid for it's self many times with spinoffs...

The other great argument for why our space program was so wonderful.

Not that it's not true - we probably wouldn't be sitting at our various computing devices exchanging these thoughts were it not for the development associated with the effort - but... like the hero-worship aspect of things, I find the assertions wearing a little thin.

It's just sad that the one thing our 50-year space program never gave us was, you know, space travel.


Tue May 01, 2012 4:32 am
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
ChuckA wrote:
I have been involved with the US space program since Project Mercury when I was part of the McDonald Aircraft Mercury design team and contined in a minor way with wind tunnel tests of Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle so I am very familiar with what went wrong with our space program. The answer is Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. The original proposal for the Space Shuttle featured a two stage vehicle where the first stage flew back to the Cape and was fully reusable. This was too expensive so short sighted politicians went cheap to save money for the Great Society programs and substituted strap-on solid fuel boosters and expendable tanks with no route for future expansion. The first shuttle was a commendable first effort but there was no follow on program for the next generaton shuttle.

Kennedy gave us Apollo and our space program. Lyndon Johnson gave us the Great Society. Compare the cost of these programs and the return on investment. In spite of it's inefficiencies, the Space program has paid for it's self many times with spinoffs while the only payoff of the Great Society program is more uncivil nonservants and more wellfare clients .


This particular subject is a bit off-topic -- though only a bit -- so I'm not going to do this more than once, or at length. But this analysis strikes me as backwards or inside out. Kennedy started Apollo, but with no real enthusiasm or vision for it (see any number of recent articles on the subject).

It was Johnson -- if any single politician can be given credit -- who made Apollo happen. True, Johnson's priorities shifted toward the end of his presidency . . . the Great Society was certainly expensive, but the poster fails to mention the Vietnam War, which did in fact kill a number of high-tech programs, some of them directly related to human spaceflight (Manned Orbiting Lab, for example).

Further: the actual decision to opt for the cheaper version of the shuttle as we know it was made in the third year of the Nixon administration. And while, yes, social programs were still in place.... again, did the costs of the Vietnam War have no effect on the federal budget?

The original shuttle concept, with a fly-back booster, was a wonderful idea that was probably twenty years ahead of its time. (STS-1 flew in 1981, nine years after the formal start of the program and a dozen years after serious development began. The flyback version would have taken longer.) I quite agree that it should have been developed in the 1990s and be flying now.

By the way, isn't that McDonnell Aircraft? McDonald made the happy meal. Or in this case, the unhappy meal.

Michael Cassutt


Tue May 01, 2012 6:38 am
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
JamesGifford wrote:
ChuckA wrote:
...the Space program has paid for it's self many times with spinoffs...

The other great argument for why our space program was so wonderful.

Not that it's not true - we probably wouldn't be sitting at our various computing devices exchanging these thoughts were it not for the development associated with the effort


My wife works for NASA, and I work for the Army. So I have to tread delicately when I point out that much of the advances in computing were originally driven by military needs than than the space program. IC's were invented well before we had a space program. Kilby and Noyce did their work just before NASA was founded in 1958. Continued miniaturization was driven much more by the needs of missile seekers and guidance than spacecraft. It's even been a trope throughout much of the life of the space shuttle that its computers were much less capable than those of a given automobile, cell phone, etc.

The personal computing revolution was driven by hobbyists and smart businessmen marketing to them, and the internet is also a military development.

Many of the other spinoffs that NASA claims credit or is given credit for can be easily shown to predate NASA, or be developed primarily independent of it. Or else they are so specialized in their usefulness that they can hardly be called commercially important.


NASA has put development money into many technologies. NASAs PR offices will then claim the technology as a spinoff. That don't make it so. And even if it were so, it's an incredibly inefficient way of doing it. Consider the Hubble telescope -- if the same dollars were invested in ground based technologies (deformable mirrors, atmospheric compensation, multiple-mirror telescopes, image processing techniques, half a dozen Keck equivalents distributed around the globe, etc) we would get more and better data than the Hubble has given us.

