Countdown to Launch

Three days to go!

Frozen Orbit is about NASA’s first expedition to the outer planets, prompted by the discovery of a top-secret Russian spacecraft, Arkangel, abandoned at Pluto around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. If you’re wondering how in the world they could have pulled that off given the state of technology, well…who else but the Soviets would’ve been ballsy enough to build an Orion-style nuclear pulse drive?

USAF Orion Spacecraft Concept (Credit: NASA)

If you haven’t heard of Orion (and it’s most definitely not the current NASA project–it’s actually a travesty that they’re using the name for what is a decidedly less ambitious program), the concept is simple:

  1. Build a spacecraft with a really big plate and shock absorbers.
  2. Detonate a nuclear bomb behind said plate.
  3. Keep detonating nuclear bombs until the spacecraft has reached a measurable fraction of light speed. And make sure you’re pointed in a safe direction.

The Air Force studied this back in the 1960’s, as did the British Interplanetary Society in the 70’s. Neither group was able to convince their governments to fund them, despite its potential to open up the solar system to us (and possibly even interstellar travel within a human lifetime). Frozen Orbit postulates that the Russians were enamored enough with the concept (and didn’t care about the cost in either rubles or environmental damage) to actually go through with it. Why no one ever heard of it, and more importantly why they never came back, is the crux of the story.

Pre-order at Amazon!

Days of Glory

A resourceful filmmaker named Christian Stangl has animated thousands of NASA photos into a gorgeous video tribute to Apollo, well worth 7.3 minutes of your time:

UPDATE! Almost forgot this compelling short by Andrew Finch. It’s amazing when you see what his team accomplished on what must have been a shoestring budget – even using actual SFX models with the CGI:

h/t: Sploid

The Measure of a Man

Sarah Hoyt describes her struggle to reconcile competing views on one of the 20th century’s visionaries. Her perspective is unique: having experienced the Portugese Revolution as a young girl, she knows of what she speaks.

Von Braun exhibit at NASA Marshall’s Space and Rocket Center

Having also just recently toured Marshall Space Center, this has been on my mind as well. I’ve always wondered how normal people, just trying to live their lives, perceive a national descent into hell like Nazism or Communism as it’s happening. How many tiny compromises does one make each day just so it’s possible to see the next?

I suppose the only cut-and-dried solution would’ve been mass execution of all captured Germans: kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out. Good thing we didn’t, likewise a good thing that we picked him up before the Red Army got to him.

Welcome display at Huntsville International Airport. They know how their bread got buttered…

According To Hoyt

As you guys know I’ve been reading about von Braun.  Mostly I’ve been reading about Von Braun because I visited Huntsville for TVIW and got curious.  Before that all I’d heard bout him, as a person, was, dropped in a conversation “I figure he was a true psychopath who didn’t care, so long as he got to space.”

After reading four biographies (two for, two against) I regret to tell you that I’m not sure that was true.

I come neither to bury Von Braun not to praise him.  I doubt if he knew, in himself, if he was a villain or a hero.  And I doubt he was a psychopath.  The reason I doubt he was the later is that he didn’t take to a totalitarian regime like a duck to water.  Instead he tried to compromise his soul a little at a time, a vestige of humanity and…

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Decline and Fall: Threats Unmasked

So I take a few months off from the blog to finish Frozen Orbit, and you guys just up and trash the place. Seriously, is everybody a Nazi now?

Apparently so, if by “Nazi” you mean “anyone who disagrees with the received leftist wisdom.” This is something we’ve always suspected, of course, but now one of their former leading lights finally burps up the truth in The UK Guardian:

“The lesson from Charlottesville is not how dangerous the neo-Nazis are. It is the unmasking of the Republican party leadership. In the wake of last weekend’s horror and tragedy, let us finally, finally rip off the veneer that Trump’s affinity for white supremacy is distinct from the Republican agenda of voter suppression, renewed mass incarceration and the expulsion of immigrants.”

