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space (spās) n. 1. space beyond the atmosphere of the earth.

prag·ma·tism (prgm-tzm) n. A way of approaching situations or solving problems that emphasizes practical applications and consequences.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

60 Minutes Story on the New Space Race

60 Minutes has a Story Sunday January 1, 2006 (tomorrow night) at 7pm EST/6pm CST called THE NEW SPACE RACE. Here is their teaser:

The private sector’s race to space is being led by maverick aeronautical engineer Burt Rutan, who foresees thousands of people enjoying the view from space in the very near future. Ed Bradley reports. Harry Radliffe is the producer.

Not sure if it is anything new, or just a rehash of stuff. I will be watching it regardless. I will post comments here, if any of you have any thoughts on it, feel free to comment.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


As I have been pondering the fate of a lunar colony this Christmas, I came across an idea. What is sovereignty? The diction says:

Freedom from outside interference and the right to self-government

Well that answers that. More to the point how does a group gain sovereignty?

Over the past few months, I have read more than a few novels on Moon colonies. Most notably, Ben Bova’s Moonwar and Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In these, and most other novels, the lunar citizens are forced to declare independence and fight a war for their freedom.

Since I am on vacation this week, I have given myself the freedom to dwell on philosophical what-ifs for a little while. And having done that, I have found myself asking, what makes a country sovereign?

Is it simply the will to declare as a collective the will to determine your own destiny? Or is it the point at which other countries recognize your sovereignty? At worst it is when the primary opponent of your independence gives in.

To answer this question in my most Socratic fashion, let us examine some historical examples of groups of people declaring sovereignty.

Let me premise this by saying, I am in no way a historian. But let us consider for a moment, when did the United States of America become a self-governing nation? Was it at the signing on the Declaration of Independence? Perhaps it was when the war was over. I may have even been when we, as a collective, decided to separate ourselves from England and stopped obeying their laws.

Think you have the answer. Well how about this one? When the southern states withdrew from the union, were they sovereign? Did they, in fact, create a new nation? Or, because they did not when the war, were they never an independent nation.

In a more modern example, when did Iraq become a sovereign nation? When the US troops rolled into Baghdad or at the last elections? When Sadam was found and put on trial? Maybe they still aren’t a sovereign nation.

Okay, great political philosophy discussion, but what does this have to do with space exploration? What does sovereignty mean for colonist on another “celestial body?” If all the nations of the Earth said “You can not be sovereign,” does that make them not sovereign?

To say it more generally, does a group’s right to self-govern depend on other countries’ willingness to accept their sovereignty? When a group of lunar colonist decide to quote the immortal words of Whitney Houston and tell the Earth to “kiss my ass,” are they subject to a treaty other countries signed.

Can a group of countries 225,000 miles away take away a person’s right of self determination? Do people even have a God given right to self determination? If people, in fact, have a right to determine how they are going to be ruled, what treaty could take that away?

I am curious about your thoughts on this.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Return to the Moon Arrived

The book is here. I will post the review next week. I am off to Christmas vacation, so sparse posting until the New Year.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Modular Space is Catching On

Jim Benson said in his interview with The Space Show

(about SpaceX's Falcon program) I like the modular design...

Modular is a movement people. Get on board!

Ad Astra per Ardua

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Update from SpaceX

Here is the latest update from Elon:

All systems have passed their prelaunch checkout and we are go for launch tomorrow at 11 a.m. California time (7 p.m. GMT).

Over the past month, we have also improved and upgraded the countdown sequence in several ways:

  • More computer controlled operations vs manual
  • Improved ground support equipment to load propellant/pressurant faster
  • Worked with range safety to speed up checkout of the thrust termination system
  • Changed to simultaneous load of LOX and fuel on both stages

The Vandenberg hold down firing countdown was 5 hours, the first Kwaj countdown was 4 hours and now we are at 3 hours. Having a responsive launch capability is important to DARPA and the Air Force (and us for cost reasons), so we've put a lot of effort into streamlining the countdown.

A C-17 buzzes Falcon for good luck


Saturday, December 17, 2005

I am a Computer Geek God

Somehow this didn't supprise me.

My computer geek score is greater than 97% of all people in the world! How do you compare? Click here to find out!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

SpaceX Launch Date/Time Set

SpaceX announced tonight that their Falcon I rocket is going to launch on December 19, at 1:00pm CST (2:00pm EST & 11:00am PST). The launch will take place from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands carrying a payload for DARPA.

