Re: SPACE: Beyond Apollo

Date: Sat Apr 08 2000 - 09:31:22 MDT

In a message dated 4/3/00 3:09:21 PM Central Daylight Time, writes:

> Greg Burch wrote:
> > The truth is that space didn't pay and with 20th century
> > technology it never could. [...]
> Greg, I disagree, the problem wasn't that space didn't pay,
> the problem was that we *gave space away*.

Yes. And no. See below.

> Still, I bet we *really* showed those socialists with our
> government funded space missions, huh?

Yep - what a colossal irony that was; and just to put the last (?) ironic
punctuation on the story, Mir is rescued by private interests, while ISS
lumbers along in its statist, inefficient way. (And to add a minor insult, I
read last week that NASA has NOT yet committed to the X-38 as the ISS life
boat. I thought they'd finally done something right by letting Rutan develop
the X-38 mainly with inexpensive off-the-shelf components . . . Now they'll
probably fiddle-fart around and let some huge GovCorp contract to study and
spend for a decade before they build something ten times more expensive and
half as capable. Hopefully, some bright entrepreneur will pick up the X-38,
bolt it on top of a rocket and get the hell up there on her own.)

In a message dated 4/3/00 9:02:43 PM Central Daylight Time, writes:

> Not completely true. Space access would have been cheaper under a free
> market regime from the start. Recall where Goddard got his funding from.
> But be that as it may, the problem is not that space access is expensive,
> but that the governments subsidize space programs to begin with. This made
> private launches untenable. Surely, government programs cost more, BUT the
> whole cost is not passed on to Hughes or other users of government launch
> vehicles. Instead, the taxpayer funds that.

OK, I'll certainly agree that as a rule and on the whole government projects
cost more and are less efficient than an equivalent program carried out by
private interests. But consider the possibility that the Apollo effort was
DISECONOMIC to begin with, given the then-state-of-the-art, i.e. given the
available incentives, sufficient private investment simply wouldn't have been
forthcoming in the 1960s. You must at least concede the possibility that
this was true. The original quote I offered from David Harland's book really
suggested this interpretation of history - i.e. that the Kennedy/NASA effort
was simply "ahead of its time".
> > I'm no rocket scientist (but I play one when I take people down to MSC
> a
> > tour), but I think simply reproducing the Saturn V would get you nowhere
> > fast. It was designed on the premise of non-reusability and LOTS of
> public
> > money. I think you agree that that design philosophy is NOT the way to
> go.
> The main point is: it's a proven technology. Ergo, you don't have to spend
> lots on R&D to come up with your super special design. A secondary point
> is: reusability does NOT guarantee efficiency. The American Space Shuttle
> is proof that reusable vehicles can cost more to fly and maintain.
> also, if you're making a disposable launch vehicle, then you need not worry
> about a lot of maintenance problems.

All true, and this discussion's been done to death (and beyond) in space
policy and space business circles. Given that my thinking about REAL space
development is now ALMOST entirely focused on the era of semi-mature
Drexlerian nanotech, I might well agree that "reusability" as it's currently
conceived may not be as important as I once thought. Instead, "mutability"
may be the watchword for good design :-)
> > Daniel, if you're going to ask Earth to support an extraterrestrial
> economy,
> > I think you have to come up with an economic rationale. I'm waiting . .
> I don't mean that at all. What I mean is that the Biosphere concept has
> to be put into the context of merely one plan to colonize and exploit
> I would rather look for a way to get the resources that will be spent in
> other ways, such as, e.g. (and this is just an example; I'm trying to break
> people out of the Biosphere idea), oxygen from Moon rocks, than worry about
> a delicate ecosystem recycling my oxygen.

Agreed there, as well. With the kinds of technology that will ultimately
make REAL space development an economically and socially viable possibility,
truly "closed loop" biosystems may well not be necessary.
> As for economic rationales, there are plenty. Power from orbiting
> satellites is an oldie. Manufactured goods from space is another. Moving
> pollution creating industries to space is another. Moving dangerous
> and nanotech research off the Earth. Tourism. Etc.

With respect, I agree: there are plenty of economic rationales, there just
aren't any good ones right now, outside of Earth observation and
communication. I can offer the opportunity to engage in Zero-G Ballet as an
economic rationale for space development. I can do it passionately. But it
shouldn't convince anyone, because the numbers just don't work. If you find
someone who has RIGOROUSLY worked out the economics for large-scale space
development with current technology, please let me know - I haven't seen it

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

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