Continue reading “Decline and Fall: Threats Unmasked”


fb_img_1481301422079When it comes to aerospace, Ohio has enjoyed an embarrassment of riches. There is very little I can say that you don’t already know about the Wright Brothers, Neil Armstrong, and John Glenn; there’s even less I could say that would do justice to their exploits.

Since he lived here in Columbus, Mr. Glenn’s legacy is perhaps being celebrated more than anywhere else. While there was very little I agreed with in his political career (other than his epic takedown of the vile Howard Metzenbaum), his achievements as a Marine aviator and Astronaut were remarkable. It’s easy to forget exactly how dangerous the test pilot business was in those days. And to be the first American to fly a repurposed ballistic missile into orbit (which tended to be rather explodey back then)? Yeah, the man had sack. Or as the great Tom Wolfe puts it, the indefinable quality that top-of-the-pyramid aviators dare not invoke:

A Republic, If You Can Keep It


Of the many memorable quotes from old Ben Franklin, his observation on the type of government established by the Constitutional Convention may be the most prescient: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Keeping our Republic is entirely up to us, because if enough of us desire tyranny (or can be fooled into voting for it), then it’s over. No amount of resistance can stop the destruction of our system once there’s a critical mass of voters behind it. There will always be people who look to exploit the ignorant among us. And right now, far too many of us have no understanding of our constitutional system and the rule of law.

The Constitution is not some nebulous idea foisted on us by a bunch of privileged white men: it is the guard rail they established to protect future generations of Americans from a government that they expected to eventually try to exceed the boundaries set for it.

Because they knew. From history and personal experience, they knew the extent to which men were corruptible and power-hungry. Our Founders understood human nature better than most, and Franklin in particular had a way of distilling complex thoughts down to their memorable essence: “Make yourself sheep and the wolves will eat you.”

Think about that. There will always be grasping people with ill intentions who’d like to take advantage of the rest of us who only desire to be left the hell alone. So they pester, cajole, snipe, intimidate, and bully until we knuckle under because we’re otherwise too busy living our lives to care enough to push back.

So don’t be a pushover. Don’t be passive. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that if you compromise just a little bit more, maybe the other side will finally accept your good intentions and leave you alone.

How’s that worked out through history?

It’s cynical, but that’s where we are now. Our choices are reduced to a fully armed and operational, out-in-the-open Democrat Socialist party versus a neutered and flaccid Whig Republican “party.” One caters to the Politically-Connected Rich while claiming to be the party of the poor and downtrodden, while the other represents the Chamber-of-Commerce Rich as it pretends to represent us knuckle-draggin’, gun-totin’, Bible-thumpin’ Real Americans.

Bitch, please.

No wonder we’ve been left with such miserable nominees. The fix was always in for Hillary, and I’m not convinced Team Donkey didn’t tip the scales for Trump either. The Wikileaks dumps pretty much confirmed that he was her preferred opponent from early on.

Well, be careful what you wish for. No matter what else happens, Trump is a disruptive force in a system that is ripe for disruption. That doesn’t mean it’ll turn out well, just that it’s going to happen. If he loses, the disruption will be confined to the GOP (which richly deserves it and will hopefully emerge stronger – again, no guarantees).

But if he wins…

Look: much as I would’ve preferred someone else, Trump’s our guy. He’s a loudmouth, thin-skinned ignoramus who will probably do something stupid and/or impeachable within his first year in office.

But so will Hillary, if she hasn’t already (which she has). Assuming the GOP retains Congress, they’re far more likely to go after Trump than Clinton. It’s always easier to pick a fight with your own side when you know the other side would happily burn down Capitol Hill while their buddies in the press pin the blame on you. And once again, enough of the public will buy it to make a difference.

Maybe. It feels like something is changing, like enough of us are finally learning how thoroughly corrupt the system is.

For one, the press has moved from transparent bias to outright collusion. They feed debate questions ahead of time to their favored candidates, while soliciting hostile questions to use against the designated opponent.

