The Demise of a Well-Informed Public

The newly completed (and now abandoned) A-3 test stand at NASA Stennis.  How symbolic?

The newly completed (and now abandoned) A-3 test stand at NASA Stennis. How symbolic? (NASA)

Two recent pieces published in the bellwether of Beltway conventional wisdom, the Washington Post, compel me to respond. The first article focuses on the demise of the aerospace manufacturer North American Aviation (founded in 1928), the company that built the Apollo and Space Shuttle spacecraft. The author’s intent is to explore how and why America’s middle class became “lost.” The second piece notes the completion of a new rocket engine test stand (followed by its immediate “mothballing”) at Mississippi’s Stennis Space Center. Seemingly unconnected, they collectively illustrate a breakdown in the competence and reliability of modern American news reporting. Due to inadequate research, the writers do not produce thoughtful, logical analysis and thus, have failed in their duty and obligation to inform their readership.

The article on North American’s operations in Downey California is part of a broader series that looks at changes in the American economy, so one might not expect a thorough analysis of the history of the space program. On the other hand, such history is relevant (as is often the case) to the topic addressed and thus, vital to the questions asked in the series – especially when the author begins by asking, “How did this happen?”

North American Aviation was one of the giants of the nation’s aerospace industry. Although famous for its involvement in the Apollo program, North American developed several historically significant military aircraft including the P-51 Mustang fighter, F-86 Sabre jet fighter, and the X-15 rocket plane –vehicles that set new records for performance and versatility. With the advent of the space age, North American not only built the Apollo Command Module, but also the groundbreaking S-II second stage of the Saturn V moon rocket. Practically hand-made, this large cryogenic hydrogen-oxygen stage was a technical milestone, functioning near flawlessly. North American used this technical and human expertise to develop and build the Space Shuttle, a vehicle initially intended as one part of a larger transportation system meant to extend our reach throughout cislunar space.

Much more than simply a manufacturing plant, North American’s presence in the Los Angeles area was symbolic of the large-scale, dispersed high-technology aerospace industry in southern California. Jobs were plentiful for skilled, competent workers returning from the war and they flocked to the West coast to settle and raise their families (many of whom also went on to work in the aerospace business). Numerous small aircraft, space, and technology firms could be found in the region, supplying parts and subsystems to North American and other major space contractors. In part, this activity was responsible for the expansive job and economic boom of the Pacific coast – activity driven by the defense needs of a nation now locked in a global geopolitical struggle with the Soviet Union.

With the collapse of the Berlin Wall marking the end of the Cold War, it was inevitable that the aerospace industry would contract. Recognizing this – and also recognizing the critical importance of this technology and research sector to America’s security – in 1989, President George H. W. Bush proposed the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI), featuring a permanent return to the Moon and a human Mars mission. Such an ambitious set of space goals would revitalize the nation’s civil space program (giving it a renewed sense of purpose and direction) and maintain a minimal level of the technological-industrial infrastructure and the skilled workforce necessary to innovate and ensure our national security. After President Bush lost his bid for re-election, Congress and the Clinton administration abandoned the SEI and shifted the so-called “peace dividend” (i.e., the funding previously allocated for national defense in the Cold War) into entitlements. The aerospace industry (and the jobs therein) subsequently underwent a major collapse and through a decade of mergers and acquisitions, emerged in the diminished form it takes today.

None of this is mentioned in the Washington Post article. Instead, it wistfully recounts that once there was a factory in Downey that built spacecraft and provided good paying jobs for people straight out of high school. The piece fails to note that once there was an entire high-tech industry in southern California, one that enabled America to become a superpower and prevail in a 50-year struggle against what was undoubtedly an “Evil Empire.” Rather than focusing on the ramifications of those historical facts, the author instead meanders into a rambling, Occupy Wall Street-type class warfare diatribe about the lack of jobs in Downey paying a “living wage.” New Space guru Elon Musk makes a cameo appearance in this doleful tale, but only to double-cross the city fathers when he decides to build his new Tesla electric car plant in the Bay Area, rather than at the old North American Aviation site.

The other Washington Post story explores the construction and then near-immediate abandonment of the new $349 million A-3 test stand at NASA Stennis Space Center. This facility, designed to vacuum test the new J-2X rocket engine (a modern variant of the engine that propelled astronauts to the Moon in the Saturn S-IVB stage) was built as part of the now-cancelled Constellation program. The story relates how – even after Project Constellation had been “cancelled” – decisions were made at several points to go forward with the construction of the test stand. The piece repeats several myths about changes done to the space program under the current administration, something we have now come to expect in this reworked “news” coverage.

The article relates the fiscal difficulties of building the facility (including the inevitable cost growth associated with changing requirements and realities) but then re-writes the history of President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) – the 2004 program designed to return Americans to the Moon and prepare for missions to Mars and other destinations. It is implied that Bush called for missions to the Moon by 2015 (true enough – mentioned in his speech), but it does not note that date was not a deadline, but a guideline. It repeats the standard erroneous interpretation of the 2009 Augustine committee that lunar return was so under-funded that NASA might never get there. In fact, that committee used cost-estimating rules and accounting techniques almost guaranteed to give inflated-cost, late delivery results. In consequence, the President had the cover of “expert analysis” to do what he had desired to do from the beginning – cancel the VSE.

