The Spirit of St. Louis

Commentary by Michael Mackowski

In 1982, I was living in St. Louis and working for McDonnell Douglas and I was part of a group of space enthusiasts who were planning for a Spaceweek event that summer. In May of that year, the first meeting was held of the St. Louis Space Frontier, a chapter of the L5 Society. Ten years later, changes in the aerospace industry caused me and several other chapter leaders to move away from Missouri, and after a few more years, the club went dormant.

About a year ago, several of the folks who were involved in original chapter and some new folks decided to resurrect the St. Louis Space Frontier, and they just held a regional space development conference called Gateway to Space over the weekend of November 7-9, 2014. I had been in touch with the organizers and was happy to help them with this event, which I attended as both a presenter and a panel moderator. They had a very full and well-rounded program, with three parallel tracks going at times. The speakers covered all the usual topics at an NSS conference, from planetary science to commercial space to living on the Moon. A nice touch was the inclusion of arts and culture, with several artists exhibiting and even demonstrating their work, plus musicians and a fashion show.

This event was well supported by the NSS national office, as they held a board of directors meeting in conjunction with the event. They have been encouraging chapters to hold regional conferences for some time, as these events were much more common back in the 1980s and 90s. Some of the board members who came included NSS executive director Mark Hopkins, Jeffrey Liss, Larry Ahearn, Dale Amon, Bruce Pittman, Al Globus, Lynne Zielinski, John Strickland, Dale Skran, and others. The presence of these folks enabled the St. Louis chapter to show what a small dedicated team can accomplish in regards to a weekend conference. Hopefully this success will encourage other chapters to host similar events. Such regional conferences can be an alternative to the often expensive and unwieldy ISDC event. Having more opportunities for space advocates to learn and interact is a good thing to support.

I gave a talk on Orbital Sciences programs and also moderated a panel on “The Rocky Road to Space Settlement”. Christine Nobbe was the chair of this conference and her idea was to try to address the difficult question of how are we ever going to make any progress towards having people living in space permanently. I used my “road to Mars” presentation as the basis for an overview, as the challenges are very similar. Real progress towards space settlement will need to address these three questions:

  • How will we get there? What technology will we use?
  • What is the path? Moon, asteroids, Mars, free-space?
  • Why go at all?

The panel was a bit large at eight members plus myself, but fortunately not everyone had charts and we had two full hours. It was a bit like herding cats, but everyone shared their perspective, and I attempted to relate how it is progress in this area is going to take ideas and inputs from experts coming from many backgrounds. The bottom line consensus, such as it was, it that government programs are not likely to lead directly to settlements, although they will help pave the way (by pushing the technology for example), and while settlements are probably going to have to be privately developed, the business plan for successfully achieving this involves a lot of arm waving.

GtoS Panel 110914a

I had a lot of fun participating in and listening to all of the programming. What was most enjoyable was meeting up with people I had not seen in 22 years. There was a Friday evening event at the old McDonnell Douglas headquarters corporate museum called the Prologue Room. They had a group of retirees who had worked on the Mercury and Gemini capsules that were built in St. Louis. In this group was a former program manager and department head that I worked for, and it was really nice to talk to them and share my career story from the years since I left. And seeing old friends from the 1980s version of St. Louis Space Frontier was very special.

I left with an optimistic feeling that there is new energy out there in people who still believe in the dream of exploring and living in space and the benefits that will bring to humanity. Hopefully this spirit of St. Louis will inspire other NSS chapters to pick up the pace and continue the work of outreach and awareness of the promise of the space frontier.

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The 2013 Space Access Conference

Commentary by Michael Mackowski

Part One – The Conference

Space Access 2013I finally had the opportunity to attend the Space Access Conference, an event run by Henry Vanderbilt, a long-time space advocate from Phoenix. The conference’s focus is on “New Space” launch vehicle developers and the burgeoning suborbital market. I had been aware of this conference for some time, and despite that it is held in my home town, the conference content and my personal or business interests never overlapped sufficiently to motivate me to take time off work and attend. This year, things were quiet at work and I decided to see what it was all about.

