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Mail 317 July 5 - 11, 2004






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Monday  July 5, 2004

Subject: DC-Y on a Stick - please get your head out of the oven! (See previous mail)

Dr. Pournelle,

A "DC-Y on a stick", aka a near-SSTO on a reusable booster, makes a lot of sense. It generates reusable SSTO and minimum cost design booster experience, while producing a useful vehicle with lower development cost and less technical risk than straight SSTO. It even seems possible that with some experience the second stage design could kaizened into a real SSTO. The design below would be somewhat less capable than Shuttle but lighter, cheaper, and safer. A more affordable and defendable 1/6 scale version is a reasonable (if less useful) alternative, not only for launch tech but in physically testing stuff like automatic docking. In fact, I always wondered why NASA, whose goal was 2STO today and SSTO tomorrow, didn't propose this approach.

"DC-Y on a stick" still probably wouldn't make a good business case today, what with the (relatively minor) engine development expected, the never-tried-before VTVL LEO operations, and the launch market that Jim described. However, there is a reasonable case for a government R&D program, because the US would be closer to it's first successful SSTO business case - not to mention the defense applications.

Also, NASA could expanded the LEO market by paying, say, $50,000 for every gallon of water or 8.33 pounds of supplies (more for people) delivered to the ISS hatch or CEV orbital assembly point. NASA would buy more space stuff with the savings, the LEO market would ship that and expand, and different designs including SSTOs would be able to support a business case. Competition would then drive costs and prices down further, and the LEO market would expand as tourism and various hair-brained and eventually profitable schemes came in. NASA would get more widespread Congressional support as the space sector widens and more kids get interested - particularly if they keep feeding the competitive market. At a management and personal level, they would have more control over their programs and more authority over their Contractors, with a wider variety of Contractors and Congressional delegations involved.

This process and NASA's opportunity to accelerate it is the main and best point of the Moon to Mars Commission, actually. Post-Apollo NASA has literally this one last chance to be an honest-to-god American hero in the history books and at the same time convince the next Commission not to dismantle them, and while I'm not betting on it I hope they take their chance.

Enough arm-waving. As an amateur armed with a spreadsheet and some rocket equations, I wrote up a paper vehicle to see if DC-Y on a Stick works. It does seem to:

Stage #1 / reusable booster #2 / reusable VTVL near-SSTO

Engines 6 x TR-106 6 x J2 (simplified for cost) or TR-106/200

Isp 360 sec (RS-68 is 365) 410 sec (original J2 was 425 to 435)

Thrust 3,900,000 lbs 1,200,000 lbs

Mass Fraction 17.5% 14% (stage only)

GLOW 1,650,000 lbs 790,000 lbs (stage only)

20,000 lbs (crew escape pod)

40,000 lbs (internal payload)

Total GLOW is 2500 K lbs (vs. 4464K lbs for Shuttle), all engines are LH2/LOX, delta V is 30,292 ft/sec, and the mass fractions are very conservative for reusability, development risk mitigation, and cost savings.

The NASA-funded TR-106 engine is new but simpler, throttleable, probably cheaper and more salt-water resistant (our primary selection criteria), pintle-based, and testing well so far (at 100% and 65% throttle). The J-2 is historically a reliable engine, but probably not throttleable; if not, a TR-106 scaled down from 650 K lbs thrust to 200 would do.

The vehicle has one or more engine out capability over the entire flight profile. The second stage and the crew escape system should be capable of separating and landing safely over the entire flight profile. The crew escape system could separate much faster than the second stage.

The 2 to 4 person 20,000 lb crew compartment / escape pod compares to the 6 person ~18,000 lb X-38, the 3 person ~16,000 lb Soyuz TMA, and the 3 person ~12,000 lb Apollo command module. Be careful or it will turn into a $10B Orbital Space Plane.

Both reusable stages could and would be tested repeatedly. The second stage is essentially a DC-Y with less stringent mass fraction requirements, and would be tested over its entire flight profile, including aborts (perhaps by chance, like DC-X). The near-SSTO could launch itself from the pad with ~15,000 to 22,000 ft / sec delta V (vs. SpaceShipOne's 5100 ft/s), so a thorough nose-first reentry test from a high suborbital trajectory followed by rotation and landing could be done.

Even if I messed the math up some, it's still a valid concept. I'd be interested to hear why NASA didn't go this way and propose to build something, even if they knew they wouldn't get the funding - they must have some guideline or assumption that held them back. I know NASA did a lot of launcher trades there for awhile, but as far as I can tell the studies have never been made public and they didn't lead to designs (none the CAIB could find, anyway) much less funding requests.


I haven't time to jump far into this. I will point out that (1) NACA wind tunnels and other such industry-wide aids were influential in taking the airplane business from barnstorming and prize competition to being a commercial success, (2) the government decided to send airmail on commercial flights, which helped provide an assured market, and (3) the military paid a substantial part of the R&D and first prototype costs. Boeing built the B-17 on private capital (betting the company on it), but they had assurances that the Army really and truly wanted a heavy bomber with that altitude and speed capability and if Boeing could build one they could get orders for many.

