WaPo on Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and NASA Priorities

Tomorrow’s Washington Post has a story on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and how it’s unlikely to fly, given Shuttle end-of-life in 2010 to provide funds for development of NASA’s next-generation rockets.

Now, I think that this goes without saying anytime I talk about manned spaceflight, but … my opinions are my own and should not reflect upon those of my employer. And I also think that it goes without saying that, as someone who works in manned spaceflight, I have a vested interest in seeing it go forward. But I think Shuttle End-of-Life is a mistake. I’m afraid that it’s gone on too long to reverse it without significant cost to the taxpayer, but personally, I’m hopefully that whoever becomes President on 20 Jan 2009 quickly reverses the decision. If we’re a nation that throws $50B/mo at Iraq, we can throw $5B/yr at one of the few international initiatives that provides a positive national image for us. With the crumbling of the Soviet Union, we’re the only nation that can pull this off, and I earnestly believe that someone should.

We know so much more about our planet today from our study of it from orbit and our study of the heavens; to build AMS and then let it collect dust at a warehouse at Kennedy Space Center is an absolute travesty.

Space Exploration Is Politics By Another Means

Today’s the 50th anniversary of the successful launch of a bucket of bolts and radio transmitters, Sputnik 1. So of course, I have cause to think about manned spaceflight in a grander context than, say, my normal day-to-day activities. [Why yes, we’re due to deliver a carrier next week, and I’m stressed out as a result. Why do you ask?] The thought that I had this morning is a simple one: space exploration is politics by another means.

If that phrase rings a bell with you, you’ve probably read your Clausewitz. In Vom Kriege [On War], Clausewitz argues for a dialectical approach to studying warfare, famously arguing, “War is merely a continuation of politics.” Any American who’s thought about the Iraq War for longer than five minutes can appreciate this statement, as our politicians play politics with American and Iraqi lives on a daily basis. But when I look at the spacefaring nations of this world, I see the very same thing. Sputnik, as a program, was part of a Soviet vanguard to win the Space Race. The world knows that the Space Race was declared won by the United States when we landed Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon. [Or, if you’re a moon landing conspiracy theorist, when everyone declared the jig up. If you will, raise your hand and hold it high so Buzz knows who to come by and punch in the nose. Thanks.] That said, America winning the Space Race has not ended space exploration as politics, any moreso than World War I really ended all war.

At the close of 1969, there were two spacefaring powers: the United States and the Soviet Union. Now there are about a dozen, all told, and a handful of those actually have manned spaceflight programs. There are still only two competent manned spaceflight launch authorities—NASA and the Russian Space Agency—but many nations have expended resources in putting their citizens in space. Why? Sending people to space tells your populace and the world that you mean business. Why else would China be trying to return to the moon late next decade, almost a half-century after it was first explored by twelve Americans? The only rational argument, in my thinking, is that manned spaceflight is still politics by another means.

Obviously I, as a NASA contractor and a beneficiary of U.S. government spending on manned spaceflight, am biased in this matter. But I am glad that America has not completely laid down in our quest to explore space as an expression of the quality of our nation. We’re the nation that arguably does manned spaceflight the best—which is not to say that we do it particularly well. There are many challenges to manned spaceflight, most of which I’m quite keenly aware of as I live through them every single day. But it seems clear to me that American space exploration is still politically-oriented—and I’m just fine with that.

To close, let me present an example and a thought going forward. The International Space Station is many things; one of the things that it is presently is a jobs program for Russian rocket scientists. Keeping the RSA flying—and make no mistake; without American funds, there is no RSA—keeps Russian rocket jockeys from hiring their estimable services out to the highest bidder. One need only consider the local nations [Iran, North Korea, et al] who would seek Russian support for their nefarious rocket-related activities. After all, Sputnik was as much a signal that the Russians could drop a nuke into Washington, D.C., as it was a celebration of the International Geophysical Year. And while this is distasteful, as it takes away from the idea of ISS-as-science-platform, I also believe that ISS is a reality only because we needed to keep those Russian fellas busy. After all, Space Station Freedom never exactly went anywhere.

