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>Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 19:15:01 EDT
>To: "The Consilience Report" <email@example.com>
>Subject: TCR5 -- Eys on the Prize (Part 1 of 2)
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>THE CONSILIENCE REPORT:
> A Bionomic Meditation
> Number Five
> EYES ON THE PRIZE (Part 1 of 2)
>Preface: Frontiers, Frontiersmen, and Hobbits
> ... that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism,
> working for good and evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance
> that comes from freedom - these are the traits of the frontier...
> -- Frederick Jackson Turner,
> Address to the American Historical Society, 1893
> The people are going to miss the frontier more than words
> can express. For four centuries they heard its call, listened to
> its promises, and bet their lives and fortunes on its outcome.
> It calls no more....
> -- Walter Prescott Webb, "The Great Frontier," 1952
>There are people who, like Tolkien's Hobbits, prefer to stay at
>home in their comfortable burrows; and then there are the other
>When asked why he climbed Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary said,
>gnomically, or perhaps just in frustration: because it's THERE!
>Which either makes no sense at all, or all the sense in the world,
>depending on which sort you are.
>NASA and the The $20,000 Commute
>Let's imagine that you had to commute to work using NASA
>technology: You would set out on your 20-minute trip with a
>briefcase, no-spill coffee cup, and a 3000-lb automobile.
>Your car comprises 2500 lbs of gasoline and 500 lbs of struc-
>ture, plus 180 lbs of payload (you). As you accelerate up the
>interstate you burn 200 lbs of fuel per minute. At the 5-minute
>and 10-minute marks you shed big chunks of automobile
>(empty fuel tanks and booster engines) which you can watch
>bouncing and clattering behind you in the rear-view mirror.
>When you reach your destination, there's nothing left but you,
>coffee-cup and briefcase chugging into your parking slot on a
>pair of motorized roller-skates.
>Another successful insertion into commuter-space.
>Tomorrow you pay for a new car, less a ten-cents-on the-
>dollar credit from the wrecker who salvaged the discarded
>bits of yesterday's vehicle.
>If we applied this technology to airline travel, a 737 would carry
>five passenges from New York to Chicago. After which the
>airplane would go back to the Boeing plant in Seattle to be
>torn down and re-built. If everything goes smoothly, the airline
>could expect to launch it twice per year.
>We don't use NASA technology to drive to work or fly to Chicago
>because no one could afford it. Our daily commute would run
>about $20,000, and your ticket to Chicago would be maybe only
>four or five million dollars, if you fly coach and bring your own lunch.
>Scientists vs Blacksmiths
>We aren't (trust us) rocket scientists, but we know that current
>methods make it horribly expensive to lift stuff out of the earth's
>gravity well. If we hope to go spacefaring before we're all too old
>to care, then someone is going to have to do some serious work
>on driving down costs.
>We can't do anthing about the laws of physics, and fundamental
>breakthroughs in technology can't be ordered up just because we
>want them. But that doesn't mean that nothing can be done.
>The simplest and most obvious thing is to get NASA out of the
>space transportation business. Private investors won't risk their
>money in a fledgling spaceflight market so long as NASA keeps
>a finger in everything, and is always prepared to plant a whole foot
>to protect its bureaucratic flank.
>At this late date in history, it shouldn't be necessary to point out
>that government operations never, ever, reduce the cost of doing
>anything. The price of first-class mail will continue to go up year
>after year and decade after decade, so long as the U.S .govern-
>ment has a monopoly on its carriage, even as the general cost
>of transportation and data processing falls. If anyone wants to
>make a wager to the contrary, we would be glad to hear from you.
>Economic reasoning and ordinary experience tell us that the only
>reliable way to build something cheaper is to let profit-seeking
>businesses compete in a free market.
>In _Bionomics_, Michael Rothschild explains how scientists like
>Papin and Savery demonstrated primitive steam engines to the
>Royal Society of Britain around 1700. But these learned men
>made nothing of it. The steam engine for them was a philosophical
>toy. The Alexandrian genius Hero built a little rotary steam-engine
>two thousand years ago, and it too came to nothing in the hands
>of gentleman-amateurs unconcerned with creating wealth.
>It was a small-town blacksmith named Newcomen, and the tinkerers
>and businessmen who succeeded him -- men who couldn't have
>gotten into the Royal Society's front door -- who built the first useful
>steam engines and began the industrial revolution in earnest.