Douglas figured they needed something like 15 orders for the DC-3 to break even. They soon had 30 orders, and eventually thousands. No one had any notion of the potential market when the first DC-3 rolled out.

The problems with space are: initial costs for R&D are high, and proof of concept with a flying X-plane is often needed to allay fears of technical risks; markets are uncertain, and until there is an assurance of a market, taking both marketing and technical risks is imprudently risky for most investors (I have been fighting that one for 30 years, and it remains true today), and (3) the regulatory environment is ghastly. Aircraft don't have to send crews out to look for desert tortoises on the Mojave airfield; but to get a space launch license (even if it takes off like an airplane) you must do a search for the tortoise. Airplane flights don't have to do what amounts to an environmental impact statement for each flight. Space flight come close to having to do that. I could go on, but the point is that the regulatory environment in the United States is grim; it may be getting better but it has a long way to go.

I've said all this before: the proper role for government to encourage space development is: (1) prizes, substantial prizes for specific definable goals, no supervision, no dictation of the method; just define the goal and dangle the money. (2) Market guarantees. We tried to get this one through from 1980 on: NASA will pay a set amount for payload delivered to a certain orbit. You get it there, we pay for it.  (3) X-projects: again short term specific technology demonstrations. Proper X projects don't do anything radically new, they demonstrate the edge limits of what we know how to do NOW, and thus provide a test platform to determine what has to be done next. SSX was originally proposed as a 600,000 lb. GLOW multi-engine single stage VTOL rocket test platform. None of us expected it to make orbit, although Max said it wouldn't astonish him if we were able to nickel and dime one of them to make orbit with a small positive payload. It certainly wasn't intended to be a prototype of an operational vehicle.

I am still of the opinion that an X-project along the SSX lines would be extremely valuable, and it would cost a lot less than many of our national greatness adventures. With that feasibility demonstration I think the time to an actual commercial orbital ship, whether single stage or single stage with a zero-stage recoverable booster, would not be long.




This week:


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Tuesday, July 6, 2004

An inquiry regarding the sinus irrigation system:

Subject: Sinus Irrigator

Love your site Jerry, keep up the good fight. I was surprised to see mention of the Sinus Irrigator. Many Gulf War vets came home with terrible sinus and bronchial problems after the first gulf war and I can attest that the irrigator has been a big help for many suffering with frequent sinus infections and coughing. I continue to use it daily and recommend it to others.

I would like to see more feedback from any readers which may be in the military or former military with a ground level perspective to balance the media attack.

Mike McGee

We've talked about this device before: it's a pump like a Water-Pik that comes with some powders you mix and a special nozzle, and it's used to pump out your sinuses. It has reduced my sinus problems to manageable levels, and I use it religiously now.

If you get it through the following link you get a discount. Truth in advertising: I get a small commission also. This was arranged by the company without any request from me because they were getting a lot of orders through my web site anyway. I don't take advertisements, and I recommended this because I use it.

Feeling safer already...

Subject: TSA as a matter of fact, no, I'm not feeling safer

I am an employee of United Parcel Service who on occasion has driven trucks full of express packages to the Oakland, CA airport. Once there we are asked to show our employee ID. I didn't have one until just recently (UPS does not automatically issue you one) so I was using a xerox of a friends ID cut down to the right size and put in my wallet. The guards would see the big brown truck and the brown uniformed driver showing his ID from the cab and let me through. The real catch - my friend is black and I am white. Once through that gate I could go anywhere on the tarmac.

TSA intimidates passengers. Who really provides security against fraudulent airport personnel? The flight crews I have talked to are more afraid of this than of passengers.

Thank You,


I think you just admitted to a prosecutable act. Fortunately I have lost your last name and address. When I erases a file it stays erased...

Subject: In case you haven't seen this yet 

Kopel takes Moore apart

-- -- FREEHOLD by Michael Z. Williamson, January 2004 from Baen Books THE HERO with John Ringo, June 2004 from Baen Books THE SCOPE OF JUSTICE, July 2004 from Avon THE WEAPON, pending from Baen Books TARGETS OF OPPORTUNITY, March 2005 from Avon Custom knives and historical costumes -- Education has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading. --G.M. Trevelyan


Subject: 56 (or more) Deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11 

Don't go see the movie to deconstruct it without reading this website first.

-- John Bartley, K7AAY,



I have paid little attention to Moore, and I have managed that for a decade. I understand he is now claiming that his film is "not a documentary, but a satire" which is fair enough although I think he won an award for a documentary, didn't he?

And here's Good News

Subject: I don't know if you've read this or not, but...

Cheap solar cells seem to be just around the corner...

The Bierbaums

Well, I've anticipated this for a while; it's very good news. I put flexible high efficiency solar cells in the Avalon novels (Legacy of Heorot, Beowulf's Children, by Niven and Pournelle) and called it "Begley cloth" as a tribute to my neighbor Ed Begley Jr. who has his house covered with solar panels, and his garage full of batteries.