However, a single Presidential speech cannot cancel a national strategic decision twice endorsed by two different Congresses (in the 2005 and 2008 NASA Authorization Acts). Congress needed to be onboard with the President’s plan to abandon the VSE. Several members were acutely aware that by terminating NASA involvement with building and operating heavy lift rockets, a hard-won capability relevant to national security was being permanently discarded without due consideration. To patch over this gaping wound, Congress re-established a program to develop a heavy lift booster, largely on the basis of testimony that any human missions beyond LEO would ultimately require some type of heavy lift capability. Common mythology among space observers is that establishing the Space Launch System (SLS – derisively referred to as the “Senate Launch System” by its most ardent critics) was all about protecting jobs in selected states and Congressional districts. In fact, some members understood the national strategic concerns. A launch system is not simply a pile of rocket hardware – it is an industrial capability consisting of tooling, supporting facilities and infrastructure, and most importantly, human capital and experience – assets that once dissipated are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reassemble. It must be noted that Congress never “canceled lunar return” – human cislunar missions (including to the lunar surface) are still part of the language of the 2010 NASA Authorization strategic direction (not that you will hear of it in the news coverage).

It is not at all clear that the A-3 test stand is the worthless boondoggle portrayed in this article meant to ferret out and highlight waste in our ever-dwindling discretionary spending fraction of the federal budget. We will need some type of advanced upper stage to send people on missions beyond low Earth orbit – the alleged strategic direction of our nation’s civil space program. That upper stage will have to have an engine very much like the J-2X (if not that item itself). Moreover, since new engines must be tested, NASA now has the facilities to develop it. Of course, not using a new and expensive facility is silly, but the blame for that does not lie with the people who built it but with the ones who decided not to honor the commitments of the previous national leadership.

I find these two stories – no doubt considered by some to be fine examples of investigative journalism – to be poorly thought out, cliché-ridden, illogical and suffering from a lack of understanding and no appreciation for the history of their respective topics. I would like to think such reporting is the exception rather than the rule, but alas, I find this type of coverage (especially in regard to the space program, an area in which I work) all too common these days. It is especially frustrating because there are times when journalists do the required work and get things right. Regrettably, most news reports on space are assembled by gathering some quotes from the usual go-to sources, mixed well with current conventional wisdom on how something was or is “unaffordable,” and then duly garnished with platitudes about how we’ll have people on Mars in 15-20 years. So, just go about your daily lives and try not to think too hard about the two incompatible things you’ve been told – that Congress is spending NASA money on wasteful pork and that we will have people on Mars in 15-20 years. If that doesn’t compute, perhaps further inquiry about what has been (and is being) reported is in order.

With so much being omitted or misrepresented about the space program, it isn’t much of a stretch to believe that reportage in other fields of human endeavor is also suspect. Technical shallowness, exacerbated by ignorance of history and old-fashioned laziness, leaves us witnessing the demise of yet another national security imperative – an informed electorate.

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41 Responses to The Demise of a Well-Informed Public

  1. LocalFluff says:

    The Moon is the game. The Moon is what will happen. Mars is very exciting, it is a planet, sometimes it is on the other side of the Sun. And it has somewhat of an atmosphere and maybe was Earth-like billions of years ago. Historically, it was the orbit of Mars which spurred the invention of physics as a science, with Johannes Kepler combining the empirical and the mathematical. Mars is very special in both culture and space.

    But the Moon will happen sooner, cheaper, safer and because the Moon is always close to Earth it is much more useful than any planet or asteroid can be. And once the logistics of Moon travel and Moon usage are established, the gap between the Moon and Mars will grow larger. Despite all Mars hype, economics and politics will find themselves computing that the Moon is the place to go. One doesn’t have to be more rational than a lab rat in a labyrinth to figure that out.

    • billgamesh says:

      What this lab rat has figured out is I hate Mars. Over the years I have come to despise the idea of humans visiting that cold dim rock. In my view it is simply a case of the false belief that Mars is “just close enough” to reach with chemical propulsion and unshielded non-rotating spacecraft. To go anywhere Beyond Earth and Lunar Orbit (BELO) will require nuclear propulsion and massively shielded artificial gravity equipped spaceSHIPs. Plural. For multi-year missions there has to be back-up ships for rescue. The Moon is the only place to acquire shielding and assemble, test and launch nuclear missions. If we have such a fleet of Atomic Spaceships then Mars is a poor destination; Ceres and the moons of the gas giants with subsurface oceans are far more interesting places to haul mini-subs to.

      • LocalFluff says:

        I think that human civilization will skip the planets and the moons. They are a remnant of ancient and classic astronomy, finding moving dots on the sky and naming them. Human spaceflight will be done, not on the surfaces of rocks, but in space ships/stations which are wholly designed and constructed according to our intelligent control, leaving nothing to chance or nature. Moon dust will be a fancy picnic target, not a serious place to live.

        • Joe says:

          From where are the materials to build these Space Settlements going to come?

          If your answer is the Asteroids, it would be a good idea to look at the difficulties being experienced by the politically ordered Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM). Asteroids may become a primary source at some point, but only after development of a space fairing capability that will require use of lunar resources.

        • billgamesh says:

          “-not a serious place to live.”

          Not necessarily. You can live on low gravity bodies by using “sleeper trains” that go in a circle to provide Earth gravity for the required percentage of the day to maintain health while the rest of the time is spent in the underground or undersea environment. I would guess that would be at least half the day.The lower the gravity, the easier it is to build such circles.The only place in the solar system besides Earth that you can wander around on the surface and not get dosed with radiation is Titan. It is the need to engineer an Earth environment that convinced Gerard K. O’Neill building artificial moons made of material from the Moon was the way to go. These colonies can be positioned in a orbit around the sun the same distance as Earth- or closer or farther as needed. Solar energy is a difficult proposition on Mars and in the outer solar system.