Is there a qualitative difference between private and public corruption? I think so. Trump has no doubt cut many corners, screwed over many people, and cooked many books in his day (I’m frankly surprised that the Clinton Crime Family hasn’t dumped more than they have. Maybe he’s cleaner than any of us thought). Meanwhile, the FBI Director lays out a bulletproof case for multiple indictments of Queen Hillary but in the end pulls his punches because “she didn’t mean it” or some such twaddle. No matter that intent isn’t required when we’re talking about violating the Espionage Act. I’m no lawyer, but I can read.

Which all brings us to the Unforgivable Sin: the loss of our rule of law. Our society can withstand a lot, but when it becomes clear that the law only applies to certain people then things sour quickly. This why I went from Never to If I Must to Enthusiastically Trump: when one side gets a pass on the worst kinds of corruption and abuses of power while the other side is continually harassed by “neutral” government entities, what are we to think? What are we to do when the whole system feels like it’s hanging by a thread?

For starters, we vote against the corrupt. We’ll figure out the rest later.

In the meantime, don’t feed the wolves.

Happy Moon Day

Forty-seven years ago today, Americans landed on the moon. I was five years old and still remember every bit of it, including my parents letting me stay up way past my bedtime to watch an unassuming man from Wapokoneta, OH, step out and take a stroll.

For the closest thing you may ever have to a front-row seat, check out these painstakingly synchronized audio and video loops from both the spacecraft and mission control. And this video does an excellent job of explaining what was going on inside Eagle and the split-second judgments they had to make just to keep going:

Any one of those glitches could’ve ended in an abort if they weren’t resolved. Not to mention that the computer took them about three seconds long, which would’ve put them down into a boulder field. Being the steely-eyed missile man that he was, Armstrong recognized this with about 500 feet left to go and flew them forward to safer ground. When they finally landed, it was estimated that they had less than twenty seconds of fuel left.

Would that we might muster the will to do such things again.

There is no “I” in “Team”

But there’s a couple of ’em in IDIOT. Also ISIS. Barack E Neuman

Every time I think nothing more could possibly spew forth from our Narcissist-in-Chief that would shock me, he goes and proves me wrong:

“What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people and to protect the people in the region who are getting killed and to protect our allies and people like France,” Obama said. “I’m too busy for that.”

Emphasis mine. Lunacy his.

“I’m too busy for that.” Let that line sink in. The heat you’re probably feeling is your blood boiling.

It really is a shame that President Lightbringer can’t seem to avoid these pesky interruptions into whatever it is he thinks is his top priority. We all hate how this most recent assault on humanity and Western civilization has inconvenienced you.

Too damn bad. It’s time to nut up and do your job. You wanted to be the leader of the free world? This comes with the territory, cupcake.

Of course he doesn’t see it that way and his mind (such that it is) certainly won’t be changed by the invective of one part-time writer from Ohio. He’s made it clear that he can’t be bothered with any aspect of the Presidency which doesn’t comport with his “transformative” agenda.

What really gives me a case of the red-ass is his dismissive aloofness in the face of  serious threats that he enabled by creating a power vacuum in the Middle East. I have friends and classmates who never came home from that shithole. It would be nice to think they didn’t give their lives in vain, but his actions have ensured otherwise.

History will judge Obama to be the most destructive person to ever hold the Presidency, and the entire civilized world will pay a heavy price. His folly already eclipses Chamberlain’s, as old Neville at least didn’t run around actively working to kneecap his allies while sucking up to Hitler. It will take a couple of generations to repair the damage done, as our allies would be right to question our will.

If only he went after these animals with the same zeal he goes after Republicans. Those of us who watch current events with an eye towards history grow more anxious with each passing week: it feels like we are at the point of maximum danger and are in a race against time as his final term approaches its end.

It’s as if it were 1938 and instead of FDR, Joe Kennedy is in the White House.



Offensive Tactics

One of these things is not like the others. Question: does this image offend you?

How about this one?

Maybe this one?

The correct answers are:

a. Yes

b. Probably

c. Hell No and get a life.

So what’s different about them if our cultural elites have decided we’re all of a sudden enlightened and mature enough to take down rebel flags wherever they may be found?