Earth based solar is useful. Space based is even better, and is a major driving factor to do low cost to orbit X-projects. Which leads us to:

On Global Warming:

Subject: BBC: Sunspots reaching 1,000-year high

Steven J. Dunn


Subject: Global warming and sunspots, buffy willow

Global warming and sunspots


Seems that the sun has the most spots since the last time it got warm--1,000 years ago:


Soo-oo--Prize! Now consider this:

Subject: fudging their data 

Wow! It looks like there has now been a major backdown by the authors of the original "Greenhouse" article. The crooked scientists behind the Greenhouse scare (Mann, Bradley and Hughes) have at last been forced to own up to fudging their data. The very foundation of the "greenhouse" scare has been kicked away. For those who can handle scientific text, here is the summary of what has just happened (MBH98 is the original "scientific" Greenhouse paper) by the scientists who forced the backdown:

 Craig M. Collins

So. We have a "Maunder Maximum" and the data books have been cooked, but we should spend a trillion bucks fixing things anyway. Isn't science grand?








This week:


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Wednesday, July 7, 2004

The column is done and sent in. Now I can get this place up to date.


I see you are a runner-up for the 2004 Wooden Rocket award. 

You must be thrilled. . .


First I have heard that I was even entered -- or for that matter, of the contest... Losing to Scott Card isn't all that bad. And of course I am not sure this IS an SF oriented site...

Subject: Spoils of empire.

----- Roland Dobbins


Evil empires still live among us. Here's a tip the CDC&P  thought worthy of reading:

Chinese pressure dissident doctor

/The Washington Post/ Tuesday, July 6, 2004

BEIJING -- Chinese military and security officials are forcing the elderly physician who exposed the government's coverup of the SARS epidemic to attend intense indoctrination classes and are interrogating him about a letter he wrote in February denouncing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The officials have detained Jiang Yanyong, 72, a semi-retired surgeon in the People's Liberation Army, in a room under 24-hour supervision, and they have threatened to keep him until he "changes his thinking" and "raises his level of understanding" about the Tiananmen crackdown, said one of the sources, who described the classes as "brainwashing sessions." <snip>

-- John E. Bartley, III K7AAY ..We're living in a collaborative Sci-Fi novel... and now, of course, it's Philip K. Dick's turn. In a back room somewhere, Vernor Vinge and George Orwell are currently arguing about who gets to take over in 2025. (Ross Smith)

Subject: Our friends, the Chinese.

---- Roland Dobbins


Well, that ought to teach him...

Dear Sir

I have very briefly looked at your website as i have been searching for a connection to Fabian and Rome and Horse. I have discovered through my little bit of research that Livy was not considered historical correct but I am finding it difficult to place all the information i discovered in order.

I am currently in a rush but so excited at what i have read on your page that i wished to email you, regarding Livy's account of troy and does he go on to report the history time line to Brutus, who was I seem to think connected to being the first king of England and linked to King Priam. Does Livy discuss this anywhere in his works and Fabian or a white horse which seem quiet lucid information.

Your knowledge of this history would be really useful to the research that i am conducting.

I hope this is not to much of an imposition but i will come back to your site later to read more, but so far i understand that Lay means how the historical stories are explained (am i right) and that you need to read them in the correct lay order.

Any help would be wonderful


Well, Livy is important because the Romans studied him and believed his histories to be fairly accurate. The Lays of Ancient Rome by Macauley can be found here on this site with a commentary; worth reading.

The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth ( is one of the first sites found by Google and is pretty good on the subject) introduced Brutus as a King of Britain and the origin of the name Britain. The Brutus in Livy is a different matter and to the best of my knowledge Livy never wrote about Britain, although he did speculate about the migrations of the Celtic peoples. There was a Greek named Pytheas who sailed to far northern places that included Britain and probably the Faroes and Iceland, but he doesn't appear in Livy so far as I know; he published in 320 BC.

Virgil of course has Aeneas the son of Priam of Troy as the founder of Rome itself, and the Romans more or less believed that legend was true. Interestingly, Troy comes from the area where the notion of an Empire rather than a nation, of peoples connected by political union and loyalty to a common ruler rather than loyalty through clan structure and common religion and ancestry, thrived and may have originated; and of course that was the mark of Rome, a city founded by, in its own legends, the union of Romans and Sabines and others, loyal to the Senate and People of Rome...

Macauley's Lays are an attempt to construct for modern times the experience a young Roman might have in education; the best known of those is Horatius At the Bridge, but they are all worth the investment of time to read them. And that's quite enough of my speculations; I do have a lot of work to catch up on.

Good luck...

Hi Jerry,

Thought you might enjoy reading the lattest TSA baggage theft.

-Dan Brodsky

Holy Catfish!

Subject: Concert Companion

Discussion of using wireless connected PDAs to enhance musical performances, plus other miscellany.

-- John Bartley, K7AAY, tel. admin, USBC/DO, PDX, views mine. 503.326.2231...147 Handheld Cellular Data FAQ rm -rf /bin/laden && newfs -m 99 /dev/iraq


Dear Jerry:

One solution to commercializing space is to admit the obvious. There is a National Security interest. NASA has been playing candy store to the DOD's bookie joint for years and most satellites are spy craft or communications or GPS. Research is way down the list.