As a reminder, Out of the Cradle and Michael Belfiore should have live blogging of the event.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Reading List

I have decided to place a reading list to Space Pragmatism. The last six books I have read are listed to the left with links to Amazon. Check them out, they are all good (I leave off the ones I don't like.)

Virgin Galactic Has a new Website

Today Virgin released a little more information on their lease of New Mexico's coming spaceport. Check out Leonard David's report at Virgin Galactic Sets Deal With New Mexico Spaceport.

But what I am really jazzed about is virgin Galactic has finally added news to their website, after a year and a half. Clark Lindsey doesn't see what Sir Richard's iris has to do with going to space, but I think it looks very futuristic. And like Clark said, " he is the one who made billions via great marketing." Check it out at

Monday, December 12, 2005

New COTS Watch Blog

Michael has started a new blog specially about:, articles, whitepapers and opinions about NASA's Commercial Orbital
Transportation Services (COTS) initiative.

Check it out.

Friday, December 09, 2005

SpaceX Launch Update

Just got this from Elon:

Launch Date
The new launch date is approximately December 20, depending on when the Missile Defense Agency testing is complete. As soon as we have a firm time, it will be posted on the SpaceX website.

Liquid Oxygen
Regarding liquid oxygen (LOX) supplies, we expect to have enough on hand this time to fill the rocket four or five times over. This should account for almost any issue with a particular storage tank as well as an extended hold on the pad. There is an engineering term known as a s*load. I have asked that we have at least two s*loads on hand in case one s*load is not enough.

We chartered a C-17 to fly two of our empty high quality LOX containers to Hawaii, sourced another high quality LOX container on Hawaii and put all three on the barge to Kwajalein. In addition, our LOX plant on Kwajalein has been repaired and is producing LOX on island again.

Some might be wondering why we were so dumb as to run out of LOX on a remote tropical island on the last launch attempt. Believe me, we tried hard to avoid it, but several issues conspired to create the problem:

  • The additional month of Merlin testing resulted in additional LOX boil-off on island. Even though it is stored in vacuum jacketed containers, LOX at -300F degrees does not like being on a tropical island at 85F.
  • The SpaceX LOX plant on island broke down a few weeks prior to launch, which meant we could not top up.
  • We ordered replacement LOX from Hawaii, but the container quality was poor, so only 20% of what we ordered actually arrived.
  • Ground winds were unusually high on launch day, which amplifies the boil-off rate significantly, since the Falcon's first stage LOX tank is uninsulated.
  • All of the above would not have mattered if our final storage tank did not have a small, manual vent valve incorrectly in the open position. Somewhat agonizingly, we were only a few percent away from being full. We just needed a little sip from the last tank.
  • After a while, we were able to close the vent and fill the vehicle's LOX tanks. However, we use LOX to chill our onboard helium and the absence of ground LOX to do so resulted in the helium heating up and venting back to storage. In the end, we did not have enough LOX to stay filled on the rocket and chill & pressurize the helium.

Engine Computer
The engine computer reboot anomaly was definitively traced to a ground power problem. Importantly, this would have had no effect on flight, since we switch to vehicle power before the autosequence begins. The reason it cropped up at Kwajalein was that the higher load on the longer umbilical (three times longer than in prior tests) coupled with high temperatures in Kwajalein resulted in increased resistance in the ground umbilical. This was just enough to lower the voltage below minimums and cause an engine computer reset when drawing maximum power. The same max power test was repeated on internal vehicle batteries with no problem at all.

This problem has been solved by slightly increasing voltage on the ground umbilical.


"Return to the Moon"

I have been asked by Rick Tumlinson, the cofounder of the Space Frontier Foundation, to review a new book Return to the Moon. In Rick's words it is an:

anthology of essays by more than 20 authors covering a broad spectrum of ideas and concepts revolving around a permanent human return to the Moon.

I should have it in the next week and I will post a review here if I can. I haven't really done this sort of thing before, so I'll have to play it by ear.

If you want to take a look:

Return to the Moon at Amazon

The T/Space Take on COTS

Michael believer has a post on NASA's new Commercial Orbital Transportation Service (COTS) RFP. He also has some quotes from Gary Hudson, t/Space's co-founder. T/Space seems happy with it:

...he's impressed with the RFP and that he's confident that private industry can rise to the challenge

Money will be tight, as NASA only has $500 million to work with, but isn't that we all wanted? A thrifty NASA goes a long way to a commercial space infrastructure.

