View 725 Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Probably the most important news of today:
spacex and NASA
SpaceX’s historic demonstration flight to the ISS is well underway, and I had a thought after watching the launch video here: http://www.youtube.com/user/nasatelevision/
Look at the pictures of "mission control", at around 10 minutes. Things sure have changed… Long sleeve button shirts and ties are gone, replaced by t-shirts and jeans. Even more telling, given the commercial nature of the program, is the physical layout of the area. No expensive custom built consoles in sight. The room still has the traditional NASA layout of rows of workstations facing a common front where multiple large displays show common information, but the consoles are now sturdy but moveable desks with multiple monitor workstations. While the capability of this setup must be far beyond what was possible even just a few years ago, it is also trivially reconfigurable and probably cost a mere fraction of the original NASA setup.
Flexible responsiveness to business and operational conditions will be a key to SpaceX’s success and I thought it was interesting that my very first impression of their mission control was how they could completely reconfigure it during a lunch break. It looks like a startup operation, but that startup just put more tech into orbit than any private organization in the world has ever done, demonstrating a capability that maybe 4 organizations in the world could match. These guys are still warming up, and their mission control could probably be completely reconfigured for another mission in an hour. That just feels promising.
The link is to a NASA site, which is interesting because NASA didn’t have a lot to do with this launch. At the end of the video they switch to NASA Houston mission control for ISS which looks a lot like the old days. The video is real time. There was a time when an uneventful rocket launch and burn was something thrilling to watch, but it does go on for a while. If you like, just after 9:45 seconds into the mission you get the final burn, and the scene changes to the Space-X launch control. When you tire of that you can jump to the end to see the NASA mission control center.
It’s interesting to watch. I was present for some of the early manned spacecraft launches, where we never knew what would happen – as Wolfe says in The Right Stuff, in the early days there was the fear that “ours always blow up.” Of course they didn’t, and we got all our people back, but you never knew. And we had our heroes. I said my piece on that when Columbia went down. That link will lead somewhere to a link to Julia Ecklar’s Phoenix, a fitting memorial to the crew of Capsule 12.
But there was no tragedy in this launch. Significantly it showed the reliability of the engines, which a few days ago were lighted up then shut down because one of the engines had significant overpressure – and the bird was retuned, refueled, and lit up again to make a nominal and uneventful flight. Nominal and uneventful is what’s needed if we are to be a spacefaring nation. When I was in first grade I recall the class being led outside to the schoolyard to watch the American Airlines DC/X fly over. We need space flight to be as routine as air flights are.
It will happen. Space-x has obviously mastered the gas generator engine, running on kerosene and LOX. That sacrifices performance for reliability. One of the features of the SSX proposed by General Graham, Max Hunter, and me to then US Vice President and Space Council Chairman Dan Quayle was that we learn more about designing for savability and reliability, not just for performance; that operation be the driving factor even if that means sacrificing payload. (See the Council Report on SSX.) We favored gas generator and expander engines over staged combustion, precisely because gas generator and expander engines can be shut down and fail gracefully. The cost is lower performance.
Today’s launch by Space-X is a significant step towards becoming a space faring nation again.
Of course one wonders why NASA is showing the Space-X liftoff. NASA didn’t build the Merlin engines. Probably because NASA can’t resupply its own space station, and the Russians are charging for filming their rocket launches? And NASA has all the cameras in place.
If you want less of some activity, fine people for doing it. Taxing the activity has much the same effect. If you want more, stop fining them. Lower taxes.
I would think this elementary logic and fairly obvious. It’s what I had in mind yesterday when I suggested that we give dividend income the same tax break as capital gains. One reason we have economic bubbles is that it’s so much more profitable (after taxes) to have your stock grow than to collect dividends from it. That distorts management strategy toward economic manipulations rather than business operations. It also encourages all kinds of razzle-dazzle and hype, including actions that deliberately encourage bubbles. That’s what happened with the big Internet Bubble, and it’s a good part of the genesis of the housing bubble.
I have never understood why dividend income – which is, after all, based on return from the investment of income that has already been taxed – should be taxed at the ordinary income rate. Indeed, if you want to encourage people to work, it would make sense to keep the fines for working low, but of course there has to be income. On the gripping hand, if income tax were pretty well reserved for the States or for the Federal Government in Time of War, that would have an interesting effect too.
More on this tomorrow, but scribd seems to be at it again.
For the scribd story see http://www.jerrypournelle.com/archives2/archives2view/view481.html#DMCA and
I will have more on this shortly. SCRIBD has a policy of allowing anyone to put up anything including the entire oeuvre of an author – including deceased authors, thus harming their widows and orphans – and making it very difficult to get the request to have this taken down submitted in the proper format. And they want a different takedown request for each and every instance, which means that it can be taken down and immediately reposted and that requires another – in other words these profiteers make life fairly difficult for authors. Their web site makes money largely because it gets a lot of traffic. How much of that traffic is due to their ha having a lot of copyrighted content up that should not be there I don’t know. I refer you to http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Is_scribd_legal