The problem is that now the Chinese are getting into the game; the Russians are already in it. Brazil has a program about where ours was fifty years ago. The situation is not static and you can't stop these guys from trying...and succeeding. So, since there is not much government money, private capital needs to come in. Paul Allen may be the Jay Gould of our generation. (Mr. Gould was in the railway business).

Anyone who doesn't agree that there is a National Security interest in outer space needs to read or re-read Heinlein's "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress". Add a rock and a modern guidance system to the gravity well and you have a nuclear missile without all that nasty radiation.

Sincerely, Francis Hamit

Or go read The Strategy of Technology for that matter....

I would not care to have someone else deploy Thor...

Subject: The "black-shoe Navy" reinvents itself using a "mini-Thor" system

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

Thought you'd find this interesting:

Money portion:

"The electromagnetic rail gun which is being developed for employment in the Navy's next class of destroyers, the DDX, allows the entire ship's power output to be directed into an acceleration device which will shoot a projectile at anywhere from Mach 7 to Mach 16 clear out of the earth's atmosphere onto targets hundreds of miles away. They will be devastating. "To put things in perspective, our current 5-inch gun has a muzzle energy of 10 megajoules. ... In contrast, naval rail guns will achieve muzzle energies from 60 to 300 megajoules. ... Research indicates that a notional first-generation naval rail gun could deliver a guided projectile with an impact velocity of Mach 5 to targets at ranges of 250 miles at a rate of greater than six rounds per minute.

"... An important advantage of rail guns is the ability to exploit the high kinetic energy stored in the projectile ... One test demonstrated that the release of the rail gun projectile's kinetic energy alone would create a 10-foot crater, 10 feet deep in solid ground, and achieve projectile penetration to 40 feet.

"Since the shells will be solid darts, a destroyer will carry 10,000 rounds in its current magazine space, without ever again facing the danger of a powder explosion. The DDX, in common with the other new generation USN vessels, will be all-electric warships running an Integrated Power System (IPS) that will enable the ships captain to transfer the entire energy output of the vessel at need, to defensive lasers, propulsion or to offensive darts which will eventually range out to thousands of miles. If the new carriers (CVX) will provide the remote sensors, the manned and unmanned attack aircraft to range over the enemy, the new dreadnoughts can provide a rain of kinetic darts. Unlike aircraft which must be held ready on deck or prepared for flight, the rail guns can fire at very short notice.

"A first-order analysis comparing the 200-mile volume of fires capability of a single hypersonic naval rail gun to the ordnance delivery capacity of a carrier air wing of F/A-18s is instructive. In the first eight hours of conflict, a single naval rail gun could deliver twice the payload, three times the energy, to ten times as many fixed aim points as carrier aviation."

V/R, dh

Glad someone's paying attention. Of course I wrote up a lot of that in 1978 and Strategy of Technology was published in 1970...

Subject: American Disutopia


While you and I disagree on a lot of issues, your upcoming book on American Disutopia should be interesting. You might be interested in another novel with a similar theme that illustrates just how much our liberties have already been compromised. The title is "Unintended Consequences" by John Ross. Needless to say, the ATF and FBI hate this book and ATF agents have been known to harrass and threaten gun dealers who carry it. The cover that depicts a SWAT attired, machinegun toting ATF goon molesting a partially disrobed (and spectacularly endowed) Statue of Liberty accurately sums up the theme of the book. However, the depth of the historical background makes it a source of serious, imformation.

I suspect that your outrage about the demise of the Republic is do in part to the fact that you've had repeated encounters with the TSA's screeners. I knew this new agency was going to be a problem when the Bush admin picked John McGraw, former director of the ATF, to run it. WIth him running the show, the agency should have been called the Federal Air Traffic Administration Safety Service and all of the agents should have be required to wear clothing bearing the appropriate acryonymn FATASS. Hopefully, as the airlines finish reinforcing their cockpit doors and more pilots become armed, the cost burden imposed by the TSA will force the government to curb the agency. If it doesn't, I expect the traditional airlines to be eclipsed by increasingly cost competitive air taxi services.

One final note about your upcoming book. Have you considerred editing an anthology of short stories dealing with the theme of how the war on terrorism will affect American society. Your predictably nightmarish vision of American Empire is just one possible future. How about getting various authors to offer divergent views, both utopian and disutopian, of an America that follows the various paths. I am currently working on a short story that describes a seemingly Utopian view of an America that has retreated into isolationism and revived the truly Republican form of government on which we were founded. Unfortunately, the demise of America's Unintentional Empire enables the formation of a militant, Islamic Empire from which the Atlantic and Pacific oceans cannot protect us. This story would be a good vehicle to use my idea about how the concept of Phased Array Lasers could be used to transform seemingly innocuous Solar Power Satellytes into effective ABM platforms as well as precision, non WMD, surface strike platforms.

James Crawford

Anthologies don't sell any more, alas.

Subject: Marine-equipped alt TV in Iraq: status update

Subj: Marine-equipped alt TV in Iraq: status update 

=The equipment we donated to the Marines for Iraqi-owned and –operated television stations in Al Anbar Province is being installed and used.=

Posting includes copy of EMail describing use of gear to produce news spot on opening of new sewing center in Ramadi. Spirit of America donated 50 sewing machines to equip that center.