Context, that’s what.

Flag (a) is the infamous banner above the South Carolina confederate memorial on Statehouse grounds in Columbia. Until a few years ago it actually flew atop the dome, after being placed there in the early 60’s by Gov. Fritz Hollings. Who, by the way, was a Democrat who did it to thumb his nose at the burgeoning civil rights movement. It’s been there ever since because Tradition and Heritage.


Flag (b) hangs in Charleston inside the cadet chapel at my alma mater, The Citadel. It was given to the school by some nice lady from a Connecticut yacht club in the mid-1930’s. It’s a replica of the Confederate naval ensign which was replaced (along with all the other flags in the chapel) in the early 80’s. So not even the original, which itself wasn’t even original. Again, still there because Tradition and Heritage. And again, I call B.S.

Flag (c) is from an image I culled at random from a Google search of Civil War reenactments, where one would expect to see lots of rebel colors. What are they gonna carry, rainbow pride flags? Then again, maybe that’s where we’re headed…

So back to my point on context. (A) has clearly outlived its usefulness and deserves to be removed, considering why it was raised in the first place. It took a hundred years to finally throw off the last remnants of state-sanctioned racism, and for my home state to keep flying a banner erected in defiance of what was clearly a just cause really pisses me off. Gov. Haley was right to demand its removal.

(B) was not hung in such a fashion, but considering all it has come to represent I think it’s best to remove it from such a prominent position at a place of worship. I wish things were different, but alas they are not.

If you have a problem with (C), then you need to have your head examined. The people I know who do these reenactments take their roles quite seriously – and I don’t mean the play-acting (though there is that) – I mean their drive to present history in a way that’s far more powerful than a classroom lecture or third-rate drama on the History Channel. To expect them to fly anything else is just absurd.

When I was a young man growing up in South Carolina, rebel flags were everywhere. We’d get the t-shirts at Myrtle Beach and put the plates on our front bumpers. And not a single damned one of us thought of it as a way to rub black folks’ noses in it.

Unfortunately, that’s precisely what we were doing. Doesn’t matter now that we didn’t intend it that way. To us it was a “southern and proud of it” symbol, back when thousands of Northern hordes were moving down our way, driving up property values and pointedly informing us of exactly how stupid and backwards we all were.

I am not kidding.

So, ya’ll don’t like Charlotte? Then move back to Newark or whatever other blue-state Yankee nightmare you came from.

Yeah, I didn’t think so. So why don’t you shut up about how much better hockey is than NASCAR or ACC basketball, and just have some more BBQ and sweet tea? Bless your heart.

Southern Pride is a funny thing: eccentric, like so much of the South can often be. Seriously, have you ever read any Pat Conroy? I used to wonder if the dude wasn’t hiding in our attic, taking notes.

But enough about my childhood dysfunction: back to our national dysfunction. The ugly truth is that the rebel flag has always made certain segments of our populace decidedly uncomfortable. I honestly think a lot of blacks tolerated it because they knew most of us didn’t intend it as a White Power Nazi Skinhead symbol. But the sad truth is that over the past few decades it has been fully co-opted by exactly those types of racist militant douchebags. And that sucks.

The Nazis didn’t invent the swastika, either. So think of it like this: if you saw one in a museum or at a WWII reenactment, would you be offended?

No? Then what about at a Neo-Nazi march?

Exactly my point. There is a difference between recognizing history and using a particular image to rally your troops, so to speak.

The Citadel endured a similar family spat several years ago. When I was a cadet in the mid-1980s, rebel flags were still prominent at home football games. And with good reason: Citadel cadets actually fired the first shots of the war (I dare any pantywaist civilian fratboys to match that prank). But over time, we couldn’t escape just how much that flag was becoming associated with some pretty unsavory groups. It was eventually replaced with this:

That’s “Big Red,” our battle colors during the war. Seems to me a quite appropriate and hopefully inoffensive replacement. But there’s just no satisfying some people. And if that offends you…too bad.

Here, have some BBQ. Bless your hearts.