          • billgamesh says:

            I would add that a true spaceship might be designed with a landing platform and system allowing the shielded crew wheel to still spin after having landed on low gravity bodies such as Ceres and the moons of the gas giants. The nuclear propulsion section might even separate for other missions leaving a long duration habitat on the surface as a science outpost.

    • gbaikie says:

      –But the Moon will happen sooner, cheaper, safer and because the Moon is always close to Earth it is much more useful than any planet or asteroid can be. And once the logistics of Moon travel and Moon usage are established, the gap between the Moon and Mars will grow larger. Despite all Mars hype, economics and politics will find themselves computing that the Moon is the place to go. One doesn’t have to be more rational than a lab rat in a labyrinth to figure that out.–

      If the moon is cheaper to get to, Mars will be cheaper to get to.
      The Moon as long been recognized as gateway to this solar system [and even the stars].

      Now, whether the destination would first be Mercury or Venus before Mars, one could provide various argument pro and con.
      I tend to think Mars would follow lunar exploration. One serious problem with Mars vs Venus or Mercury is the hohmann transfer to Mars takes too long.
      So would say going to Mars are dependent on non hohmann transfer trajectories and travel time of about 3 months [90 days]. In comparison Earth to Mercury hohmann transfer is 105 days. And normal hohmann transfer plus conic patched to Mars takes
      about 180+ days.
      So either Venus or Mercury if doing hohmann transfer require less time, with Mercury requiring least time but requires higher delta-v for the plane change needed.

      I think one reason Mars is important because I think mining asteroids is important, and I think Mars has advantages in regards to Asteroid mining.

      • LocalFluff says:

        I don’t think that the Moon is a gateway to Mars. I think they are two different destinations. One needs very different landing systems to Mars and to the Moon. The variations in temperature, the length of the lunar night, the gravity, the dust/regolith all require very different equipment and fundamental system designs. And of course the distance makes the shipment and communication completely different. The potential resources on site are very different too.

        I don’t think there are many take-aways from a Moon mission to a Mars mission. Even the space suits would be tailor made for their environments. The Moon is not a stepping stone to Mars, it is a completely different destination.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          I don’t agree. True enough, the environments of the lunar and martian surfaces are different, but their similarities exceed their differences. Moreover, in my opinion, we will never go to Mars without mastering the techniques of local resource utilization (ISRU) and the lunar poles are the ideal off-planet testing grounds to do so.

          Please read this previous post:

          • billgamesh says:

            “The current NASA Mars Design Reference Mission utilizes 8 launches of a super heavy-lift vehicle (150 tons to LEO) to construct the 500-ton Mars craft in Earth orbit (another analysis projects 10-12 launches of same). More than 80% of this mass is propellant.”

            And that craft does not shield the space travelers from cosmic radiation, rotate to provide artificial gravity, or have enough space for psychological health on a multi-year mission. The returning crew will be neurotic, irradiated, and debilitated, with a lifetime dose of radiation and permanent loss of bone marrow and mass. If they survive the mutated pathogens that arise in such an environment. Antibiotics rapidly lose their effectiveness in space due to radiation by the way.
            The ISS is a far less damaging radiation environment than deep space, even though it periodically passes through the South Atlantic anomaly giving the occupants an unhealthy radiation bath.

            It may be deemed acceptable to expose people to these hazards for Apollo style bootprint missions but will that accomplish anything except the end of another abbreviated space age? Going cheap and neglecting infrastructure means you end up with nothing but a huge bill for the taxpayer. There has to be a benefit to society and revenue generated. In my view that starts with GEO space stations to replace the present satellite junkyard. It is counterintuitive but the only place to assemble these stations is in the vicinity of the Moon where cosmic ray shielding can be acquired in the form of water derived from lunar ice. Using wet workshops these stations can be built for the cost of an ultimately meaningless Mars mission.

        • gbaikie says:

          I think with both Mars and the Moon one is looking for cheap
          water. On the Moon you want cheap water so you make cheap rocket. On Mars you want live there so cheap enough water so humans can live there.

          Within a decade of getting to the moon, cheap water is about
          $500 per kg or $500,000 per ton. Making possible to make LOX
          for about 1 million per ton [and Hydrogen for 4 million per ton].
          At such cost/price this allow the export of Lunar rocket fuel to
          lunar orbit. So one can use lunar rocket fuel to land on the lunar surface at cost lower than shipping this rocket fuel from Earth.

          And that would roughly make the cost of going to the Moon around the same cost as going to LEO {or ISS].
          It would lower the cost to ship anything from the moon back to Earth or any Earth orbits- or any planet in the solar system.
          Or if leaving from High earth orbit, it makes going to Mars cheaper, as it provide cheaper rocket fuel and cheaper water for crew use for the trip there.

          It seems to me that if can’t make lunar rocket fuel cheaper at
          lunar orbit than one ship it from Earth. Then I don’t why one should go to Moon [at least in near term]. Or maybe one start off with it not being this cheap- but if that’s not the near term goal, then I don’t why one goes to the moon.

          In terms Mars exploration, NASA would need to find water on Mars as cheap as water on the Moon [$500 per kg], but one purpose of exploring Mars would be exploration to see if one find water as cheap on Mars as it is on Earth- or about 50 cents per kg.[$500 per ton].