Station-by-station status report: 





CURRENT VIEW    Wednesday


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Thursday, July 8, 2004

I open with an item that leaves me in cold fury. This is America?

Subject: If this goes on...

 This is worth a read, the experience of a photography student being harassed by "homeland security agents" ("you see this badge...This is a federal badge. We re not with the rest of them. We re federal agents from Homeland Security ) for taking pictures in a public park.



Anarcho-Tyranny. Is there no real crime in Seattle? But it's hard arresting real criminals. Don't we all feel safer now? As observed, if the guy really wanted pictures for nefarious purposes they'd never know it. But these Gestapo types and Federal Special Agent McNamara can go home to their wives and families feeling good about protecting an America they just threw in the trash can.

God save us all from. For this the heroes bled? Is there nothing left?

And maybe a little good news:

Subject: The space elevator moves one step closer.

Dr Pournelle,

The space elevator moves one step closer. 

A joint team from MIT and Cambridge University have developed a way to directly spin carbon nanotubes into fibre.

I used to think a space elevator was something for the far distant future, but now I’m not so sure.

Jim Mangles

Maybe it really will happen. I am old enough to think it still sounds like science fiction, but then I have on my desk a better computer than the olf SF writers ever thought possible...



Subject: ZDNN article on botnets.

-- Roland Dobbins

What will they think of next?

I really get interesting mail

Subject: Supra New York (140,000' balloon stations)

In View, two weeks ago,  you said <snip> "I would like to put a spaceyard at 100,000 feet or so into my story." <snip>  shows a 'lightning-free zone' off Ecuador near the Galapagos. Lightning is mostly below 20,000', anyway, but I cannot predict what seemingly useless factoid will be grist for your mill.

Fortunately, Supra-Galapagos (or whatever you name it) would be immune to atomic oxygen etching 

Darn. Since the primary method to protect against atomic oxygen etching is coatings (i.e., paint), I had this vision of two wappies in Jobst-stocking P-suits kvetching about painting all day long, just like swabbies normally do.

John Bartley


On various matters including the surplus of men in China: 

Polygamy, Sex Ratios Prevent Democracy, Encourage Terrorism

And a couple of months ago when this book was first announced:

 Aging Or Sex Ratio Bigger Demographic Problem For China?

And even further back I argued that the female scarcity will of course select for higher intelligence and other qualities:  Human Natural Selection In Taiwan

About Cato. It was the immigration issue that convinced me that libertarianism is too flawed of an ideology and I stopped calling myself a libertarian as a result. A political philosophy should be based on human nature as it really is, not on how we would like it to be.



Feeling safer already:

Further reasons why my unease is not put to rest when people pooh-pooh the idea of us slip-sliding into a police state:

"I write badly, therefore I am a would-be terrorist" 

"Welcome to America",3605,1230539,00.html 

Regards, Leander

We've seen these before. One may excuse some of the early incidents as due to learning the game, early enthusiasm, better safe than sorry; but there has been enough time now.

In Southern California there were sweeps by the Border Patrol in Temecula and some inland areas, resulting in about 400 deportations. The outcry was horrible: the mexican consulate, La Raza, you name it; and it stopped. But we have anarcho tyranny: don't enforce the laws we have, simply play about with people who aren't going to object.

Subject: Heimatsicherheitshauptamt

>> I open with an item that leaves me in cold fury. This is America? <<

On your mail page for 16 November 2002, I wrote:

"How long can it be before the HSHA folks come up with a nice new uniform, say black with silver piping? I also wonder what kind of ID they'll use. Those laminated plastic cards are passé. They should consider stamped metal oval discs instead. I think I even have a sample around somewhere if they need one.

I also wonder if the guy they just hired will have the rank of admiral, or if they'll promote him to Oberstgruppenführer. That'd be appropriate for the head of the Heimatsicherheitshauptamt."

To which you responded:

"Well, I would not expect things to go that far, but nationalizing all problems, then having an imperial foreign policy, leads to a great deal of centralization. Indeed, you can't have national glory without a fair amount of centralization."

Do you still think I was over the top?

-- Robert Bruce Thompson

As I said. I don't really expect things to go that far. We don't have actual camps and few end up in durance vile for more than a few hours. Perhaps we have to get to worse horrors before the American people wake up to the facts, that they are not being made more secure, and we are losing a good deal of what the heroes bled for.

It only takes two elections to change things significantly. One has to scare the hell out of both parties.

I have told the Republican National Committee they get no more money from me until they begin to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed", to wit that the immigration laws be enforced. I don't expect to hear back from them. But if enough begin to take back their government it could yet be accomplished.

And see below


On SSTO and mass fractions etc:

To: DFG I have just read the depiction of your two-stage winged vehicle proposal.

(Available at: ) The quality and organization of the material and the web site are testimonials to traditional German excellence. I especially learned to respect that tradition while I was the subcontracts manager for Dornier System in Friedrichshafen back in the mid 70's.

We were engaged in designing and producing vital parts of the European Spacelab that flew successfully for years in the Space Shuttle Orbiter. It was replaced by the more economical Spacehab system and was honorably retired after making many contributions to space sciences and especially to human space flight. As an American with prior experience as the Crew Systems Manager for Martin Marrietta on the US pioneering space station, Skylab, I brought much useful knowledge to Dornier and thoroughly enjoyed my years in Germany.