The conference ran for three days (April 11-13) and I attended most of the first two. The nice thing about the program is that Henry limits it to a single thread so you don’t have to choose between parallel sessions. There was an interesting mix of speakers. Most were related to launch vehicles but there was also a good mix of astronomy (asteroids), history (DC-X), and far term concepts (space settlements).

The rocketry presentations were on varied levels. Some were from the more well-known companies like XCOR, while quite a few were folks doing this as a hobby or as students, some barely a step above high-powered hobbyist rocketry.

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Space Elevator – 19 January 2013 NSS Phoenix Chapter Meeting

Our Speaker: Dr. Peter Swan

Space Elevator – A Ten-Year Update!
A Review of Recent Revelations

This NSS lecture will focus on recent discoveries and inventions that are bringing the space elevator closer to reality. Dr. Peter Swan is a member of the NSS and has participated in many local, national and international activities. He has written two books* on the topic and is Vice President of the International Space Elevator Consortium. He is currently pulling together 28 world-renown authors, across multiple disciplines to produce a report for the International Academy of Astronautics. This study is an, “Assessment of the Technological Feasibility and Challenges of the Space Elevator Concept.” His talk will focus on recent realizations in many fields that will significantly raise the probability of a Space Elevator by 2032. The outline for this overview is:

  • Introduction and History
  • Brad Edwards’ Basic Concept 2002
  • Status and New Ideas
  • Feasibility Condition
  • Materials Strength Levels
  • Power Approach for “beating gravity”
  • Base Station and Apex Anchor
  • Systems Design and OV-1
  • Dynamics of Ribbon with Deployment Options
  • Impact of Space Debris
  • Preliminary Operations Concept
  • Conclusions and Questions

The 19 January 2013 meeting of the Phoenix chapter of the National Space Society will be at HCC at 627 W Eighth Street, Mesa AZ 85201. The start time is 10:00 AM.

Flight Events – International Space Station 2013

Here is the current calendar of flight events for 2013 for International Space Station as listed on the Forum at NASASpaceFlight on 21 November 2012:

2013

  • Complete
  • Upcoming
  • January 17 – ISS orbit’s reboost by Progress M-17M engines
  • February 6 – ISS orbit’s reboost by Progress M-17M engines
  • February 10 – Progress M-16M undocking (from Pirs)
  • February 11 – Progress M-18M launch
  • February 11 – Progress M-18M docking (to Pirs)
  • March 1 – Dragon (SpX-2) launch
  • March 3 – Dragon (SpX-2) capture and berthing (to Harmony nadir) by SSRMS
  • March 15 – Soyuz TMA-06M undocking (from Poisk) and landing [Novitskiy, Tarelkin, Ford]
  • March 28 – Soyuz TMA-08M launch [Vinogradov, Misurkin, Cassidy] and docking (to Poisk)
  • April 2 – Dragon (SpX-2) unberthing (from Harmony nadir) and releasing by SSRMS
  • April – spacewalk (ISS Russian EVA-32) from Pirs airlock [Vinogradov, Romanenko]
  • April 15 – Progress M-17M undocking (from Zvezda)
  • April 18 – ATV-4 “Albert Einstein” launch
  • April 23 – Progress M-18M undocking (from Pirs)
  • April 24 – Progress M-19M launch
  • April 26 – Progress M-19M docking (to Pirs)
  • May 1 – ATV-4 “Albert Einstein” docking (to Zvezda)
  • May 14 – Soyuz TMA-07M undocking (from Rassvet) and landing [Romanenko, Hadfield, Marshburn]
  • May 28 – Soyuz TMA-09M launch [Yurchikhin, Parmitano, Nyberg]
  • May 30 – Soyuz TMA-09M docking (to Rassvet)
  • June – spacewalk (ISS Russian EVA-33) from Pirs airlock [Yurchikhin, Misurkin]
  • July 23 – Progress M-19M undocking (from Pirs)
  • July 24 – Progress M-20M launch
  • July 26 – Progress M-20M docking (to Pirs)
  • August 4 – HTV-4 “Kounotori-4” launch
  • August 9 – HTV-4 “Kounotori-4” capture and berthing (to Harmony nadir) by SSRMS
  • August – spacewalk (ISS Russian EVA-34) from Pirs airlock [Yurchikhin, Misurkin]
  • August – spacewalk (ISS Russian EVA-35) from Pirs airlock [Yurchikhin, Misurkin]
  • September 6 – HTV-4 “Kounotori-4” unberthing (from Harmony nadir) and release by SSRMS
  • September 11 – Soyuz TMA-08M undocking (from Poisk) and landing [Vinogradov, Misurkin, Cassidy]
  • September 25 – Soyuz TMA-10M launch [Kotov, Ryazanskiy, Hopkins] and docking (to Poisk)
  • October – spacewalk (ISS Russian EVA-36) from Pirs airlock [Yurchikhin, Ryazanskiy]
  • October 15 – ATV-4 “Albert Einstein” undocking (from Zvezda)
  • October 16 – Progress M-21M launch
  • October 18 – Progress M-21M docking (to Zvezda)
  • November 10 – Soyuz TMA-09M undocking (from Rassvet) and landing [Yurchikhin, Parmitano, Nyberg]
  • November 25 – Soyuz TMA-11M launch [Tyurin, Wakata, Mastracchio]
  • November 27 – Soyuz TMA-11M docking (to Rassvet)
  • December – spacewalk (ISS Russian EVA-37) from Pirs airlock [Tyurin, Ryazanskiy]
  • December 11 (TBD) – MLM launch (or 2014)
  • December 18 – Progress M-20M with Pirs module undocking (from Zvezda nadir)
  • December 20 (TBD) – MLM docking (to Zvezda nadir) (or 2014)