If you look at the vendors interested in this, a few names stick out. We all expected T/Space and SpaceDev, but IBM? ATK is a little ironic, I think. I am sure everyone interested isn't a rocket builder. I mean they will need communications, sensors, launch ops, etc... But it is still odd to see IBM and Cisco on the list.

Looking at the COTS Q&A, this gives me a warm and fuzzy:

Q: If a contractor's full service approach includes multiple mission capabilities, will bundling of mission capability demonstrations be allowed?
A: Yes.

It means that NASA is looking past it's own requirements crap to allow efficiency. Five or Ten years ago the answer to that would have been no (IMHO).

The schedule is here. Looks like the official annoucement will be out January 9, 2006 and proposals are due Feb 10, 2006. The contracts will be done in May 2006 (here's keeping our fingers crossed).

Come on Mike, don't screw this up.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

By the Way, I joined NSS

Both the local HAL5 chapter and NSS today. If you don't belong, look up your local chapter at and give one of the officers a ring/email/fax/whatever. You will be glad you did.

SpaceX Falcon I Set for December 19-21, 2005

SpaceX announced a launch window of December 19-21 (assuming DOD doesn't take away one or more days). Apparently they order 2 sh**loads of LOX this time (SpaceX terms) so they should have plenty.

Quotes from the press conference are at where "intrepid OotC reporter Mark Trulson" will live blog the launch again.

SpaceX spokesperson Dianne Molina said “This time I plan on the teleconference to be bigger, better and run more smoothly.” Hopefully, this time, we will get status as soon as it is available.

Ad Astra per Ardua

Arguing with your Father

In the latest Ad Astra (via, Robert Zubrin lists what he sees as the positive and negatives of NASA implementation of the Vision for Space exploration put forth by President Bush January, 2004.

I have to say, I agree with some of what he says. I am all for dropping the shuttle and moving on with our lives. I am all for shifting our fuel to methane/oxygen to make insitu production on Mars easier. That may be about it, though.

I have to admit, criticizing Bob is a lot like arguing with my Dad, or at least a good uncle. Bob almost single-handedly brought my love of space back. By 1997, I had given up on any reasonable space exploration in my lifetime and moved on to astronomy, grad school, and finding my wife. Case for Mars made me excited again. He is a big reason why I am here now.

The problem, as I see it, is he is doing just what he argued against in his book. He is arguing that it is too hard to do with what we have now. We must go out a build a big huge HLV or we should just give up. What really bothers me is he doesn't even give any reasons, just assumes it is gospel.

The importance of this cannot be overemphasized. An HLV is absolutely necessary to enable human exploration of the Moon or Mars, and it was a measure of former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe's unfitness for his position that he was willing to promote a clearly unworkable quadruple launch/quadruple rendezvous lunar architecture for the purpose of justifying the abandonment of that capability. Dr. Griffin has reversed that position and backed his policy with action, and that is excellent.

So we have to have one (of course) and O'Keefe was an idiot for not seeing that. Okay, fine I continue reading waiting on the reason. It never comes. Just more name calling.

...or the nonsensical O'Keefe quadruple-launch/quadruple rendezvous lunar mission plan of 2004, in order to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Theprevious NASA plans were pure nonsense. This one is real engineering. Finally, we have a plan that could actually work.

Don't get me wrong, I believe we can get to the Moon with an HLV. I think we could get there on a SpaceX Falcon IV, EELVs, or even a hopped up SpaceShipsThree. What bugs me is his (apparent) belief that if we weren't building a HLV we might as well shut it all down and go back to thinking the moon is a giant cheese-ball. Again he says

An HLV is absolutely necessary to enable human exploration of the Moon or Mars.

I disappointed in Mr. Zubrin. There is one line in this piece that makes me happy, however:

NOTE: The views of this article are the author’s and do not reflect the policies of the National Space Society.

(Notice they say "do not reflect" and not "may not reflect" ... )

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Draft Released

NASA has at least released a draft of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS). Nothing shocking in it, but it is good to have it in writing.

Basically it is in two phases:

Phase 1 – A period of development and demonstration by private industry in coordination with NASA of various space transportation capabilities to and from low-Earth orbit (LEO) determined to be most desirable for the Government and other customers.

Phase 2 – A potential competitive procurement of orbital transportation services to resupply the ISS with cargo and crew, if a capability is successfully demonstrated and the Government determines it is in its best interest.