With that to establish my bona fides, I wish to make some hopefully useful comments on the project you have so well described on your web site.

My overall perception is that the engineering thought that has produced this presentation is reasonable and possibly doable. I say "possibly" because you are embarking upon efforts that have been attempted several times before, with generally spectacular and universally extremely expensive failures being the only result.

The USA proposed a similar system under the administration of Pres. Ronald Reagan, dubbed the "Orient Express". Then it metamorphosed into the "Aerospace Plane". In fact the original Shuttle concept visualized a "fly-back" first stage that would launch a not-too-dissimilar winged upper stage into orbit. My goodness, we can even hark back to the "Antipodal Bomber" proposed by the Peenemuende engineers during WW II! And most recently, the X-33/Venture Star fiasco attempted by Lockheed Martin and NASA is a fresh example.

That was followed by NASA's "Aerospaceplane" project that was also quietly cancelled after the conceivers were educated about the impracticality of launching lifting bodies on the nose of a rocket. A current manifestation is the X-43 series of NASA vehicle experiments that recently proudly achieved Mach 5 winged flight at some 60,000 ft. Unfortunately, (or perhaps wisely?) the upcoming X-43C flight that will try for Mach 7 will mark the end of the series.

I once shared a presentation on this project by the program manager and some of his engineers. He asked whether it would not be wonderful to travel to anywhere on Earth in two hours or less?

I pointed out that hypersonic flight in the atmosphere can not go to anywhere on Earth. It will not, for example be able to fly from Chicago to Berlin. The sonic boom will greatly exceed that of the recently abandoned Concorde that was also barred from supersonic flight over populated territory. I also asked whether they had ever heard of anyone trying to design a supersonic submarine? They looked puzzled until I pointed out that it is so much easier to simply travel above the water and avoid the problem.

Why am I citing these examples of related failures in commenting on your project?

Because I am seeking to establish my own credibility, and in the process, to cause you to think about some solid engineering truths. Grover Loening, the pioneer airplane designer and builder, is famous for having answered a question about what constituted good aircraft design by replying: "Simplicate and add more lightness". That picturesque admonition is most certainly apropos for rocket design.

So my first assertion is that your concept clearly violates both of those precepts, but with emphasis on the first. If there is a more complex way to access low Earth orbit, it has not yet occurred to aerospace designers. May it never do so.

The US Aerospaceplane project spent unreported but vast amounts of money seeking to design a hybrid turbojet/ram jet engine.

That does not mean that it cannot be done. It does most assuredly mean that its development must be very clearly justified before embarking upon its development. In short the burden of proof is upon those who would try this that there is no simpler and thereby cheaper and more commercially viable alternative.

Anything else is miss use of the contributors' funds and time. This sums up my primary objections to your entire project. The question is not "can it be done"? The question is, considering all feasible alternatives, Should It Be Done?

Just as the European Spacelab was replaced by the private enterprise developed and much more economical Spacehab, even a successful European Aerospace Plane would not be able to compete against a far less glamorous but much more economical alternative way to low Earth orbit. My nomination for such a far simpler and cheaper alternative was also initially born in the mind of a German engineer; I refer to the fully re-useable VTOL/SSTO.

The feasibility of re-useable, vertical landing rockets was thoroughly proven by the American DC-X. Unfortunately, it was eventually turned over to NASA, who promptly used a mechanical maintenance failure as an excuse to kill it.

The real reason? It competed with the Space Shuttle.

There are indeed technical challenges remaining to produce a single stage to orbit, fully re-useable LEO delivery system. I submit that they pale in comparison to those faced by advocates of systems such as you have so well described on your web site. The primary figure of merit of an SSTO vehicle is mass fraction, as your people are surely well aware.

That number, at least .92 of GLOW must be useable propellant, constitutes the only real barrier to realization of what, once perfected, will truly offer the chance of reducing cost per lb. to LEO to not $1,000, but to at least approach $100.

And that will finally open not just LEO but the cosmos to human development in a commercially viable manner. Two recent developments have simplified the task.

NASA recently announced that they have tested aerospike engines on small solid rockets and found that the feared loss of flow stability with consequent difficulty in penetrating Mach 1 did not occur. That has not been to my knowledge, widely recognized for its significance, but it means the improved average Isp of the aerospike engine can now be used in SSTO rockets.

Developments in greater strength to weight ratio materials such a Buckeyballs and their cylindrical versions promise to very significantly reduce the difficulty of achieving the magic .92 mass fraction.

It may be of some interest to cite the respected International Reference Guide to Space Launch Systems, Isakowitz et al, that reports that the original Atlas missile achieved a mass fraction of .93 lo these many years ago.

The Atlas also managed to put a payload and all of itself except but its booster engines into LEO back in the early '60's carrying Pres. Eisenhower's Christmas message via an onboard radio.

So allow me to bring this un-requested but sincere commentary to a close by saying: It is not what you CAN do that should dictate embarking upon major projects, but what you SHOULD do.