          • LocalFluff says:

            Sooner or later nuclear power will be common in space flight. It is obviously held back today for political reasons, that can change suddenly. Use of nuclear power would make water from the Moon much less useful. Would there still be a demand for O2+H2 as a chemical rocket fuel? Is the life support usage of water big enough to motivate Moon mining? Is it useful as reaction mass for nuclear electric or nuclear thermal engines?

          • Joe says:

            Hydrogen is the most commonly proposed fuel for Nuclear Thermal Rockets (NTR’s) because it gets the best specific impulse.

            If you go to use of a Liquid Oxygen Augmented Nuclear Thermal Rocket (LANTR), because you can tailor specific impulse and thrust to weight performance ratio, then both Hydrogen and Oxygen would be used.

          • billgamesh says:

            “Use of nuclear power would make water from the Moon much less useful.”

            Completely backwards: nuclear energy actually allows the massive cosmic radiation shielding required to protect space travelers (about 400 tons of water for a small capsule) to be propelled around the solar system. However, nuclear propulsion is not a good idea in the magnetosphere since any radioactive contamination will funnel into Earth’s atmosphere. This means for travel between the Earth and Moon in cislunar space chemical energy is still required. Water is necessary for anything to happen.


          • gbaikie says:

            –Sooner or later nuclear power will be common in space flight. It is obviously held back today for political reasons, that can change suddenly. Use of nuclear power would make water from the Moon much less useful. Would there still be a demand for O2+H2 as a chemical rocket fuel? —

            An easy answer is at the moment there is zero demand for rocket fuel in space.
            Also the price of rocket fuel would depend on supply and demand.
            And at he moment there is more supply and demand of flying cars.
            As a couple flying cars are being made and people can and are buying them- so that is a market. Very tiny and limited market.

            The decision regarding whether any entity decides to risk billions of dollars to mine lunar water will be based
            on expectation related to a future of 5 to 10 years.

            So I would say that if nuclear power in space were to suddenly change, those investing billion of dollars investing in lunar mining should aware of it and should “allow” for how it could impact their investment plans.
            Generally speaking any market started in space is good news for any other market in space. And would say if we get a market in space for rocket fuel, this could only help start a market for nuclear rockets in space.
            Or I don’t believe gasoline used for cars, stops electrical cars from developing. Instead I would say because there is market for gasoline cars, this enables the possibility of electrical car market.

            So what talking about is providing an opportunity related to starting a rocket fuel market in space- and giving a rough example of it’s feasibility. But it’s sink or swim.

            But if talking of competitive market, time is important
            and nuclear rocket market starting quickly doesn’t seem reasonable.

  2. IMO, even with NASA’s current human spaceflight related budget, it would still be affordable to establish a permanent human presence on Mars in the 2030’s– if NASA utilizes lunar resources to do so.

    Exploiting lunar ice resources to supply water, air, radiation mass shielding, and propellant is the key to getting humans to Mars in a safe, quick, and affordable manner. And most of the technologies developed for a water manufacturing and exporting lunar outpost could also be used for Mars.

    If the new Congress in 2015 is still serious about utilizing NASA’s future heavy lift technology to get humans to Mars, then they need to prioritize NASA’s near term focus on getting humans to the Moon in order to fully exploit lunar ice resources.


    • Joe says:

      Unfortunately (as the last several years has shown) trying to establish national policy (including space policy) from the Congress is like trying to “push a rope”.

      A change back to a lunar goal will not happen until after the 2016 Presidential election, if then, because it will depend on who is the next President.

      To date there is no candidate pushing such a goal. The only candidates to mention the Moon in 2012 were:
      (1) Gingrich – Who wanted to do it with “prizes”.
      (2) Romney – Who (in attacking Gingrich) said that if anybody said to him they wanted to build a base on the Moon, he would say to them (in his best Donald Trump impression) “You’re fired.”

      Again unfortunately, not very encouraging.

      • The attack against Gingrich lunar colony idea was actually started a few months earlier by the Obama administration. So Romney was simply repeating the Obama administration’s attack on Gingrich.

        Gingrich, however, was only advocating that NASA build a lunar base. He believed that private industry would eventually expand such a facility into a full fledged colony using their own, private, financial resources.

        Romney threw out incredible numbers like 500 billion for the total cost of a lunar base program. That would require a human spaceflight related budget of 50 billion a year over a ten year period or a $25 billion a year budget over a 20 year period. President Obama inherited an human spaceflight budget of around $8.4 billion a year. So its pretty obvious that those Romney numbers are simply ridiculous and bear no relation to reality!

        The CSIS estimated that the development and deployment of a lunar habitat modules (using Ares V technology) would only cost around $35 billion with an annual recurring cost of less than $8 billion a year after the lunar base facility was deployed. Nearly $4 billion of the recurring cost in the CSIS lunar base report would result from importing air and water and other supplies from the Earth.

        Of, course, any rational lunar outpost program could dramatically reduce recurring cost by simply using lunar ice resources.


        • Joe says:

          Hi Marcel,

          It would not surprise me if Obama was the original source for the attack on Gingrich for having (in the past) supported a Moon Base in a serious way. However, Romney picked it up enthusiastically; as a way to brand Gingrich (successfully in the 2012 Republican Primaries) as a “flake”.