>A Cold War Baby Faces Life
>In retrospect, the American space program, with all its staggering
>achievements, has been a forced-growth enterprise, a premature
>Cold War baby that has been kept alive only with with heroic
>measures and at fabulous expense. It's a proof-of-concept that has,
>in forty years, managed to deliver exactly twelve people to the
>surface of another planet. But that was twenty-five years ago.
>The lunar voyagers are now old men and, if space travel continues
>to be a state monopoly, we may soon find that there is no living
>person still among us who has stood on the soil of another world.
>They will be as extinct as the veterans of Gettysburg and San
>In an alternate history, space travel might have taken longer to
>develop, but with more solid foundations. It might have been driven
>by the practical and inevitable itch of many "ordinary" people who
>had, quite spontaneously, decided that it was time to try their luck
>on the next frontier. To make a buck, or raise a family. To make a
>new start. To get out of Compton or Jersey or Terra Haute. To find
>God. To amaze their friends, or just see if they're good enough. Or
>just because it's there.
>Instead of a spare-no-expense, military assault on space, there
>might have been a proper marriage of need and technology. Instead
>we have a government bureau concerned with justifying and pro-
>longing its own existence. Its agenda tends to be shaped by
>research scientists, each of whom is intensely interested in some
>extraterrestrial phenomenon, but most of whom would rather not
>surrender a penny of their budget for anything so rude and crude
>as hurling mere civilians into space.
>An old fart like John Glenn gets to go, but we can't. Not that we
>begrudge him his encore. He may have fallen into a degrading
>line of work, but he was a hero once.
>Apparently our assigned role on the new frontier is to be the
>father of the bride: shut up, write the checks, and pretend to look
>interested. While the scientists labor to figure out if there are any
>bacteria living on the Jovian moons.
>We aren't that patient.
>How Charles Lindbergh Made $10,000 the Hard Way
>In the 1890s the U.S. War Department and a quasi-government
>agency (the Smithsonian Institution) tried to invent the airplane.
>They spent big bucks to fund an establishment scientist
>named Samuel Pierpont Langley, PhD, who succeeded, with
>great fanfare, in launching a steam-powered model, but was
>unable to scale the contraption up to carry an aeronaut. The
>palm went, of course, to a private venture: the two bicycle
>mechanics from Dayton -- self-financed and operating in
>obscurity, soon to be the Wright Airplane Company.
>The airplane was a minor but picturesque military asset in the
>Great War, then, in the Twenties, a federal subsidy kept the Air
>Mail Service going, although crashes were depressingly frequent,
>and all too often the pilot, the mail or both were lost. Charles
>Augustus Lindbergh, for instance, flying the Chicago - St Louis
>route, twice had to parachute from his aircraft to save his life.
>A quarter-century after its invention, the airplane was still of only
>marginal importance as a transportation system, and was not
>paying its way except as a carnival attraction.
>In the late Twenties, two things changed the incentive-structure..
>First, a congressman named Kelly pushed through an act to get
>the government out of the civil air transportaion business. Not all
>the way out, but far enough. President Coolidge signed it, and as
>a result we were never saddled with a state airline.
>Second, Lindbergh, a college drop-out from Minnesota, talked
>some St Louis businessmen into making an unusual investment.
>It's not often emphasized that Lindbergh's epochal New York-
>to-Paris flight in May, 1927 was a commercial proposition as
>well as a reach for glory. A man named Orteig had put up a
>$25,000 prize for the first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight -- serious
>money in 1927 dollars. Lindbergh invested $2,000 of his
>own and $13,000 came from his investors. The syndicate
>cleared $10,000, net, and Lindbergh himself became the most
>famous man of his generation.
>Orteig's $25,000 bought a publicity barrage that convinced the
>world that the airplane might be sufficiently durable and reliable
>that a sane person might onsider using it to get somewhere he
>wanted to go, and commercial aviation was soon a reality.
>The X-Prize: The New Spirit of St Louis
>Buzz Aldrin, one of the Lunar Twelve, with Dr. Peter H. Diamandis
>and others (including two of Lindbergh's grandsons), established
>the X Prize Foundation in St Louis four years ago in the spirit of
>As a first step they have estaablished a ten million dollar prize
>for the first privately-financed venture that can launch a three-
>person vehicle to an altitude of 100 kilometers. This would be a
>suborbital hop like Alan Shepherd's first Project Mercury launch.