Unfortunately, I am convinced that the rapidly advancing commercial sector of space launch will obsolete your project long before there will be any possibility of a demonstration launch. At least I sincerely (and regretfully) hope that will be so, to avoid yet another futile effort to build what is a very enticing engineering challenge, but ultimately will prove to be yet another black hole for limited resources and a professional disappointment for German space science.

Bill Haynes

Wm E Haynes Aerospace Systems Analyst


And, sigh:

Subject: IMPORTANT - Mozilla/Firefox problems

Dr. Pournelle:

Moving away from Internet Explorer will not cure all problems. There are vulnerabilities that can be found in any program. For instance, this quote from the Internet Storm Center "Handler's Diary" of today concerning problems with Mozilla/Firefox browsers. The exploit's techniques seem similar to the 'download.ject' problem with IE that allowed a visit to a web site to infect your computer. This one could allow an attacker to run a program (worm, keystroke logger, whatever) on your computer. Of course, you have to visit a 'bad site', which might reduce the impact.

"It's time to update your browser, though this time the problem is not with Internet Explorer, but with Mozilla and Firefox running on Windows. As described in the eWeek article at,1759,1621463,00.asp  , a flaw in the way Mozilla and Firefox handled links containing the shell: suffix could allow a malicious web site to run arbitrary code on the visitor's system. We advise you to upgrade to Mozilla 1.7.1 or Firefox 0.9.2 to patch this vulnerability. Alternatively, you may install the patch from
mozilla/releases/mozilla1.7.1/shellblock.xpi   .

"For more information about this vulnerability and ways of addressing it, please see  . This URL also points out that Thunderbird, an email client that's part of the Mozilla suite, is vulnerable, and explains how you can address the Thunderbird vulnerability as well. "

The point is that one must be careful with *any* program. Just because a program is "open-source" doesn't mean that there won't be exploits in the future. Sure, open-source might fix problems faster by the 'good guys'. But open source means the source code is available to the 'bad guys', which might make it easier to figure out malicious code.

So, the 'mantra' still applies, no matter what browser program you are using.

Regards, Rick Hellewell, Information Security at

The first half of the column I just finished and sent in is all about Internet Explorer and whether you ought to change from that browser to another...

But see below









CURRENT VIEW    Thursday


This week:


read book now


Friday,  July 9, 2004

Subject: "Shame, shame, shame."

- Roland Dobbins

Politics gets nasty. The Democrats now campaign with Al Sharpton who presided at riots -- Clodius and the boys? (Although Ted Kennedy comes closest to filling the role of Clodius had he lived.)

The Republicans flout the rules. And the stakes get higher and higher, precisely as they did during the Roman republic. At one time one could be President of the US and go back to private life, or like J. Q. Adams sit in the House again. At one time one could be Consul of Rome, and go back to being a country squire attending Senate only part time. But being in politics became important, necessary for survival: the political game was the only one that mattered. All others could be called off by political action.

Of course that can't happen here.

Just why is this provision of The Patriot Act so important? I heard no explanation of that. It seems that power exists to be powerful. As it was in old Rome.

And a caution

Mr Pournelle you are a personal hero of mine and I have the utmost respect for you but if there is one thing I learned form you growing up is that one has to use his mind and think! not emote, and not wish, to find solutions and solve problems.

Please Allow me to establish a caveat or two prior to stating my point.

I am so steadfastly against, and so bothered by. the fact that we have what I like to call the "Department of Homeland Gestapo" that it escapes words. You yourself have enjoyed the pleasures of their "protecting" you, evidently from yourself. In fact I regular engage in arguments on a few select websites and my "sigs" line at the end of my posts is set with the following quote

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin

I am sure you are familiar with it.

But you more so than most should know how powerful the written word is. That's several nice pages of emotional script there but is it true? The writer does a great job of portraying their own innocence as well as conveying the wrongness and base meanness of the Ubiquitious Government Agents. Its always amazing how the writer of a particular piece (much like a "documentary" movie maker) can make you see the story they want you to see.

I have plenty of issues with the things the government is doing to protect myself from myself since 9/11 but I constantly get in arguments with people who have an axe to grind. Especially people who like to toss out political nonsense and state that it is fact. There is enough things going wrong out there that we don't need to make things up to show how bad it is.

And mind you I am not saying the writer is lying, or even intentionally being deceptive, but I know from a long lifetime of admitting my mistakes proudly and taking blame when it is due that mine is a very rare attitude.

Thanks for your time, Dr. Pournelle


Your point is well made. The page is eloquent, I know the scene having been in Seattle long enough to have been married there and also to have got three of my degrees at the University of Washington; but in fact I have nothing but the internal evidence of the page.

And I should have more.

And yet: the horrible part is that I have enough experience now that I immediately believed the story: It could be true. And not all that long ago, certainly as recently as when I lived in Seattle, it could be dismissed as a flight of fancy based on some small incident, or at worst a hideous anomaly, something that would horrify the City Fathers as well as the local office of whatever branch of the Feds might be involved. No longer: now it is not unlikely to be true.

But as you say, and I must admit: the facts still need checking. Even the government needs, sometimes, at least some of the benefit of the doubt although it increasingly doesn't grant that to those of us who are in the transition from citizen to subject.


