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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Las Vegas Shooting

David Burkhead, the Writer in Black, on some sickening reactions to the Vegas shooting. The implications are perhaps as frightening as the event itself:

The Writer in Black

I’m a little too angry to write much here.  I’m not going to go into the shooting itself.  For one thing, for the first 2-3 days you usually have more speculation and made-up nonsense than actual facts.  Instead, I’m going to go into the responses of some people to this tragedy.  So, let’s see that folk had to say:

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Isn’t that just charming?

Let’s see what else is out there.  Oh, there’s this gem:

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Leaving aside the factual errors (giving her the benefit of the doubt) in the statements look at the line “I don’t feel sorry or feel bad about what happened in Las Vegas”.

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Only counting those who voted not those supporters who, for whatever reason, didn’t make it to the polls, that’s just under 63 million people “i am cassie” wants dead–over political differences.  Five times the total killed in the Holocaust, she wants dead because she…

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To Stupidity…and Beyond!

I long ago came to accept the fact that any news from the aerospace world that makes it into the popular media is going to be laughably misunderstood and misrepresented. The meatgrinder of 24/7 “news” amplifies the problem as reporters rush to be first while receiving less and less editorial oversight.

One site where I didn’t expect to see this kind of nonsense was The Verge, where this epically dumb opinion piece on Elon Musk’s Mars 2.0 plans appeared. I’d say it smacks of the misleading tripe normally foisted on the Wall Street Journal or USA Today by LockMartBoeing corporate shills, but that would be unfair to misleading tripe. Nope, it’s just pig-ignorant right out of the gate:

Elon Musk is obsessed with traveling between any two points on Earth in less than 30 minutes.

No, he’s obsessed with driving down launch costs so humans can go to Mars. As anyone who actually pays attention to this business already knows. But hey, at least he consulted some experts:

“You can’t fly humans on that same kind of orbit,” Brian Weeden, director of program planning for Secure World Foundation, told The Verge. “For one, the acceleration and the G-forces for both the launch and the reentry would kill people. I don’t have it right in front of me, but it’s a lot more than the G-forces on an astronaut we see today going up into space and coming back down, and that’s not inconsiderable.”

First of all, it’s not really an orbit. It’s suborbital, which is the whole point. More accurately, it’s an antipodal trajectory. And why would the g-forces (apparently distinct from “acceleration,” but we’ll let that one slide for now) necessarily be more than what astronauts experience? It’s not like they’re being strapped to the nose of an ICBM. Sorry, but “I don’t have it right in front of me” doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in this guy’s expertise.

Mind you, I can’t see your typical airline passenger being willing or able to pull 3 or 4 g’s for extended periods of time but I do think there are enough people of means who’d be willing to spend serious money on a suborbital hop that actually took them somewhere. Unless the radiation environment fries them in their seats, that is:

Another problem with ballistic trajectory is radiation exposure in the vacuum of space, Weeden added. To be sure, astronauts on the International Space Station are largely shielded from this radiation, thanks to Earth’s magnetic field, which deflects most of the deep-space particles. But his indifference toward the impact that these interstellar concepts would have on human bodies is classic Musk.

Ignoring the “interstellar concepts” bit, we’re expected to believe there’s no way to keep a suborbital P2P trajectory below the Van Allen belts? Or shield the cabin? Planning for radiation exposure is already a major factor in long-haul polar routes. If only someone had studied these problems before! Oh, wait…someone did:

One of the most striking conclusions to come out of the DOT paper is the effects this type of futuristic travel could have on pilots. “The pilot will have to deal with activities ranging from direct control of the vehicle to oversight and situational awareness to planning,” the paper’s author, Ruth A. MacFarlane Hunter, a national expert on logistics and emergency management and a registered professional aeronautical engineer, wrote. “The much larger array of instruments and situations may require the pilot to quickly shift to a different activity using different instruments.”

Sigh. There’s a lot of good info in that paper, which happened to be one of my sources while doing research for Perigee. There’s also some ill-informed crap, notably this: “The pilot will have to deal with activities ranging from direct control of the vehicle to oversight and situational awareness to planning.

How does any of that differ from the current environment, other than altitude and Mach number? There’s no doubt it’ll require a level of piloting skill not currently demanded of your average graybeard plying the airways in a 787, but I think they’ll be able to find a few who can handle it. There’s a lot of ex-military and even Shuttle pilots out there flying the friendly skies. And those guys aren’t exactly working alone, either. Oversight, situational awareness, and planning…sounds a lot like mission control to me. That’s why airlines have operations centers that rival what you might see at NASA: it’s a complicated business where things happen fast, and nobody expects the pilots to do all the work themselves. Hell, we don’t want them to. That’s also why we have dispatchers and load planners and ATC specialists and performance engineers: so all the pilots need to do is check our work and fly the airplane.