          The original source for Gingrich’s Moon Base support came from a book he wrote in 1984 (Window of Opportunity: A Blueprint for the Future). The space section of the book was based on one of the last presentations given by the late Krafft Ehricke.

          But over the years Gingrich’s support for space became less secure, by the 1990’s he was willing to sacrifice the Space Station program to get a budget deal that fortunately never happened (I know you are not an ISS fan, but right up to this sellout Gingrich had been – it was my first lesson in never trusting a politician).

          In order to cover himself against charges of being insincere, Gingrich later concocted the “prize” scam. For instance, in the case of the Lunar Base he would offer a $10 B prize for the first private entity to place a base on the moon and staff if for one year. Since any such project would almost certainly cost more than $10 B and take more than 10 years, it is a pretty safe bet the prize would never be collected; but the “offer” got Gingrich off the hook.

          I am not doing this to pick on Gingrich and Romney, but to point out how dismal the current prospects for serious political support are.

          Of the current possibilities for president (from either party) only 4 (as far as I know) have any public positions on space. We have already discussed Romney and Gingrich, the other 2 are:

          – Hillary Clinton – She would supposedly want Lori Garver as NASA Administrator (if that does not make you shudder it should).

          – Rand Paul – When he first got into the Senate he proposed a budget that would zero out all funding for Human Space Flight.
          Like I said, not very encouraging.

          • billgamesh says:

            As I recall, Romney wanted to “privatize” NASA.
            Hillary appointing Garver….that would be a disaster for space exploration. Might as well just change it to the space tourism agency. As for Holdren, his whole career has basically been about doom and birth control.

            Dr. Spudis has credentials. I nominate him.

          • Joe says:

            Actually I do not think Romney said much of anything about what he would do; only what he would not do. His campaign put out a position paper, but it was the usual indecipherable bravo sierra.

            Agreed on Holdren and Garver.

            I do not think Dr. Spudis would want the job. Administrator is a management job.
            Sean O’Keefe was (potentially) a great NASA Administrator. He had management skills, political connections in the (then) current administration and an understanding of the workings of the Office of Management and Budget (and thus how to fend them off). His mistake was in selecting Admiral Steidle as his technical advisor. Steidle may have been great at his Navy job, but had no background in space hardware/operations.

            I do not know who a new O’Keefe could be (would depend on who is President). However Dr. Spudis would make a great technical advisor.

          • Its pretty easy for political candidates to make any space endeavor seem like a waste of tax payer money when actually the opposite is usually true. But its up to the defenders of space travel to know enough about the subject to defend it. Gingrich did an extremely poor job, IMO.

            Garver is strongly against the SLS while most Democrats and Republicans are strongly in favor of the ‘Senate’ Launch System.

            I would also assume that Jeb Bush would be strongly in favor of a beyond LEO program since his father and brother advocated it and because he’s also the former governor of Florida. It doesn’t seem likely that he would advocate an anti-SLS policy as President that would be harmful for both the Florida and the Texas economies.


          • billgamesh says:

            “Romney talked about building a coalition between government entities and the private sector to build a manned space program.” Considering he also wanted to privatize everything from the VA to FEMA to Social Security, I would call that privatizing NASA. And I would nominate Spudis for science advisor to replace Holdren, not as NASA administrator; I thought that was kind of obvious.


          • Joe says:


            “I would also assume that Jeb Bush would be strongly in favor of a beyond LEO program since his father and brother advocated it and because he’s also the former governor of Florida. It doesn’t seem likely that he would advocate an anti-SLS policy as President that would be harmful for both the Florida and the Texas economies.”

            You would hope that would be the case, but I long ago gave up expecting a politician to do anything consistent (much less logical). If Jeb Bush runs we will see what he actually is willing to commit to. For whatever it is worth, I hope you are right.


            “Romney talked about building a coalition between government entities and the private sector to build a manned space program.”

            Yes that is from his campaigns position paper. It is the kind of goalless/commitment less thing a politician says when they want to avoid saying anything at all. Like I said “the usual indecipherable bravo sierra”.

            “And I would nominate Spudis for science advisor to replace Holdren, not as NASA administrator; I thought that was kind of obvious.”

            Was not to me, though I did wonder why the reference to Holdren. Holdren is the current head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which is supposed to advise on far more than space policy. I am not a fan of his either on a number of issues, including space policy. If Dr. Spudis wants the job he has my vote.

  3. finkh says:

    It was Walter Lippmann (in 1920) who first identified the tendency of journalists to generalize about other people based on fixed ideas. He argued that people—including journalists—are more apt to believe “the pictures in their heads” than come to judgment by critical thinking. Humans condense ideas into symbols, he wrote, and journalism, a force quickly becoming the mass media, is an ineffective method of educating the public. Even if journalists did better jobs of informing the public about important issues, Lippmann believed “the mass of the reading public is not interested in learning and assimilating the results of accurate investigation.” Citizens, he wrote, were too self-centered to care about public policy except as pertaining to pressing local issues.

  4. William Mellberg says:

    Another outstanding commentary, Dr. Spudis! If only we had some of the journalists covering the current space program who reported yesterday’s space program. People like Jay Barbree come to mind. People who knew the industry, and understood the politics behind it. But the current generation of journalists seems to be satisfied with regurgitating one-sided press releases rather than digging for “the rest of the story.” We hear references these days to “low information voters.” Perhaps the larger problem is an uninformed press corps. Too many of today’s journalists are political cheerleaders, not factual investigators. Glowing stories about Elon Musk’s martian “retirement” and NewSpace fantasies prove the point. Fiction has replaced fact in the absence of a genuine American space program. The recent test of the Orion spacecraft resulted, as you’ve previously noted, in endless stories about “America’s new Mars ship.” Ridiculous. But those stories parroted the Obama Administration’s fictional depictions of NASA’s current mission to nowhere.