Phase 1 is broken into three different capabilities:

Capability A delivers cargo (payloads) that operate directly in the space environment to a LEO test bed and provides for its safe disposal.

Capability B delivers cargo (payloads) that operate within a volume maintained at normal atmospheric pressure to a LEO test bed and provides for its safe disposal.

Capability C delivers cargo (payloads) that operate within a volume maintained at normal atmospheric pressure to a LEO test bed and provides for its safe return to Earth.

Phase 2 is (currently) only one capability:

Capability D delivers crew to a LEO test bed and provides for safe return to Earth.

I am glad they are going to work with multiple sources:

NASA intends to use its Space Act authority to enter into multiple funded
agreements resulting from this announcement.

But you can’t do Cap D until you prove you can do Cap C (which stands to reason, I suppose).

Proposals are also solicited for crew transportation Capability D, but only as an option to period 1 proposals for Capability C. The period 2 demonstrations will consist of multiple missions to LEO and the ISS. The number of missions proposed to satisfy human rating requirements for commercial passengers will be evaluated and ultimately determined by NASA. The option will be considered for execution only after the successful demonstration of Capability C.

And it is fixed priced milestone based payment approached

Payments will be made upon the successful completion of performance milestones as proposed by the participants and negotiated with NASA. NASA’s contribution will be a fixed amount and will not be increased or decreased based on the participant’s ability to obtain private funding. 2.2 Project Schedule Period 1 will commence upon the execution of the SAA targeted for May 2006 and will end after the successful flight demonstration of the selected capability expected to occur in the 2008-2010 timeframe.

You can get more schedule info as time passes at the following COTS website:

All right, all you space entrepreneurs, let get this party started!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Apparently, NSS and Me are on the Same Page

Here is the National Space Society's principles:

NSS Principles -- What Does NSS Stand For?
These are the guiding principles of the National Space Society by which we will conduct our Mission in pursuit of our Vision. (In priority order).

Human Rights
NSS shall promote the principle of fundamental rights of every human being.

NSS shall observe, practice, and promote ethical conduct.

NSS shall actively pursue and promote human settlement beyond Earth. Scientific
inquiry and exploration are important precursors to settlement.

Within the bounds of these Principles, NSS shall promote and support any and all methods and practices that support achievement of our Vision.

Gotta love that..

How to find New Members for the NSS

Arthur Smith in my comments section in the post on "Why
I am not a member of he NSS"

I think you're right about the "simple letter" being a great start -
however, blasting letters to every member of the public isn't
financially feasible... We do spend a lot of money on paper mailings
but it doesn't seem to be very productive (I think even with targeted
mailings we spend more on the mailings than we receive back in
first-year dues, but donations and renewals help make it positive); I
wonder if you have any specific ideas for improving the collection of
addresses to send to? Any idea how Planetary Society got your address?

This is a question I have been thinking about all weekend. I am no
sure how they got my name and I am not sure how the NSS targets people
for mailing. I can offer some possibilities about when I received the
first mailer:

  • I subscribed to Astronomy Magazine
  • I was a sophomore engineering student
  • I bought a lot of books on space (Case for Mars, Hyperspace, etc...)
  • Saw & bought a lot of space movies (Star Trek, Star Wars, etc...)

Here are some things I have done since that I guess don't show up on
the NSS's targeting:

  • Continued subscribing to Astronomy for 10 years
  • Season pass the Space & Rocket Center
  • Buying model rocket stuff
  • Buying space games (simulators and shoot-um ups)

I am really not sure what kind of stuff works. I am beginning to
think one-on-one stuff works really well. Nothing could have
gotten me to join faster than emails from most of the HAL5 executive
committee and your comments.

Maybe we should follow the Christian evangelism model of "converting"
people you know. Neighbors, coworkers, family could all be a
possibility. It did turn a couple of dozen people into about 2
billion in 2000 years. That's an increase of ~1,000,000/year.