2014

  • January – spacewalk (ISS Russian EVA-38) from Poisk airlock [Tyurin, Ryazanskiy]
  • January – spacewalk (ISS Russian EVA-39) from Poisk airlock [Tyurin, Ryazanskiy]
  • January – spacewalk (ISS U.S. EVA-21) from Quest airlock
  • January – spacewalk (ISS U.S. EVA-22) from Quest airlock
  • February 5 – Progress M-22M launch
  • February 7 – Progress M-22M docking (to MLM nadir)
  • March 12 – Soyuz TMA-10M undocking (from Poisk) and landing [Kotov, Ryazanskiy, Hopkins]
  • March 25 – Progress M-22M undocking (from MLM nadir)
  • March 26 – Soyuz TMA-12M launch [Skvortsov, Artemyev, Swanson]
  • March 28 – Soyuz TMA-12M docking (to MLM nadir)

Updated 1 January 2013


Flight Events 2012

Arizona State Space Exploration Symposium – A Review

Michael Mackowski, a member of the Phoenix chapter of the National Space Society, attended the one day symposium titled “The Future of Humans in Space” on 26 October 2012. He sent us these observations:

Notes from ASU Space Exploration Symposium, 10/26/12

I attended a symposium at ASU on Friday, Oct. 26, 2012. The name of the event was “Future of Humans in Space: Re-Kindling the Dream. The day-long symposium was sponsored by ASU’s Beyond Center, the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and the Center for Science and the Imagination. Here are my random notes on each speaker.

Hugh Downs (former television news personality and current chairman of the board of governors of the NSS)
He reminisced about NASA’s “glory days” when a leader like von Braun could make design decisions on the spot. Downs claimed that Werner saw the original Saturn V design with four engines, and suggested they add a fifth. There were no trade studies, no review committees, no cost-benefits trades, just a brilliant engineer with the freedom to get things done. Downs also talked about the early days of the National Space Society including how George Whitesides helped get it going.

George Whitesides (CEO and president of Virgin Galactic)
He talked about how Virgin wants to put more people into space. While he acknowledged these are suborbital flights, he avoided noting (until asked) that it is only for two minutes. He tried to make a case that these are exciting times for space development right now, with SpaceX proving their new capabilities and Virgin close to proving out the market for tourist flights into space. Just how this fits in with the theme of the symposium (“Why are we stuck in low Earth orbit?”), when Virgin doesn’t even GET to orbit was a bit puzzling to me. I’m all for rich people wanting to take their joy rides, and maybe this advances cheaper access to space, but I don’t see how suborbital tourist rides gets us closer to settlements off the Earth. Perhaps it can establish a space tourist market that can evolve into a LEO business, thus driving down launch costs. Whitesides did mention that Virgin Galactic has plans for orbital vehicles but that is a long way off.