    As an aside, part of the North American Aviation story can be traced to Anthony Fokker, the “Flying Dutchman,” and his New Jersey-based American enterprise. At one time, Fokker Aircraft Corporation of America was the world’s largest airplane manufacturer. Its demise came with the crash of a Fokker F.10 airliner, killing the legendary Notre Dame football coach, Knute Rockne. Fokker’s American firm was acquired by General Motors and renamed General Aviation Manufacturing Corporation. A few years later, GAMC was reorganized as North American Aviation. Some of Fokker’s original employees ended their careers with NAA.

  5. billgamesh says:

    An informed electorate begins with indoctrinated children and fascinated teenagers. And appropriate use of public funds begin with transparency and oversight. Consider those who began the space age as childhood readers of Jules Verne and the complete and total lack of any oversight presently being focused on the spending of tax dollars- especially for defense.

    Our fascinated teenagers know very little about rocket engines and far too much about smart phone apps. Where muscle cars and motorcycles were areas of interest in the 60’s and 70’s, this gave way to the brain candy of desktop computers and how to steal music. My interest as a teenager was rather odd for the mid 70’s; I was obsessed with scuba diving and military weapon systems. If my father’s generation holds the Kennedy assassination as a defining moment then my generation considers the Challenger disaster their moment to remember.

    I did not really become interested in space exploration until the mission that Dr. Spudis was a part of discovered evidence of hundreds of millions of tons of ice at the lunar north pole. I was in fact quite excited because of what I had also recently read in a Scientific American magazine article about “Shielding Space Travelers.” The subject of the article being cosmic radiation. The heavy lift vehicle with hydrogen upper stages, lunar resources, and nuclear energy are all subjects at the top of the list but as Dr. Spudis points out, the pubic is not being told a thing that matters.

    If you ask the average 30 year old on the street what connection ice on the Moon has with cosmic radiation you will not hear anything about how this will allow human beings to explore the solar system. The only people who are “well informed” about space are the oddballs and those who work in the field. Unfortunately, those in the know have their own agenda’s and are not telling it like it is.
    The Private Space mob that has cyber-bullied and lied for a decade is probably well known to most who visit this site.

    The system as it is has no problem with letting the unwashed masses divide and conquer themselves. Dr. Spudis and I agree on the central importance of lunar resources but we have fundamental differences in our political views and this is a microcosm of the national character. Occupy Wall Street-type class warfare is real and as a military retiree I happen to be a recipient of those evil entitlements. I feel no guilt damning the military industrial complex rip-off because I am “in the know” and do not respond to others calling me unpatriotic simply for telling the truth.

    The first space age was a fluke- a perfect storm of circumstances. If we wish for a second that lasts longer than the four years of Apollo then informing the public is indeed the first step. The second step is to make transparent exactly where these billions of tax dollars are going. What makes me more angry and upset than anything else is the wannabe space clowns that accuse NASA of being the root of all evil. Literally thousands of comments can be found to “hand it over to Musk.” Norm Augustine is probably green with envy. The third step to a new space age is to realize that it is our money and not the billionaires busy stealing it.

  6. Paul Newton says:

    Dr. Spudis; I think you have hit on some important points that I have not seen anyone else focus on.

    First, with respect to North American, anyone who has visited the site of Grumman where the Lunar Modules were built would see the dismantling of American aerospace manufacturing capability. So on both coasts we saw how we dismantled the capability to produce moon ships. Over the years I saw the Apollos being built and later on the west coast, the Shuttle, and in Bethpage LI I saw the LMs and later F-14’s and other aircraft. No capability to build anything in either place anymore. We lost those capabilities in the 80s and 90s.

    Shuttle manufacturing, of the ETs and SRBs, was maintained in Mississippi and Louisiana until 6 or 7 years ago, and should have been strategically converted over to new large booster development and production without laying off the entire Shuttle workforce or shutting down the entire Shuttle assembly line. While perhaps the media shares some blame in not recognizing the losses and the failure of strategic planning, I also did not see the Congress or President take any interest in orchestrating such changes strategically, and neither did I see the NASA leadership with a forceful voice. NASA ‘leaders’ (I use the term loosely) seemed only too happy to shut down indigenous US space capabilities.

    NASA did it too with the ISS. While cost control was of concern, handing off the manufacturing of many of the US elements: modules, nodes, and cupola, to Europe might have seemed like a great trade, but shutting down the capability to produce such manned systems in the US was shortsighted.

    So while you properly fault the media, I also fault our NASA leaders.

    Today we continue to see the lack of leadership.A couple weeks ago we saw a lot of hype about Orion being the first step to Mars. But what I have not seen is a strategically laid out plan for whatever NASA thinks we ought to be doing that might get us to Mars. We have not seen such a plan since Dr. Griffin’s Constellation, which also was not laid out as a strategic plan but only an unsophisticated attempt to reestablish Apollo. Apollo did not survive because of costs and safety. Constellation was not going to succeed any more than Apollo had.