11 plus 45



Forty-five years.

Neil Armstrong is dead now, as are many of the men who followed in his footsteps.

Those of us who, as children, experienced the grand spectacle of NASA’s greatest achievements grew up expecting even greater things. Those of us who continued to follow it closely into adulthood grew perplexed at the notable lack of achievement.

For a while, we believed the PR that projects like Skylab were the natural evolution of our expanse into the solar system. Everyone intuitively got that Mars was a very long way away, so if we were going to send people there it would be wise to get our arms around real long-duration spaceflight. There was even supposed to be a second Skylab, in orbit around the Moon, that would give us a strong foothold at the edge of deep space as we pushed on to Mars.

That was cancelled, of course. The massive Skylab II module now resides in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. You can even walk around inside of it and imagine what it would’ve been like to live in it while orbiting the Moon.

Everything at NASA became focused on the Space Shuttle, which we were promised would be the key to reliable space access and the first essential step to building the kinds of massive ships that would be needed to venture beyond the Moon. The idea made sense, but the execution never did. Shuttle became a victim of mission creep, needing to be all things for all users. In the process, it became so big and so over-complicated that economic access would be impossible.

The International Space Station was conceived as a necessary destination, and then it got turned into a make-work program for unemployed Soviet engineers in order to keep them from selling their skills to, say, Iran.

But think about that for a minute: the shuttles were built to service a station which ended up being there to give the shuttles something to service. And now we have no shuttles. Just as well, really, since they turned out to be inefficient death traps – because that’s what happens when you try to make an experimental vehicle your workhorse.

Through this time, the space agency we all grew up in awe of flailed around. We were told it was because they had no defined goal, no destination like Apollo. That made sense for a while, as we really had no other experience to judge it against. A few “voices in the wilderness” cried out that there were better ways to do it, but nobody really listened since everybody knew space was Dangerous and Mysterious and Expensive, therefore it could only be done by a big government program using big government rockets bankrolled by big government money.

Thankfully, this paradigm has begun shifting in the last few years.

But I didn’t sit down at the keyboard today to sing the praises of SpaceX and XCOR and Blue Origin and Orbital Sciences. I am here to lament what could be happening right now with NASA, but never will because of myopic bureaucrats and idiot congressmen who can never see past their own reelection.

Rand Simberg points to a series of Houston Chronicle essays about the state of our space program, the most recent installment of which is alternately depressing and infuriating. It describes a study commissioned by NASA which determined we could pretty readily be sending people back to the Moon to do useful work within the next few years. And we could do it with existing launchers (Delta IV-heavy, specifically).

It wouldn’t be possible to throw everything up in one launch, instead needing several. But the bulk purchases of launchers would start to drive the costs down, and we frankly have plenty enough on-orbit construction experience now that it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch. The real enabling technology to be developed would’ve been long-term propellant storage and on-orbit refueling, which is technology we desperately need anyway (and is a proper R&D role for a government agency).

But that common-sense, low-cost approach ran afoul of the hogs at their troughs in Alabama, Florida and Texas, all of whom prefer a great big government rocket program:

The plan used the commercially available Delta IV Heavy rocket to conduct a steady stream of missions to the lunar surface, allowing humans to begin tapping into the moon’s resources.

“We briefed it to all the key NASA human spaceflight centers, giving them a chance to challenge the conclusion,” Miller said. “I thought it was a tremendous result for human spaceflight. We could have a plan that flies early and flies often.”

NASA never published the study and Miller’s contract wasn’t renewed.

Congress didn’t want radical change and instructed NASA to build a big rocket, the Space Launch System or SLS.

Much as I’d love to see a Saturn V class launcher again, it would make a lot more sense to use the tools we already have. But we all know government doesn’t work that way.

The Moon is there for us to use. Water ice has been detected, which would be the single most precious resource for a spacefaring society. Besides its obvious life-giving properties, it can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen. That is, breathing air and rocket fuel.

NASA will not get us there. I wish they would, as it would make things much easier for the businesses who are ramping up to follow.