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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:
PeterScott wrote:
I think it highly unlikely that funding for unmanned space missions would have materialized if there had been no manned ones to catch the imagination. How many people remember Surveyor 1 vs Apollo 11? Budgetary hand wringing aside, the manned missions had to happen.

You've either not answered or proven my point.


Both, I think. The only part of your post I consciously disagree with is your apparent belief that it could have happened some other way, with just an unmanned program. My point is that that could never have happened. No one would have paid for it. Whether we would have arrived at a cheaper commercial program sooner is an interesting speculation - would we have had suborbital commercial flights by the 90's, perhaps? I doubt it. Business wants ROI in under 10 years. Government will do it for no ROI at all, or ROI in 50 years, or ROI in completely different sectors. So while I share your frustration - how could I not? - I don't know where or how it could have happened any differently.


Sun Apr 29, 2012 1:36 pm
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
BillMullins wrote:
But it's not all delta v, either. Delta V to LEO is something like 9-10 km/s, and the cost is often quoted at $10000 per pound. From LEO to Mars Surface is less than 10 km/s more, but no one thinks you can take the same payload from Earth surface to there for under $20000/pound.


I think all that's going on there is that cost / delta-V is not linear. If you have to put another stage on a booster to get a payload further than LEO then you now have to beef up the lower stages to lift the dead weight of the upper stage plus its fuel.

We have people here who know this stuff properly; I'm just guessing.


Sun Apr 29, 2012 1:41 pm
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
PeterScott wrote:
I don't know where or how it could have happened any differently.

The first alternative would be that we never planned to put humans in space, and developed a far cheaper unmanned space program that might have taken us farther by now - landers on the outer satellites? A 30-50 year transit to another star system halfway there?

The other is that we planned manned exploration with meaningful long-term goals (colonies on Luna, Mars and... ?) and built that system, one sustainable layer at a time. Meaning we had a working space-dock station by 1970 or so, first lunar landing mid-1970s, first Mars mission 1980...

But we picked short-term razzle-dazzle (almost meaningless lunar missions... and Apollo-Soyuz, fer gossakes?) followed by drastic underbidding, overruns and corner-cutting (I didn't Shuttle, did I?) and now stand atop a pile of discarded and largely unusable tech, scratching our butt and trying to reinvent the Apollo capsule.

It's not frustration. It's rage. I have to keep it in a can in a safe in the basement to live with it.


Sun Apr 29, 2012 4:07 pm
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
I see where you're coming from. That's a level of if-only that accepts physical and fiscal reality, but not psychological and social. Fair enough. On that basis, everything you say is true. In the world we live in, it could not have happened because peeple are too dumb to accept your proposed course of action. I take your side of the fence in plenty of other arguments, like why the hell Fox News should be the most popular news network in the US (sob).


Sun Apr 29, 2012 4:33 pm
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
I think either alternative was possible and would have been reasonable given some very minor shifts in how the US conducted itself.

For one thing, if the X-15 had been greenlighted as the primary manned space vehicle, instead of the little tin cans, there would have been more public interest and respect. Even the astronauts derided the capsules until NASA told them to shut up. The X-15s are so damned cool in every way that the progression from that point would have been thrilling in a way that sticking monkeys and sapient apes in a box was not.

We chose to "race," Junkyard Wars-style, rather than build. I believe the public would have supported, or at least benignly ignored (the way most military projects are ignored) a serious "building" space effort. What we did was clearly so limited, exclusionary (astronauts=demigods) and obviously short-sighted that people were bored once the fireworks stopped. It was never, ever going to apply to them and they knew it.

But a series of reusable, manned spacecraft with seats they someday might occupy... you underestimate how that might have been perceived.


Mon Apr 30, 2012 3:56 am
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
I never would have guessed my original post would have gotten this much attention. Excellent.

In reviewing what has transpired on the thread since my last appearance I would have to say that I am largely onboard with what Peter Scott has had to say. Particularly about the merit of the ability to envision things and the social and psychological necessities that are required to advance a specific discipline. Especially expensive disciplines that need funding.

Jim, while what you say is also true regarding how space technology could have been developed in a more logical/focused/productive way I also think two things come into play with this idea.

1. It's a little bit of 'after the fact' pointing out the flaws. It's the nature of life that when human being do things for the first time it's rarely efficient. Looking backwards we can always point how things could have been better. Should we look back and say, "Hey, we should have done it this way!". Absolutely, we incrementally get better on the next try.