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United’s operations center in Chicago, IL

What scares me is this came from a Department of Transportation aeronautical engineer – in other words, someone who ought to know better. No wonder we have to put up with so much nonsense from the regulators…

This type of display, and the responsibilities of taking off and landing an interplanetary rocket full of men, women, and children, might be too much for normal pilots to handle. In fact, it could cause the pilot to have a total nervous breakdown.

So are we “interplanetary” or “interstellar?” I’m confused. This reminds me of the kinds of knee-jerk scaremongering from the early days of spaceflight (not that I was there, but I do read a lot).

There’s plenty enough to pick at without adding ill-informed assertions to the mix. For instance, I don’t see how this is going to be affordable for a very long time – certainly not in time for it to help bankroll Musk’s Martian dreams. Passenger safety is a huge concern – it’s also going to be a long time before this system is reliable enough to start selling tickets.

The riskiest phases of flight are takeoff and landing. When you’re talking about a spacecraft the size of an A380 doing that on its tail…well, that’s a whole new level of pucker factor. Everything we do when building an airliner’s flight plan considers the loss of an engine at the worst possible times: takeoff roll, over water, over mountains, on final. And if a big jet happens to lose everything (exceedingly rare, but it has happened), it can still glide. A BFR falling to its landing pad won’t have that option. If it loses power, it’s toast. Even a helicopter can autorotate and not fall out of the sky.

But if everything works – and I think it will, eventually – it’ll be awesome. Sign me up.

 

 

Just a Thought

Cribbed from Ace of Spades (and no doubt cribbed from somewhere else):

An easily understood view of the Four Turnings hypothesis. A lot of historians turn up their noses at it but American history has, at least, clearly fit the pattern well. A useful perspective, if nothing else.

The Wait Is Over (Again)

Overnight, Elon Musk finally presented the long-awaited update to his Mars plans from the IAC annual conference in Australia (thus the overnight thing).

Last year’s big reveal was grandiose but left a lot of questions as to how they planned to pay for it. This year’s version looks more realistic considering the work they’ve already done, but it still seems like they’d need to pursue an intermediate step. Something like Dragon V.3, maybe replacing the trunk with a beefed-up extended duration module – or a landing stage. I keep thinking of the old Estes Mars Lander:

Dragon V.3, as predicted by Estes in the late 1970s. Or not.

Speaking for moi, I was polishing my resume surprised to see him offer point-to-point suborbital passenger service on the BFR. I’ve read about that somewhere, no doubt from some hack writer…

Nothing else really original from me so maybe the rest is just clickbait, but it’s good clickbait:

SpaceX finally gets real, according to Ars Technica. Meanwhile, The Verge notes that Musk is throwing everything at Mars. Let’s hope he chooses wisely.

Imagine an A380 landing on its tail. Yeah.

 

Just Some Good Ol’ Boys

Every nerd’s favorite company, SpaceX, has been on a roll lately. They’re on track for a record year, including the debut of the eagerly anticipated Falcon Heavy. 

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan, and it’s likewise no secret that I’m not a big fan of unaccountable bureaucracies that treat our hard-earned taxes like Monopoly money. Unfortunately this category often features the *other* perennial nerd favorite, NASA. Equally unfortunate is how conservative press outlets can almost always be counted on to utterly misunderstand and misreport the goings-on of both.

You will not go to space today.

That’s why I initially read this Lifezette piece with skepticism, but by the end I think they mostly get things right:

While Americans might love that NASA has a space-defender position opening, what they don’t love is how NASA is shielding companies from their mistakes.

SpaceX, a company that usually gets much love among conservative and libertarian circles, cost the taxpayers $110 million when one of its rockets blew up in June 2015. The company still received 80 percent of its expected payment, and we still don’t know why the rocket failed on its mission to resupply the International Space Station.

The funny thing about this is that NASA promised the public there would be a summary released of the investigation. Yet the agency announced just a few weeks ago that it doesn’t need to anymore because “NASA is not required to complete a formal final report or public summary since it was an FAA licensed Flight.”

…It’s also funny because NASA didn’t do that when it came to another company. In October 2014, Orbital’s rocket blew up, costing the taxpayers $51 million. It was an FAA-licensed flight. It was conducted under the same NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program of which SpaceX is a part. Both involved aging rockets. Yet NASA still put out an executive summary for the Orbital incident within a year.