    In the late 50s and early 60s, NASA had people like Gilruth, Low, Faget and von Braun who were planning the future, They did so without being compelled by the President or Congress. They were doing it because strategic planning and leadership was their job. That way when the decision was made for an American to be placed in space, we already had the vehicle on the drawing board. When Kennedy was considering the options for a big space first that might upstage the Soviets, F-1 engines were already designed and Apollo was already on the drawing board. When Kennedy and Johnson were looking for a logical goal that could be implemented, NASA provided the answer. I do not see any NASA leaders of that caliber today. The NASA leaders I see are the type to give lip service to how great things are, and to quell any sense of calamity; our leaders are just as happy to hand US capabilities off to our international ‘partners’. Our ‘leaders’ just keep things going as they are, and they stay in their cushy management positions year after year..

    • billgamesh says:

      “-they stay in their cushy management positions year after year..”

      “-poorly thought out, cliché-ridden, illogical and suffering from a lack of understanding and an appreciation for the history of their respective topics.”

      It is human nature you are arguing against and you are not going to win. Dr. Spudis’ observations of journalistic failures concern something that can be remedied but fundamentally changing human behavior is hopeless. “Cushy” can undoubtedly be found in one office but go down the hall and you may find someone who is doing what those North American executives that built the Saturn V second stage were doing; 12 and 14 hours days 7 days a week for years on end, damaging their health, ruining their marriages, neglecting every other aspect of their lives in pursuit of reaching the goal of making that monster work. You cannot pay people enough to do that- there is no cheap.

      While the people in the second stage office succeeded, the people in the Apollo 1 capsule office failed. Heads rolled at NASA and North American and oversight was put in place to make it work. The profits North American had hoped for went way down due to the Apollo 1 fire and the lesson was not lost on the Aerospace industry. Space is hard money and defense is easy money. Nothing removes oversight like making a project classified. That Apollo oversight was schemed away pursuing the profit motive and the result was more loss of life in the Shuttle program. The reason for “cushy positions” is human nature- as in greed. The solution is to fire people. Ruthlessly discard whatever and whoever fails; otherwise know as oversight. But when success is measured in profit and not actually accomplishing anything then nobody fails and nobody get’s fired. Cushy.

  7. Grand Lunar says:

    This sort of “news” reporting seems to be the usual standard today, especially with online sources. I could name a few notorious for this style.

    We’re are lead to believe what the media wants us to believe, IMO.
    It is a dangerous trend, especially as facts are discarded in favor of ideology, or even at the whim of the management of media.
    Even worse, it is nothing new. Just watch “Citizen Kane” for a history lesson (more or less).

    It is quite fortunate we have blogs such as this to set the record straight.
    We just need a way to get this word out to a broader audience.

  8. billgamesh says:

    “That upper stage will have to have an engine very much like the J-2X (if not that item itself).”

    The second stage of the Saturn V was powered by five J-2 engines as most space buffs know and first flew in 1966. The RL-10 engine that boosted the Orion 3600 miles into space first flew in 1962. There are still no other engines that compare to these designs in terms of propellent efficiency. It is a measure of “the demise of a well informed public” that so few Americans have a clue as to the difference between a rocket engine that uses hydrogen and an obsolete design that uses kerosene.

    A “critical need” for a new kerosene engine to replace Russian models has been in the news (it’s a scam) but not a word is mentioned about the hydrogen fueled RS-68A, the best rocket engine in the world right now. The 5 segment solid fuel rocket booster at 3.6 million pounds of thrust has absolutely no competition any more than the RS-68A does for liquid fuel engines. This is American technology that outclasses anything else on planet Earth but all we seem to hear about is kerosene burning hobby rockets trying to land on barges.

    The same laws of thermodynamics and materials science that determined the design of the J2, RL-10, RS-68A, and 5 segment SRB apply to all rocket engines. This means clusters of low thrust kerosene rocket engines used by New Space “entrepreneurs” will never accomplish anything except lifting small satellites into Low Earth Orbit. Actually transporting humans is simply not possible when these craft do not even have a real escape system but instead a tourist-space-station-keeping system masquerading as an escape system. The billions in tax dollars and free NASA support that have been funneled into New Space have been a total waste. As Dr. Spudis points out, the mothballed J-2X test facility will be necessary if we are going anywhere except in circles at very high altitude. The media portrayal of this is so messed up it would almost work to just say the opposite of everything in the news to get anywhere near the truth.

    • Grand Lunar says:

      I don’t think that RP-1 fueled rockets are much of an issue though, so long as you have a high isp upper stage.
      Consider an Atlas V Phase 2 heavy. It could match the SLS in cislunar capability.

      I agree in your assessment about the RS-68A.
      And with the many upgrade possible, I think it should lead to man-rating the Delta IV.

      • billgamesh says:

        RP-1 rocket engines are cheaper than hydrogen rocket engines mainly because the turbopumps for a hydrogen engine are fiendishly difficult to engineer and have to be about 10 times more powerful than the pumps for a kerosene engine because hydrogen is so less dense. But if you want that over 400 seconds of Isp that is what is required. In an upper stage this higher Isp number makes a huge difference. The arguments concerning kerosene versus hydrogen were settled long ago when Mr. Brown conceded that Abe Silverstein was right and attributed the success of the Moon shot to adopting hydrogen for the upper stages of the Saturn V instead of going with the easier and less expensive kerosene engines. It is all part of space history- and completely ignored/denied by the New Space mob. Any hypothetical Atlas “heavy” appears to be dependent on a brand new kerosene engine- and that is a scam. Why? Because solid rocket boosters have no moving parts to speak of and are the most efficient engineering solution to getting a stack out of the atmosphere. Kerosene is obsolete. Unless you happen to be an “entrepreneur” who can only afford it, or a company that has been buying surplus Russian engines and making a profit off them. The Atlas needs something to replace the good deal second hand Russian engine and ULA is trying to get the taxpayer to foot the bill. Scam after scam and because of the demise of a well informed public they are getting away with it.