2. Selling a really long term item like colonies on the moon would have gotten people laughed at and become it's own obstacle. Even just recently Newt (I'm not a supporter, this is just an example) talked about colonies on the moon by 2020 and was called weird and wacky for this idea. If the idea is wacky and weird in 2012...I can only imagine it would have been considered even more so in the 1960s. Selling the idea of a trip to the moon, while a monumental thing, was probably a small enough chunk of an idea to be able to effectively sell to the people whose support is needed to let the process move forward.

I was not around for Apollo 11 landing...not for some time. Yet, when I hear people talk about watching the moon landing it seems like it was a really tangible event that stirred peoples imagination all over the world and resulted in a lot of national pride. Was that worthwhile? I think so.

Sir Ken Robinsen said in one of his presentations that, "I don't mean to suggest that being wrong is being creative but what we do know is that if you are not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original....and we run our companies this way where we stigmatize mistakes...

The full really wonderful speech is here. (there's also an interesting follow up presentation he did 4 years later).
http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

In summary: I think the ability to envision possibility is critically important. I think it is a normal state of affairs that people/groups/governments/companies will founder around and often fail in their first attempts to achieve something. Those failures become their own building blocks to future successes. Psychological and social support of such endeavors are, most times, necessary to support the vision.

Speaking of NASA and space travel this photograph of the Discovery flight deck is, to me, really cool. Click and drag to rotate the interior image of the shuttle.

http://360vr.com/2011/06/22-discovery-flight-deck-opf_6236/index.html

EDIT: Removed a stray sentence fragment


Mon Apr 30, 2012 8:12 am
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
We chose to "race," Junkyard Wars-style, rather than build.

I don't know whether we "chose" to be in the so-called Space Race with those nogoodnik Russkies. But in the 1960s it would have been embarrassing to have allowed Commies to be the first to land on the Moon.

Irrespective of how it was done, I'm proud to be a native of the country that pulled together the engineering effort to accomplish this. As I might have mentioned in an old thread, my late father-in-law (whom I never met), a German Jew who arrived in the U.S. as a very young man in 1938 and was the only member of his family to survive, worked at Grumman as a human-factors specialist when they were designing the lunar module. A family heirloom from this era is the LEM Familiarization Manual, a circa-1965 Grumman publication. To my surprise, I just learned that a reprint was published last year (http://www.periscopefilm.com/index.php? ... t&Itemid=1) and is available on Amazon - it had better include the marvelous graphic foldout showing the entire lunar landing mission, with elapsed time at each step from launch to splashdown, timed to the second yet planned out years in advance, despite the "race" aspect of the endeavor.

Looking back on it now, I realize I'm biased by having been old enough to be excited about the whole thing as it was happening - I would even watch Gemini countdowns. I still have Polaroids of our TV showing the first images from the lunar surface.


Mon Apr 30, 2012 8:58 am
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
JJGarsch wrote:
I realize I'm biased by having been old enough to be excited about the whole thing as it was happening...

I'm not exactly a Gen-Exer, myself. I was a little young for the earlier programs but was an Apollo nutcase. One of my most prized possessions is a gallery-grade Alan Bean print (giclee on canvas) signed by all of the surviving astronauts through Skylab, ca. 1986. Right after that would be the postal cover orbited on STS-8. (Right after that would be my well-used pieces of the Trinity bomb, but that's another matter.)

The heroism and accomplishments of these men and the legions who supported them are not in question. But, like so many things the US has done in the last 50 years, the fundamental questions don't bear close examination.

Truly, our space program has no clothes.

Quote:
I don't know whether we "chose" to be in the so-called Space Race with those nogoodnik Russkies.

Probably not, just as we didn't choose having to close up the Missile Gap. Oh, wait... we did. Too bad there was no Gap. Too bad the Soviets were ten years from lunar launch capability in 1969.


Mon Apr 30, 2012 9:14 am
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
JamesGifford wrote:
Too bad the Soviets were ten years from lunar launch capability in 1969.


The logical conclusion is that if we had a better spying operation within the USSR, we could have learned this and might have built up capability more slowly, and would have had a sustainable program with (perhaps, eventually) a maglev launch catapult to achieve orbit. Maybe so. I suspect that US spying at the time was more concerned with weapons systems.


Mon Apr 30, 2012 11:12 am
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Post Re: Pournelle Interview (from long ago)
JohnBlack wrote:
1. It's a little bit of 'after the fact' pointing out the flaws. It's the nature of life that when human being do things for the first time it's rarely efficient. Looking backwards we can always point how things could have been better. Should we look back and say, "Hey, we should have done it this way!". Absolutely, we incrementally get better on the next try.


This reminds me of the famous quote from Fred Brooks' The Mythical Man Month (page 116):

Quote:
...plan to throw one away; you will, anyhow.

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Mon Apr 30, 2012 1:27 pm
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