Ed Finn (Director, Center for Science and the Imagination)
This center (http://csi.asu.edu) was one of the co-sponsors of this event and they had a few minutes to introduce themselves. A simple statement of their charter is to connect science and the arts. One of their efforts is to bring together scientists and engineers with science fiction writers. It’s another example of ASU president Michael Crow’s adventures in collaborations across disciplines.

Kip Hodges (Director, ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration)
He talked about collaboration between humans and robots in future space exploration from the perspective of a field geologist. His main point was that robots are unlikely to ever be as good as humans for exploration. Human cognition will always be superior to autonomous machines, but there is plenty of room for working together. The problem is latency, or the time it takes to communicate with a teleprescence on another world. Until we figure that out, robotic exploration will be slow and inefficient.

Panel Discussion: How to Leverage Our Investment in Space
This panel included Kip Hodges, Lawrence Krauss (physics professor), astronaut Andrew Thomas, and Paul Davies. I don’t think the discussion ever talked about leveraging our past investments, but the topic veered into how will we ever manage to get a manned Mars mission. All of the classic debate topics came up:
– Destinations versus Capabilities
– Moon versus Mars
– Robots versus People
– Science versus Adventure
– Settlement versus Political Prestige
– Government versus Entrepreneur
There was a consensus that the ultimate goal is human settlement on other worlds. But the path to get there is not at all clear. Astronaut Andy Thomas had a lucid view of the situation, in that space exploration is not a national imperative. Our indecisiveness is a social issue, not technical, not even political. It is still too expensive for private entities to bankroll, and the American taxpayer is in no mood to pay for more than we are doing now. Public interest is just too shallow. It won’t be performed by “commercial” firms because there is no business case for going to the Moon or Mars. The problem of radiation exposure was debated, and clearly more research is required here. Some of the panelists supported the concept of a one-way mission to Mars. These would not be suicide missions but the beginnings of permanent settlements. Others, however, said that eliminating the problems of a return to Earth stage is replaced with other, equally challenging problems of long duration survival.

Robert Zubrin (author of The Case for Mars)
Zubrin kicked off his presentation with the audacious claim that the most important issue is the world today is going to Mars. In 500 years, the first mission to Mars will be remembered more than who wins the election or how we manage our health care system. There’s some truth to that, but most people have to pay their bills first. He gave his classic talk on how to get to Mars in ten years. It is a very well thought out mission plan, and a lot of it makes sense. On the down side, Robert seems to be using the same charts and graphics from when he first came up with this concept twenty years ago. (He had grainy images from Viking to make a point about landing sites. How hard would it be to use some images from, say, the 1990s?) When it comes to destination-vs-capabilities, Zubrin is of the mind that missions drive the technology, so he wants to see a challenging mission declared. Unfortunately, this runs in the face of Andy Thomas’s observation that today’s American public is in no mood for expensive space spectaculars.

Kim Stanley Robinson (science fiction author)
Robinson’s take on space exploration was a bit more philosophical than the other speakers, as he is a writer and not a technologist. He claims that “the space project” will naturally occur as the outcome of a healthy planet and a healthy human civilization. Looking around the world right now, we’re not there. Thinking of space as a planet will help us deal with climate change. He’s not enamored with so-called “commercial” space. Space is a commons, not a playground for the rich. We need to take care of our own planet, as only Earth matters. We also have to acknowledge that we, as a species, are not “destined” for space. We are products of the Earth’s biosphere. We can attempt to take it with us, but the inter-relationships among human beings and microbiotic life (for example) is not fully understood. If we take a sterile environment with us on deep space missions, what crucial microbes will we forget?

Panel Discussion: Wilder ideas, one-way missions, warp drives, starships, etc.
This panel consisted of Sarah Walker (an astrobiologist), Ed Finn (from the Center for Science and the Imagination), Paul Davies, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Robert Zubrin. It was an entertaining discussion on such speculative topics as nuclear propulsion, space elevators, controlled fusion, magnetic monopoles, generation ships, modified human biology, etc.