Lots of self-serving doubletalk at the link, but I think it’s clear that something doesn’t pass the smell test.

Does SpaceX have quality-control problems? Beats me. I’m in no position to tell, but it feels like the root-cause investigations of last year’s events were wrapped up awfully fast.

This comes from someone who really wants them to succeed. For just one example of the ancillary benefits, here’s how they finally got Canaveral’s range control to modernize.

It often (okay, usually) takes private industry to drag government agencies into the future. That won’t happen if they’re whitewashing potential failure points.

Perlan II Sets World Record 

This project has been fascinating to watch. While the rest of us spent Labor Day weekend kicking back and grilling brats, these guys were riding the Andes’ mountain wave to 52,000 feet and a new world record.

In a glider. Worth noting that the previous record holder is Perlan I, which now resides in Seattle’s superlative Museum of Flight.

And they’re not done yet. 52K is only a little more than halfway to their real goal: 90,000′. They’re hoping to scrape 100,000′.

Again, in a glider.

Read all about it here.

Pilot Freakout

I’ll take “Days That End in Y” for 500, Alex…

This amusing little gem from the NY Post just popped up in my news feed:

Pilot freaks out passengers with ‘horrific’ tornado warning.

“He seemed angry,” said Pamela Kent, a Princeton resident who was traveling with her daughter Jessica. “He said, ‘We’re going to be flying through horrific storms, including tornadoes.’”

Another PR victory for United!

Any of my readers in the biz will recognize the rest of the story embedded here:

There were tornado warnings across Warren County in New Jersey and in parts of Pennsylvania late Tuesday as heavy rain pummeled the mid-Atlantic region. When the plane finally prepared to taxi, the pilot got back on the intercom to notify the passengers that the plane had to return to the gate because of a maintenance issue, Kent said.

Let me break this down, inside-baseball style (assuming the story isn’t #FakeNews):

The Captain is probably Chicago-based, running a couple of round trips a day to EWR. The crowded airspace and concentration of busy airports in the NY area makes it notoriously sensitive to weather delays. The slightest threat of thunderstorms in the morning will start ground delays to NY by lunchtime.

I’m sure the weather was dog crap. I’m equally sure his dispatcher planned his route, fuel, and alternate(s) accordingly. And I’m dead certain that if he had any disagreements with his release, he could either work out a better plan with his dispatcher or refuse to take the flight. Either one of them has the authority to do so.

In reality? Airlines can be stingy with contingency fuel, and nobody wants to be “that guy” who refuses a legal trip. So in classic passive-aggressive style, he decides to frighten the passengers so everyone can share in the misery.

Meanwhile, he’s looking at his watch and waiting for his duty clock to run out, thus forcing the company to take him off the schedule and send him home. So, push off blocks and boom (cue Chuck Yeager drawl): “Well folks, this here pesky indicator light that’s been a known nuisance for the past month just twinkled again. We’re gonna have to return to the gate for maintenance (and where I know scheduling can probably scare up a relief crew from the bullpen because – gee whiz – we just hit our 10-in-24 limit for today and the only thing I want to do less than spending a couple hours in the spin cycle over EWR is to actually spend the night in that hellhole). Sorry folks, and thanks for flying the friendly skies.”

Just my two cents. Could be wrong.

Better Late Than Never

SpaceX scores their <a href="http://spacenews.com/falcon-9-launches-taiwanese-remote-sensing-satellite/“>12th launch this year, putting them on track for 20 by January. If they can do that and finally get Falcon Heavy up this fall, that ought to (but probably won’t) settle any doubts about their business model, even if this one cost them.

Oh, and they introduced this spiffy little number too:

About time somebody acted like we’re living in the 21st century.

I’m anxious to see what changes are coming for their Mars architecture next month. Last year’s Big Reveal was, at least to my untrained eye, too big too soon. There’s got to be some intermediate step between Dragon and the massive Love Boat to Mars that is the ITV.

Dogs and Cats Living Together

Mass Hysteria!

Here’s a perfect (and perfectly awful) example of what I was talking about yesterday:

Antifa stabs man for his “Neo-Nazi” haircut.

Because his hipster ‘do looked Alt-Reich.

A handy rule of thumb: if you’re randomly assaulting people for suspected Fascism, surprise! You’re the Fascist!

I’m convinced that we’ve become so hopelessly polarized that the only thing to snap us out of it will be some kind of national cataclysm.

The problem with cataclysms is they’re, well, cataclysmic. You can’t know what form they might take and there’s no guarantee of a happy ending. And for certain groups, it’s exactly what they want.