As for the forward thinking, I welcome the entry of the Chinese Space Program into the realm of manned spaceflight. All you need to know about American political feelings about the Chinese program is the stern objections the federal government gave when China requested docking abilities at ISS. The Chinese seem willing to go it alone for now, plowing the fields previously plowed by the United States and the Soviet Union: capsules, small, short-duration space stations, etc. As our space privatization friends like to note, a little competition never hurt anyone, and the Chinese? They’re gonna be great competition. Heck, they may push us better than the Soviets did.

Ad astra per aspera.

Too Darn Hot

Too Darn Hot

Originally uploaded by Geof F. Morris

This is the temperature gauge on my WRX as I pulled into my driveway. It’s been 100F+ every day for a week, but this is the first time it’s been 104F after driving around for a bit and moving air across the thermometer.

I am so thankful that the air conditioner in my house is working. The system at work is unable to keep up with the thermal load being thrown at it: I start the day at 74F or so, and after noon, I’m above 80F. Suffice it to say that I come home sweaty every single day. Feh.

Now, it’s time to settle in and watch STS-118 go to orbit. My group at TBE built the carriers for Battery Charge/Discharge Unit and the Control Moment Gyroscope that are riding on the External Stowage Platform-3 at the rear of the Endeavour‘s payload bay. [If I lapse into acronym speak: TBE built the BCDU and CMG FSE flying on ESP3 attached to the ICC. 😉 ]

Go, Endeavour, go! I need something good today after an otherwise craptacular one.

38 Years

My parents had been married for 44 days when we first went to the moon. They’ll have been married for more than 44 years when we next go back.

My brother was born two days after Apollo 17 lifted off on its way to the moon. Two days later, Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt landed on the moon for the last time.

My generation’s space memory is Challenger. America had never lost a crew trying to reach space. My generation grew up with the idea that losing people on the way to space just wasn’t something that happened … until that dark day in January 1986. I was seven years old that day and in first grade. That day, something clicked in my head—people were willing to die to do this. It was Important.

It still is Important, at least to me.

We do not do these things because they are easy. We do them because they are hard. Ad astra.

ISS Control Moment Gyroscope Failing?

Word that one of the CMGs isn’t working well is not a good thing:

[The CMG that failed in 2002] was replaced with a spare during the first post-Columbia shuttle mission in 2005. No other backups are available, but the failed gyro currently is being refurbished. Depending on what happens with CMG-3, the refurbished gyro could be added to an upcoming mission.

Emphasis is mine.

Atlantis Is Home

If I were a landing signal officer, I’d give Brent Jett a three-wire on that one: a little left wing low at 15 feet, but he pulled it back level and stuck it right on the centerline. STS-115 is now complete, and now it’s time to focus on getting 116 up and down: gotta get all these truss segments up and running so we can start sticking all those big-ass labs up there. 😀

Okay, now I’m going back to bed.

I Ain’t Never Had Too Much Fun

Sounds like Sellers and Fossum had fun on orbit today.

When a cover for the pump module enveloped Fossum’s head, he said, “I just threw a sheet over my head.”

Pump Module in FSE on FRAM with MLI Man. All that work we did back at KSC last August, and the blanket still gets loose. 😉 Okay, so what we went down there to do was to strengthen the fabric hand-holds on the blanket. In fact, our joke this morning was, “If you see the guys doing gymnastics while they’re moving around the Pump Module … they darn well better be able to for as stiff as those handholds are.” Turns out that what we thought would be simply handling aids—this blanket is like a big tent, and folding a big tent is hard when you don’t have gravity—ended up being something that the crew thought they could translate around with during training. So I spent a week in late August at the Cape with some techs, fixing this blanket, because for all we knew, we were flying in September. Turns out we didn’t fly again until, well, last week.

It’s fun to see the carriers we built getting some use.

Video of STS-121 Solid Rocket Booster Separation

NASA has published video (4.5MB, QuickTime) of the right-side Solid Rocket Booster separating during the launch of STS-121. The camera is one mounted to the SRB; given the quality of the imagery, I’m betting that this is video captured and recovered from the SRB rather than telemetered down to Mission Control (as the External Tank-mounted cameras are; the ET burns up after being jettisoned).

This kind of stuff is great for three reasons:

  1. It’ll catch the public (and the blogosphere’s) eye.
  2. This imagery helps watch for foam shedding and foam strikes. You’ll note that you see a lot of the right side of the Discovery Orbiter here. This imagery has understandable value.
  3. We’re going to need this imagery on CLV ARES.