>The key provision is this: the winning contestant would have to
>repeat the flight within two weeks. This is the kind of routine
>turnaround that NASA has never been able to accomplish. Any
>system that can do it would represent a big step toward making
>manned spaceflight a paying proposition and help to wean it
>from NASA's state monopoly.
>There are more than a dozen officially registered contenders,
>with, supposedly, a bunch more thnking about it.
>Most are hoping that they can leverage the X Prize money into
>part of the capital for a commercially-viable business to haul pas-
>sengers and/or freight into low-earth orbit. Market research tells
>them there is demand out there that NASA has not begun to tap.
>There is a feeling abroad that it may finally be time for REAL
>space travel -- the kind that sells tickets to paying travelers and
>dividends to investors.
>Space "Tourism" -- The Killer App?
>In the early 70s the microcomputer was a toy like the Royal
>Society's little steam engines. Then the tinkerers wrote a
>simple "speadsheet" program. Visicalc was the first killer
>app -- the product that built mass demand and elicited
>cheaper, faster, more capable hardware.
>It has not escaped NASA's attention that astronautics has
>commercial applications. The market for satellite launchers
>is large and growing. But it is not the killer app.
>In good bureaucratic fashion, NASA did a comprehensive study
>of potential space commerce a few years ago, defining and
>measuring every market segment it could imagine, from space
>manufacturing to orbital package delivery.The (potential) killer
>app was identified, and it was not what most people would have
>The NASA study said:
> the sum financial total of man's activities in space to
> date pale by comparison to the potential space tourism
> market. As many of these studies have pointed out, the
> key to financial success (assuming governments are unin-
> terested in a long-term subsidy) lies in significant reduction
> of the cost of operating the transportation elements.
> ...a new, state-of-the-art launch system can provide an
> order of magnitude reduction in launch costs and ... a
> reduction of that magnitude will cause the equivalent of a
> space industrial revolution with a substantial increase in
> users and traffic. The group meeting at NASA LaRC con-
> cluded that to become economically viable, a new launch
> system must generate new commercial markets.
>Tourism is the biggest industry in the world. Almost 6% of
>world GNP. Bigger than steel or pharmaceuticals. Bigger than
>automobiles, or telecom or the Net. Way bigger. And we're
>not just talking about Disneyworld.
>Consider: If you want to follow in Sir Edmund's footsteps, a
>trip to Everest will cost you $50,000 (that's just for the permit --
>the expedition itself will cost a LOT more). There's a long, long,
>waiting list of paying customers. And If you want to see the
>Arctic close-up, the Russians will rent you one of their ice-
>breakers at $19,000 per day, per passenger. They're booked
>solid as far as the eye can see. Or how about an adventure-
>tour of the other pole -- Antarctica for $60,000? There is an
>established, rapidly-growing market for for exotic tourism, the
>more exotic the better
>For a while, NASA let members of the public use a shuttle flight-
>simulater in Colorado, for $1,500 per hour. They couldn't keep
>up with the demand. And that's just a simulator. Oh, yeah, we
>REALLY want to go..
>Space "tourism" has a frivolous connotation. But it is the
>window to settlement, commerce and all other human
>spacefaring because it will drive the infrastructure and
>capitalization of real space travel like nothing else can.
>The usual suspects will bitterly complain that it should not
>come into existence because it benefits only "the rich." The
>safety freaks will be frightened to death, and the Greens will
>pout about rocket pollution. Which only proves that it's the
>Right Thing To Do.
>The Free-Enterprise Rocketeers
>We cannot, in this space, dilate on all of the colorful optimists
>who are taking a bead on the X -Prize. Some are dead-serious
>professionals from the aerospace industry. Others appear to be
>dreamers trying to build spaceships in their garages. But in
>Part 2 we would like to introduce a few of them.
>The bicycle mechanics trumped Professor Langley, and we
>suspect that some of these free-enterprise rocketeers may find
>a way to leapfrog the bureaucrats at NASA.
