Space Policy and the National Space Council; X Projects; Chernobyl

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The map is not the territory.

Alfred Korzybski



Executive Order Creating National Space Council

I am pleased that President Trump has signed an executive order reestablishing the National Space Council. The council existed previously from 1989-1993, and a version of it also existed as the National Aeronautics and Space Council from 1958-1973. As such, the council has guided NASA from our earliest days and can help us achieve the many ambitious milestones we are striving for today.

This high-level group advises the President and comprises the leaders of government agencies with a stake in space, including the NASA Administrator, the Secretaries of State, Commerce, Defense, and others, and will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. It will help ensure that all aspects of the nation’s space power — national security, commerce, international relations, exploration, and science, are coordinated and aligned to best serve the American people.  A Users’ Advisory Group also will be convened so that the interests of industries and other non-federal entities are represented.

The establishment of the council is another demonstration of the Trump Administration’s deep interest in our work, and a testament to the importance of space exploration to our economy, our nation, and the planet as a whole.

We look forward to further developments with the National Space Council and will let you know as its plans become more firm. As always, thank you for all the work you do that makes NASA a source of innovation and pride for this country.


Citing America’s ‘destiny,’ Trump revives long-dormant space council by executive order

USA Today Published 8:22 p.m. ET June 30, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump signed an executive order revamping the National Space Council on Friday, hoping to send “a clear signal to the world that we are restoring America’s proud legacy of leadership in space.”

“With the actions we are launching today, America will think big once again. Important words: Think big,” Trump said. “It is America’s destiny to be at the forefront of humanity’s eternal quest for knowledge and to be the leader amongst nations on our adventure into the great unknown. And I could say the great and very beautiful unknown. Nothing more beautiful.”

The executive order creates a National Space Council — a body that President George H.W. Bush had already created in 1989. But the Space Council effectively concluded its work in 1993 and hasn’t met since.

Trump’s order tinkers with the makeup of the council, but leaves Bush’s structure mostly intact. The secretary of the Treasury and the White House chief of staff are off, replaced by the secretary of Homeland Security and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The director of national intelligence succeeds the CIA director, and the president’s homeland security adviser is added.

And in addition to Bush’s mandate to develop and coordinate long-term space strategy, Trump’s order specifically directs the council to “advise on participation in international space activities conducted by the United States government.”

The order also requires the council to meet at least once a year and to hire a staff.

In signing the order, Trump made many of the traditional arguments for investing in the space program: technological innovation, human exploration and a yearning for discovery.

But he also emphasized a national security role in space. “Security is going to be a very big factor with respect to space and space exploration,” he said. “At some point in the future, we’re going to look back and say how did we do it without space?”

Trump signed the order in a White House ceremony that included members of Congress and NASA astronauts like Buzz Aldrin, who provided levity by quoting his namesake Buzz Lightyear of the Toy Story movie franchise.

“To infinity and beyond,” Aldrin said.

“This is infinity here. It could be infinity. We don’t really don’t know. But it could be. It has to be something. But it could be infinity, right?” Trump said.



When the Bush I administration took office, most of the Reagan people were replaced by Bush supporters. As a Reagan man – I chaired the Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy that in 1980 wrote the Space and Space Defense policy papers for the incoming Reagan administration – my White House access and contacts effectively came to a halt. There were no more Reagan men in the White House.

However, there was the newly created National Space Council, headed by the Vice President, Dan Quayle. Mr. Quayle was not a space cadet, and hadn’t been well known in the pro-space community. Until the day he was asked to be then Vice President George H. W. Bush’s running mate, he was referred to as “the distinguished junior Senator from Indiana”, and generally well regarded; the day after he joined the ticket he became a buffoon not to be taken seriously by the very same news media. However, he took the post of Chairman of the National Space Council seriously, and when the Citizen’s Advisory Council proposed an X project, the SSX, he met with General Dan Graham, rocket genius Max Hunter, and council chairman Jerry Pournelle.

We presented our proposal for the SSX, a 600,000 gross liftoff weight (GLOW) single stage to orbit (SSTO) X Project; as Max Hunter said, we hoped it would make orbit; it would sure scare it to death. It would also be savable; and it could be flown sub-orbital. Of course it was fully recoverable. The preliminary design description was done mostly in my office, with visiting members of the Council working on it.






See also X Projects and a spacefaring nation




Mr. Quayle listened to us, and the asked advice from his technical people. He was told that recoverable single stage to orbit was impossible and had been proved to be so in a RAND study. Mr. Quayle then asked RAND to review that study, which they did, and Lo! It turned out not to be impossible after all. It was a possible X Project. Mr. Quayle tried to get it funded; apparently he took us quite seriously. He was unable to get full funding, but he did get Air Force funding for a scale model. Douglas won the competition for that X project, and it was built, on time and within budget, and delivered to White Sands test range for flight testing. It became known as the DC-X (Douglas Aircraft gave all their aircraft, such as the SC-3, that kind of designation).

One big controversy about vertical rocket landings was that it could not be controlled at low altitude and the speeds involved. Another was that it would re-enter nose down, and wouldn’t be able to turn tail down. DC-X flew 10 successful missions, landing and being refueled and flown again; there are plenty of reports on that. On one of those missions it went from nose up the nose down, then back to nose up in which orientation it made a perfect landing.

Alas after the 10th flight the Air Force turned the ship over to NASA. On the eleventh mission, it successfully landed, but a NASA technician had failed to connect the hydraulic line to one of the landing feet, and it fell over. It could have survived that, but due to over vigorous (and needless testing) the NASA test people cracked the hydrogen fuel tank, then welded it and sent it to fly. Falling over cracked that tank and DC-X literally burned on the ground a hydrogen leaked out.