        • billgamesh says:

          I would add that putting 6 GEM 60’s on the Delta IV heavy would provide another million pounds of lift-off thrust. A much better option than a new Atlas design.

          • Grand Lunar says:

            I’ve heard of this too.

            It’s one of many changes that can make Delta IV more powerful.

            Other upgrades are densified propellant, RS-68 regen, RL-60 in the upper stage, propellant cross feed, and lighter alloy aluminum.

        • Grand Lunar says:

          I do agree that a replacement for the RD-180 is needed.

          One group was looking into methane engines.

          I have heard of ATK wanting to use a solid rocket to replace the Atlas CCB.
          I imagine that Atlas would then resemble the Liberty or Ares 1 with such a change.

          • billgamesh says:

            These companies are all trying to make money and while that is what makes the world go around and is of course a necessary evil- there is still the evil part of it to deal with. In my view ignoring all the fun and games and concentrating on the indisputable facts is how to troubleshoot the problem. These facts that are not going to change and not going away and are what I try to keep in mind when thinking about space issues.

            The first fact is that super-duper-ultra-heavy lift launch vehicles are the prerequisite to accomplishing anything lasting in space. This is an extremely unpopular view due in large part to the incessant babbling of the New Space mob. The fact is that the Saturn V was just big enough to get us on the Moon and only then because of Houbolt’s LOR. The Saturn V was small. And this means the SLS is also a minimum vehicle. The over two hundred in-a-row flawless firings of the shuttle SRB’s mean that technology is what works for the lower stage and the ideal Isp number of hydrogen and oxygen mean that is what works for the upper stages. The U.S. really needs to dump New Space and go full speed ahead with the SLS while working on a vehicle with several times the lift of the SLS. I suggest 30 million pounds coming from a pair of monolithic SRB’s like those studied in the early 60’s as the goal.

            The second fact is that the wet workshop concept is the only practical way to get any kind of useful crew compartments into service and those wet workshops need to incorporate a massive water shield if human beings are actually going outside Low Earth Orbit for any length of time. That is the elephant in the room nobody will touch and the only place those thousands of tons of shielding is coming from is that place nobody will talk about- the Moon. New Space wants nothing to do with any of this because their real goal, despite the ridiculous Mars hype, is LEO tourism. Going to the Moon ruins any chance of playboy clubs for the ultra-rich supported by kerosene hobby rockets subsidized with tax dollars.

            The richest person on Earth (Carlos Slim) owns most of the satellites that service Central and South America. That is a clue that a real space program will begin with making money to finance the next step- Solar Power Satellites. The way to make that money is with GEO Telecom space stations assembled out of wet workshops in lunar orbit and shielded with lunar water. So in my view this focus on replacing the RD-180 and modifying existing vehicles is all a distraction and ultimately meaningless. A huge shake-up in space policy is what is needed. Right now there is no hope of any progress.

  9. Mike Mastin says:

    Thanks Paul, I appreciate your articles immensely.

  10. billgamesh says:

    I greatly appreciate Dr. Spudis finding the time to keep this discussion going. Reading the other comments really inspires me to order and try and get across my own views. I believe the central problem with the U.S. Space Program at this moment in history is the SLS. The New Space propaganda machine has characterized it as the rocket to nowhere while the few in power and in the know keep it alive because they know it is the only hope of accomplishing anything beyond tourist joyrides. The bizarrely magnified accomplishments of private space companies and their actual severely limited capabilities leave little doubt of that.

    The demise of a well informed public means that such ridiculous themes as naming a suborbital tourist conveyance a “spaceship” are accepted without any real challenge. Low Earth Orbit has become the only “space” Americans are even passingly familiar with when in reality it was demoted to less-than-space in 1968. Low Earth orbit is not space. Most disturbing is the designation of Mars as the “horizon goal” of the space agency. The contributing factors in this blunder are in my view the pandering by NASA to emoting clueless sci-fi fans in the hope of garnering public support. Again, the reality is that Mars is cold dim rock with too much gravity to land on while giving the illusion of being just close enough to get to on the cheap. So the main tool being built for human spaceflight is unpopular and demonized while the chosen destination is completely impractical.

    In the final analysis the New Space scam is dragging down any realistic discussions with their ridiculous promises while the increase in funding and decision necessary to put a base on the Moon continues to be characterized as impossibly expensive. Yet a nuclear Moon is the only path to any possible future in space. Even the very basic first step of replacing our present GEO satellite junkyard with manned space stations is impossible without lunar resources. A future with all the energy civilization requires beamed down from solar power satellites begins with the Moon. Building on this infrastructure beam propelled single stage to orbit shuttles would finally provide the “cheap lift” that the Private Space con artists falsely promise can only begin on the Moon. And a new high frontier of artificial moons for people to colonize as envisioned by Gerard K. O’Neill can only begin on the Moon. The public has no idea of the opportunity that is being lost.

  11. billgamesh says:

    Am I the only one that understands what damage this kind of stuff does when bearing the NASA seal? Articles like this are fed to the public and not a word about the Moon. Unbelievable.

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