ChuckA's original statement "...the Space program has paid for it's self many times with spinoffs..." is often said, but never validated.


Tue May 01, 2012 6:57 am
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
ChuckA wrote:
the only payoff of the Great Society program is more uncivil nonservants and more wellfare clients .


When you start studying NASA spinoffs in detail, much of them result from throwing money (through NASA) at a particular technology or economic sector. NASA has "created markets" for computers; their labor expenditures have "economic multipliers" in the regions that the various centers are located in.

The Great Society threw dollars at medicine (through Medicare and Medicaid). Do these dollars not also generate payoffs? When Big Pharma pays for research with dollars that originally came from Uncle Sugar, do we not all benefit from the new drugs? When people are healthy, instead of sick, surely that counts as an economic benefit.

Over the last 45 years, hundreds of billions of Great Society dollars have been spent on transporation infrastructure; on educational facilities (grad school buildings, libraries, community colleges, classrooms, etc.); on scholarships and teacher training; on safer vehicles; on clean air and water. Are there no economic benefits from these Great Society programs?

The various Civil Rights laws of the 1960s drew whole sectors of the population into the mainstream economy of the country. Surely a productive, healthy, educated, engaged black man is of greater economic benefit to society that a share cropper.

Every study I've ever seen that justified NASA dollars in terms of economic spinoffs is dependent on dubious assumptions, and an analysis that gives great credit to simply pumping dollars into the economy, or sectors of it. If you compare NASA to other government programs, the same methodology will show the same benefits coming from the other programs.

[Anyone who knows me would shake their heads at me spending so much effort on justifying the Great Society -- I don't usually swing that way. But fair is fair -- govt expenditures on NASA are not inherently "better" than dollars spent on other govt agencies; they must be justified on their results. And the analysis usually starts with a foregone conclusion -- Space is Good -- and then fulfills it. ]


Tue May 01, 2012 7:34 am
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
BillMullins wrote:
And the analysis usually starts with a foregone conclusion -- Space is Good -- and then fulfills it.

I think you've nailed a couple of good points. To start with, what drives me crazy about the current space crowd is that they start with a rock-ribbed, unquestioned and unquestionable assertion that Space Is Good... and while I agree with that sentiment in varying ways, their notion that throwing big expensive stuff up real high is just Good in itself is nonsense.

As for the benefits of the Great Society vs. the Great Technowelfare Projects... nuf sed. I have even less patience with the crowd that thinks government has no business spending money on, you know, people.


Tue May 01, 2012 9:25 am
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
I seldom bother with the spinoff argument. It is so easily dismissed, as by the posters above. Space is important because we have to get off this damn planet for the survival of the human species, because there are so many cool places to explore, and because the human race was born to yearn beyond its meagre scratching on the rind of this dust ball and surpass the ordinary and comfortable. And for anyone who doesn't get that or doesn't think the effort is worth it or can't see how we will ever get there from where we are now - feel free to argue with yourself because I ain't gonna bother to try changing your mind. You can go back to banging the rocks together.

The only discussion worth having is about how we get there, not whether we should try.


Tue May 01, 2012 8:43 pm
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
PeterScott wrote:
The only discussion worth having is about how we get there, not whether we should try.


BZZZZT. You've regressed to the Space Iz Kool argument without any foundation.

You're correct in your prior posts that some larger portion of the population has to be interesting, engaged and supportive for a large-scale national space program to, well, get off the ground. I simply believe we did that in the wrong way, going for razzle-dazzle without any plot, structure or ending in mind.

It's a two-pronged effort: Doing it, and building convincing arguments that it is not just worth doing, but essential to the future (physical and psychological) of the human race.

Dismissing the need to justify why/whether is why we have a limited, exclusive, geeks-only and largely self-cancelling space culture until something blows up. Then it's collective for a week.


Wed May 02, 2012 4:20 am
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
Meh. Read what I wrote in context. I was dismissing the spinoff rationalization.


Wed May 02, 2012 7:06 pm
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