Mr. Clinton won the 1992 election, and in 1993 abolished the National Space Council. President George W. Bush did not revive it, nor did President Obama.



I hope the new National Space Council will read the Chaos Manor Report, How to Get to Space, , which explains X projects and their role in implementing a national Strategy of Technology.


A lot of you saw this before I did. My thanks.

Trump Signs Executive Order Reviving National Space Council.



Roland Dobbins



Thought you should know:

“President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday to re-establish the National Space Council . . .”(



This is good news. Is there any chance the CACSP could be revived?

Richard White


The Council essentially ceased to exist after our meeting with Dan Quayle was instrumental in creating the DC-X. Several national commercial space acts have been passed by Congress, at least one of them based on the Council constructed paper “How to Save Civilization and Make a Little Money” (principal authors Art Dula and Larry Niven), and there were other accomplishments’ but the last Council Meeting was in the early 1990’s. Many of its members including of course General Dan Graham and Max Hunter have died; others including myself have aged in the more than 25 years since the last meeting. Larry Niven can no longer host weekend conferences of 50 or more people with Marilyn Niven (and a staff of friends) preparing gourmet meals for them. It’s someone else’s turn.




I really urge those not familiar with X Programs to read

How to Get to Space; it describes the role of government in advanced technology development.




The virus and Chernobyl

Dear Jerry –

I should begin by apologizing for being snippy in asking if you thought Chernobyl is still producing power.

However, since the last of the 3 surviving reactors was SCRAMed in 2000, and the complex is two years into decommissioning, I was a bit hasty.

I was also affected by your ignoring what should (in my opinion) have been a red flag – the reference to the “cancer-riddled operators”. That’s not a phrase likely to get much respect in respectable journalism.

Observing a subsequent post of an article by Alfred Nq, it seems clear that (assuming the claim is correct), the data logging of radiation levels at the complex was in fact affected by Petya, and manual recording begun. Someone, somewhere, in the worst traditions of the Web, used this to create a wild-eyed scare piece about the cancer-riddled operators operating the plant under manual control, and that sort of narrative will still be floating around the net long after you and I are dead.

With that said, your comment that, “The Chernobyl disaster was a result of operator error during nuclear weapons grade item manufacture, not of any power generation operations.” is only half-right. Operator error was largely to blame, but I remember 30 years ago when the “weapons-grade manufacture” bit started as a possible explanation. Apparently it stuck with you. Jerry, there aren’t any such operations at a nuclear plant such as Chernobyl. It’s true that operation will produce plutonium as a byproduct, but that occurs during all operations – it’s not a separate process. It’s been twenty-odd years since the Soviet Union collapsed and the old secrets started leaking out, so the initial secrecy measures have fallen by the wayside. The IAEA report on the incident makes it clear that the “operation” which caused the calamity was a test of the response to an emergency shut-off event. It was, in some respects, a black humor comedy of errors, featuring bad communications, a reactor which was unstable at low power, poor instrumentation, and control rods which, when inserted, temporarily caused a major increase in reactor level. Oh yes, and let’s not forget operator error. Arrogance and bull-headedness by the folk in charge helped a bunch, too. But it wasn’t weapons-grade manufacture operations.


Jim Martin


current Chernobyl operation

Dr. Pournelle,
Operations are indeed going on today at Chernobyl. See PBS NOVA episode 8 of season 44 (the current season of NOVA). I can’t give a reliable web link to the program through the PBS web site, but NOVA documented efforts to put a weather cover over the reactor so that containment efforts could continue. While the town is abandoned, and worker exposure severely limited, work does go on. I gather that other power facilities are also still in operation.


Chernobyl and the cyberattack

Dear Dr. Pournelle;
A brief fact check of Chernobyl and its status regarding the cyberattack has revealed that it is the radiation monitoring system that has gone down, not the reactor itself. The monitoring is being performed manually, on site, but not, apparently, by older, cancer-riddled workers.
The reactor itself, of course, has no functioning apparatus, computer or otherwise. It does, however, still have two hundred tons of uranium left within. So there it is: your information was canted to the dramatic, but held a germ of truth.


Chernobyl virus attack

Dear Doctor Pournelle,

Them what likes to play the venerable Old Fannish Game of“Got Ya!” with you would do well to remember you are alone out there, editor/publisher/commentator and fact checker, and that you are dancing as fast as you can. Doing a pretty fair job of cutting that rug, too, I’d say.

Jim Martin was correct, in that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant decommissioned the last of its’ four reactors in 2015. However, my first reaction to his scoffing at the idea of Chernobyl being currently in operation was “Yes, Chernobyl is still operating,”, as of the last I had checked.

The Ukrainians took close to thirty years to shut down the last reactor, of Chernobyl’s four, because they really needed the electricity, and could not afford to replace the plant with a new source of power.

The Wikipedia article for Chernobyl has the following information on the current ongoing cyberattack:

“On June 27, 2017, a cyberattack affected the radiation monitoring system and took down the power plant’s official website which hosts information about the incident and the area.[18]”

I don’t imagine it’s insignificant that the monitoring of the radiation levels at Chernobyl has been interfered with by a computer virus, so perhaps some concern on the matter is warranted, rather than dismissing it as ridiculous.

Just sayin’!



It was my understanding at the time that Chernobyl was in the process of weapons facilitation at the time of the accident; that came from official sources at the time, and I have not looked at it since. The important thing to remember was that Chernobyl was a positive void design, and such reactors have always been explicitly forbidden by law from construction in the United States. Ed Teller saw to that. It was not like Three Mile Island, where everything went wrong but no one outside the plant perimeter was injured in any way. It was the most expensive test to destruction in history, intended or unintended.



Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.


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