Summary
There was no real conclusion or summary statement planned, but I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I spoke with Prof. Paul Davies prior to the meeting and he kindly gave me a few minutes on stage to promote local chapters of the National Space Society and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Some good contacts were made and I think there will be opportunities for collaboration between ASU and groups like NSS, the Moon Society, and AIAA.

As for the prospects for invigorating the space program, I believe the key word is patience. Government-run space exploration will only accomplish what citizens are demanding, and right now, not enough citizens are demanding a base on the moon or Mars. Privately sponsored space exploration might happen eventually, but it would have to be from a purely altruistic motivation, as there is no business case for exploration any time soon. We will need to wait for the technology to allow either of these paths to become affordable before we will make much progress towards establishing a true space faring civilization. That is the sad reality.

ISDC 2012 – Jeff Greason and the Implications for Space Policy Advocacy

Last year at ISDC in Huntsville, Jeff Greason gave a rabble-rousing address wherein he maintained that the obvious, but unspoken word in current space policy was “settlement”. Not any specific program, but settlement.

This year in Washington D. C., Jeff made a much more important statement; this time concerning commercial space and how to create a viable settlement.

Thinking about his observations of the scary paradigm shift down which NASA has begun to be dragged kicking and screaming, I am reminded of the politics in Colorado in the 2004 -2006 congressional campaign. There were six or so special interest groups working to select a candidate. But the environmentalists would not support the labor union candidate because his constituents favored mining and harvesting forests. The women’s rights group would not support the environmental candidate because he was anti-abortion. And so it went.

A politically astute gentleman, with considerable means, arrived to discuss the issue with the groups. He pointed out that if any one group withdrew from the coalition, they would lose the election, and the opposing party would elect a representative who was going to vote against each and every program that the respective groups wanted.

He also pointed out that if this program oriented withdrawal of support were repeated state by state, then congress would be controlled by people who would roll back gains that each group had achieved over the years.

On the other hand, if the groups agreed to compromise, to be willing to accept that in Colorado their candidate had to stand for mining and foresting in order to be elected, and they could show other coalitions in other states the same need to compromise and support an underlying need to elect people who supported most of their positions most of the time, then they would control congress and each of their issues stood a good chance of advancing. Although any individual congress critter might vote against an issue to satisfy their local situation, the majority would vote in favor. And finally, if a compromise candidate were truly supported by all, he would contribute a million dollars to the campaign.

Now, in space policy, we have the Moon Society advocating for a Moon program. And we have the Mars Society advocating for a Mars program. We have the Planetary Society. We have the National Space Society. We have the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. We have many groups advocating for their program. And it is easy for the congress critters to ignore us. No one has a very big voice.

What is needed is for all to advocate for the paradigm shift that Jeff discussed. Settlement, no matter where it will be or when it will be, will only be successful if we can migrate each step along the way (to wherever we go) off of the NASA budget and into the commercial sector. And we can only do that if we create the conditions that allow individuals, free people, to own the assets (labor and capital) that not only allow for subsistence, but for excess capacity, for success and failure. It is the excess capacity that will eventually result in wealth and trade.

It is past time for the central planning of all space exploration efforts. We must all be advocating for the chaotic market within which commercial space can succeed. The combined voice will be strong enough to make a difference in the space policy debate.

Dr. C. David Fischer, Jr
Phoenix, Arizona

[Ed. Note: The thoughts expressed here are the author’s, and do not reflect the thoughts or policy of the Phoenix Chapter of the National Space Society nor the National Space Society.]

Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study

Asteroid Capture
Keck Institute for Space Studies report on the Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study
Image Credit: Rick Sternbach / KISS

Do you want to gamble tens of billions to make trillions?

The Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) study, entitled Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study, is posted by the National Space Society (NSS) here (pdf).

On April 24, Planetary Resources officials will announce details of their space exploration plans in a press conference at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. Investors include Charles Simonyi and James Cameron, among others, including Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt.

The original announcement of the KiSS study is described here.