>(Continued in TCR6 - Eyes on the Prize, Part 2)
>1. Walter Prescott Webb (1888 - 1963) was Professor of History
> at the University of Texas and one of the outstanding American
> and Texan historians of his time. Like his great predecessor,
> F. J. Turner, he wrote about the frontier experience as a key
> feature of American and world history. The American frontier
> "officially" closed (according to the 1890 U.S. Census) in the
> 1880s, when Webb was born on a ranch in east Texas. The
> program to land men on the moon was in full swing in 1963
> when Webb died in an auto accident at the age of 75.
> Several of Dr Webb's books are still in print, but The Great
> Frontier, alas, is not, about which someone should do some-
> thing. But it's probably not hard to find in library collections.
> Read about Webb on the Web at:
>2. _Bionomics: Economy as Ecosystem_ by Michael Rothschild
> is available from the Bionomics website at:
> Or order it from Amazon.com in trade paper for $14.36 at:
>3. For some pungent thoughts on why NASA should get out of the
> space transportation business, see the website of Mr Mark
> Goll, proprietor of the Texas Spacelines, X-Prize contender, and
> designer of the world's first (we kid you not) propane-powered
> rocket engine. Propane and propane accessories may just do
> the trick.
>4. Samuel P. Langley's eclipse by the Wright brothers makes
> an irresistable David-and-Goliath story. For the record, however,
> Langley was an able and accomplished scientist (an astronomer
> who did important work on solar radiation). He was not so hot
> as an R&D manager.
> For some Langley lore, including a handsome portrait, see:
> On December 8, 1903 Langley failed, very publicly, to fly
> Aerodrome No. 6, from a barge inthe Potomac. He had built
> the machine built with $100,000 of government money.
> Nine days later, the Wrights flew on a beach in North
> Carolina, in a machine they built with $1,000 of their own
> money. The government, which had spent freely on the
> Professor, refused to accept the Wright design when it was
> offered to them in 1905, even before their patent came through.
> Discouraged and humiliated, Langley died of a stroke in 1906.
> As a respected member of the Washington establishment,
> he seems to have gotten his name on more things than the
> upstart Wrights ever did. The Navy's first aircraft carrier was
> USS Langley (Robert Heinlein served aboard her as a junior
> officer -- see Part 2 of this essay). NASA's Langley Research
> Center is one of its major installations. And the huge new
> IMAX theater at the Air and Space Museum in DC is named
> after the Professor.
>5.. Charles Lindbergh was a Norwegian-American farm boy from
> Minnesota who lived up to Garrison Keillor's cartoon version of
> that breed: he was a taciturn and self-effacing man who hated
> public emotional displays. So it is surprising to learn that he
> was a remarkably good and sensitive writer. Those who have
> never bothered to read his _We_ , or _The Spirit of St Louis_
> should do themselves a favor. _We_ is, unfortunately, out of
> _The Spirit of St Louis_, a book that Lindbergh spent seventeen
> years writing, came back into print in 1996 from Scribners, with
> an introduction by Reeve Lindbergh. An American classic.
> Available for $24.50 from Amazon.com:
> We should also mention that A. Scott Berg, a good writer who
> has produced award-winning biographies of such as Maxwell
> Perkins and Samuel Goldwyn, has written a much-anticipated
> new bio of Lindbergh. He has, reportedly, been given unrestricted
> access to all of the Lindbergh papers by Anne Morrow Lindbergh,
> the Eagle's elderly widow. It's probably fine. But read _Spirit_
>6. The Commercial Space Transportation Study, a report prepared
> for NASA in 1994 by a group of aerospace industry experts is
> avilable at:
> It contains all the charts, graphs, price-elasticity estimates copious
> appendices and other consultant-type stuff anyone could ask for. The
> section dealing specifically with space tourism is sec 3.5.6.
> Go directly to:
> Two British researchers presented a shorter paper on space tourism
> to a congress of the International Astronautics Association in 1989.
> It came to similar conclusions as to the importance of ST as an
> economic driver. The paper is online at::
> Mr Jim Kingdon is an amateur space policy analyst who
> thinks that some of the NASA CSTS conclusions are too
> conservative. He maintains an up-to-date site looking at
> the prospects for space commerce using the market
> segments established by the NASA study: His site, with
> some good links is at:
>7. The X Prize Foundation maintains a Web site at :
> which includes links to web pages for all of the registered
> X-Prize contenders. :
>TCR is published by Steve Hyde and John LeGere, and written,
>more often than not, by John LeGere..
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