I went to cite the Ian Spiers story on another forum, and what to my wondering (well, not any more, really) eyes should appear but a link to this lovely account: I write badly, therefore I am a would-be terrorist By CHARLES C. GREEN  Were we really born free, or was that just a line we were fed by the authorities when we were young and naive?

-Scott Miller

It's not too late. Two elections does it. Of course that won't happen.


On Mozilla and security:

Of course it is arguable whether the fix is a correction to a problem in Mozilla/Firefox or a workaround to a deficiency in Windows. Note that the Mac and Linux versions of both products were not affected.

Although I'm still running Windows, I am looking over Bob Thompson's shoulders as he experiments with becoming a Linux shop. No doubt eveything has security problems, but your odds are better with some things than others. I expect that by the end of 2005 I won't do Windows either.

I know you had a bad experience with Mozilla before, but I would encourage you to try it again (if you haven't already, I look forward to the column you just finished). I found after a few weeks of getting used to it, I genuinely preferred it to IE.

Scott Kitterman


Dear Dr Pournelle,

 There is less to that Mozilla security hole than meets the eye. Mozilla is my indispensible browser and I'm pained that such a problem exists (getting Mozilla to execute some other binary with a crafty shell: delegation to some Windows executable with a known security exploit).

So Rick Hellewell was entirely justified in observing that "Moving away from Internet Explorer will not cure all problems". Whether having the source code itself makes it easier for crooks to exploit software is a bit problematic, since by the same token there are more white hats trying to secure it. It's true that the most successful browser will be the most exploited. But I have concerns. First, the timing is suspicious. This mozilla 'feature' has been known about for a while. Second, No instance of an exploit has been found in the wild. In particular, no fraud has been committed due to keyloggers grabbing bank passwords. Third, a patch was released for the issue the same day Full Disclosure pointed the finger. Fourth, the nature of IE's linkage with the OS makes such problems both more serious and harder to fix. Fifth, XP SP2 RC2 is some 264MB (277,200,896 bytes), the Mozilla patch is 1 kilobyte and downloads in two seconds from: < > The 'patch' is a configuration change, just like Microsoft's ADODB.Stream disabling patch (870669)

The latest IE exploits are similar not just in operation but in that they both arise in part from design decisions - compounded for IE by the close integration of the browser with the Windows Data Access Component.

In general though, the temptation to equate the Mozilla issue with the IE hole should be resisted although Rick understandably remarks that "The exploit's techniques seem similar to the 'download.ject' problem with IE that allowed a visit to a web site to infect your computer". The IE exploit was a more serious flaw than the Mozilla one, not least because it is far harder to patch - as you point out, service pack 2 is the real fix there, and it's not out of beta yet.

I don't want to give the impression that the Mozilla flaw was anything short of an appalling error of judgement, nor that IE does not handle shell: exploits better. Like Internet Explorer's ADODB.Stream issue, this was as much a design flaw as a bug. The Mozilla developers enabled that shell extension by default, though not without some internal wrangling (bugzilla reports go back some time). In principle it could convert any local Windows exploit into a remote one. This was a risk which they decided to take. They should not have.

It is interesting to see how in some ways the two problems are mirror images of one another. When a non-IE browser visits a compromised site running IIS, the exploit dies silently. By contrast if IE visits a site with a malicious shell: directive, it behaves better than Mozilla, because it brings up a dialogue which advises the user of what is about to happen. Unpatched Mozilla does no such thing, it just waltzes off and runs the local binary.

Just for fun, Mozilla users might want to try out a useful little "preferences toolbar" which has a bunch of checkboxes for killing images, javascript, java, and flash. It helps with security in that Javascript can be switched on and off with minimal fuss. Get it from < >

Regards, TC

-- Terry Cole System Administrator Dept. of Maths and Stats, Otago University PO. Box 56, Dunedin tel:64-3-4797739 NEW ZEALAND fax:64-3-4798427




Subject: MS online chat about IE's problems... 

I'm not a MS fan (in fact quite the opposite) in spite of the fact that we built and sell a vertical built with their technology.

I do the attitude expressed by IE Product Unit Manager Dean Hachamovitch in this quote:

Hachamovitch said he hopes all of the IE developers have non-IE browsers installed. "I have a few others installed on my machines because I want to see what other people are using, what they like, and how it works," he explained.

This one however, cracks me up:

"I've worked at Microsoft for 14 years and I have always felt like the underdog," said Hachamovitch.

Regards, John

He wasn't being funny, he was revealing the secret of Microsoft's success. Gates has always believed in Moore's Law, and understands anyone can be out of business in a couple of cycles.




On space and spaceplanes:






Subject: Vikings made spaceships?

Dr. Pournelle,

You probably already got this, but just in case...

It seems like Scaled Composites might not be first after all. The things you can learn on the intardnet are amazing!

Sean Long

Darned clever, those ancestors of mine!







This week:


read book now


Saturday, July 10, 2004 

Busy day. And we have Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" at the opera house tonight, and a cast party afterwards so it is a busy weekend...





CURRENT VIEW     Saturday

This week:


read book now


Sunday, July 11 2004

Another busy day...





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