Just my first thoughts. I will continue thinking about it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Why I should be a local Huntsville member of NSS

This is an email I received from Ronnie Lajoie about the Huntsville Chapter of the National Space Society. Ronnie is a member of the NSS Web Site Development Team, the NSS Membership Committee, and NSS Chapters Committee. For those thinking of joining the NSS, at least the chapter in Huntsville sounds pretty good. Check out there web site at:

Mr. Schrimpsher,

It was with great dismay that I just read your Web posting "Why I am not a member of he NSS" to Space Pragmatism that was just forwarded to me by a co-worker. But first let me assure you that there IS indeed a chapter of the National Space Society in Huntsville. In fact, we are one of the largest and most active chapters. (I am CC'ing the other

HAL5 chapter officers in this reply.) I invite you now to join our local chapter as well as our parent organization National Space Society. Our local membership form is available at
You can join the NSS via

I wish I had seen your posting YESTERDAY (I would have phoned you),
because you just missed a great public lecture we hosted last night at the
Public Library. Over 70 people attended the free program, including HAL5
members, other local NSS members, members of AIAA, VBAS, NASFA and others, and other local citizens who saw the flyers and announcements. You can download
the flyer at

I say "dismay" for a number of reasons. I should tell you that I had a
similar situation to your own while living in Seattle, Washington in
1990. Somehow, "space cadet" me totally missed the fact that NSS was holding
an "International Space Development Conference" in Seattle in 1990; at the
same time as I was lamenting the lack of local space interest groups. I learned too late (I moved to Huntsville in 1991) that Seattle had TWO chapters of the NSS. I later vowed not to let it happen to other space enthusiasts. Looks like we may have more work to do.

As the leader of the NSS Web Site Development Team, and a member of the
both the NSS Membership Committee and Chapters Committee, I had started
to believe that NSS was doing a much better job of getting the word out
both nationally and locally. For example:

1. Just search on the word "space" in Google and a link to the NSS Web
site shows up in the very FIRST "sponsored link" spot. One cannot
do much better than that in a search engine! I agree that our Web
site could be much better, and I and other NSS leaders are actively
seeking support for a major overhaul/redesign of our Web site.

2. NSS advertises its conferences and major events in "Space News" and
other space-related publications. Our leaders are frequented quoted
in the press and our leaders' editorials frequently show up

3. We just hosted a fantastic national conference in Washington, D.C.
and we preparing to host our biggest conference ever, in Los Angeles,
in partnership with The Planetary Society. For more information, see

4. HAL5 worked VERY hard last November to locally publicize a regional
space conference called "Exploring and Privateering Space". We had
Huntsville and surrounding cities plastered with colorful posters,
including 3x4-foot displays at the Space and Rocket Center, NASA,
the Huntsville Public Library, and the University of Alabama (HSV).
We had ads and articles in the Huntsville Times, plus radio spots.
More info on this event at

So please join our local chapter and the NSS, and you will never want
again for space enthusiast companionship and activities. In addition
to our monthly programs (FIRST Thursday), the HAL5 chapter leadership
meets once per week for a lunch meeting near Madison Square Mall. If
you interested, please join us at one of our meetings. Details at:

-- Ronnie

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why I am not a member of he NSS

The National Space Society. As far as I can tell a great little organization. Not really sure, since I have yet to meet anyone (physically) in it and I have never received any information on it. Why am I telling you this? Ken Murphydyne wrote a post the other day on Selenian Boondocks lamenting the 2005 NSS Membership Survey. Basically he is a very active VP of a very active chapter of NSS in North Texas. I am here to answer some of Ken's concerns and perhaps create new ones.

The first thing that bothers Ken is that only 7% of NSS members are affiliated with a local chapter. You want to be bothered even more, Ken? I would consider myself a space activist, or at the very least a space fanatic. I only just found out the NSS exists earlier this year (thanks to Clark over at Hobby Space). And until your post, I didn't even know they had local chapters. Bet that makes you smile.

But maybe you live in a cave, you may say. I work across the street from the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. I can see a full size Saturn-V out my window standing tall all day long. I live where Werner Van Broun lived and worked for many years. We are even nick-named the Rocket City. And I didn't know we have a NSS chapter. Mind boggling, isn't it?

Now as to the %73 of the 93% that didn't even want to join a chapter, you guys are not exactly making a rousing case for yourselves around here. I mean I'm sure you do a lot of neat stuff and talk about space and all that, but where is the PR? Why am I not a member? Why do I still get crap from the Planetary Society which I quit on purpose (we have our differences off opinion which I will not relate her) and I have never received anything from NSS?

And to go one better, earlier this year when Clark told me about them, I went to their web site, clicked on the contact us and asked them what sort of space activities they do, what membership entails, etc... I am still waiting on the reply. Not a good first impression.

So my advice to Ken and everyone at NSS, get serious about membership. Let people know who you are with advertising, sponsorships, go places where space people go.

Just my opinion, take it for what it is worth.