A Rebuttal to The Wired Article: Space Tourism Isn’t Worth Dying For

The Space Ship 2 Disaster is bringing out the worst in journalism.  In this latest article in Wired magazine an attempt is made to separate exploration in space from what the writer considers to be the crass commercial aspect of the Virgin Galactic Space Ship 2 and from what he considers legitimate space exploration.  It is clear that the writer does not understand that Richard Branson has what we call in the space business a roadmap to more ambitious and practical human spaceflight applications (Replace the Pan Am Logo in the movie 2001 with the Virgin Logo).  He also does not even consider the other aspect which is the effect on those who take these trips to inspire and fire their own visions to support future space enterprises.  As one who does this day by day, our biggest problem is money, and government money is not the way to lead to the economic development of the solar system.  Thus here is my response to his article:

For reference here is the link to his article:



Adam, your article is an attempt to provide a moral separation between what Virgin Galactic is doing and what Elon Musk and or the government is doing.  Your central claim is that what Virgin Galactic is doing is not getting us closer to Mars.  In this, as a thirty six year space professional with a commercial space pedigree, you are absolutely incorrect.

There is a huge problem that we have today and that is the lack of vision and forward thinking in leadership positions in government.  In the late 1960’s, even before the first man walked on the Moon, congress and the white house cut the funding for the Apollo program sufficient to end the production of the Saturn V.  The excuse of the day was deficits, but that is a laugh when the deficit that year was $5 billion dollars.  The truth is the money was redirected due to the fear that captured the political elite of the era in control of the government due to the Vietnam war and the problems in our inner cities.

This redirection was not just from NASA’s budget, it affected basically all advanced technology development that the WWII generation put into play in the 50’s and early 60’s. Government advanced technology development has never really recovered.  Politicians soon figured out that this redirected money bought votes, and thus piled on more, and have done so for the last 47 years.  Today American  federal policy is little more than figuring out new programs that will enable the buying of even more votes.

You need look no farther than the space program since then for evidence of this.  While the vote buying budget increased by orders of magnitude, space exploration and advanced technology funding has continually shrunk as a proportion of the federal budget.  This is shown here in Table 1, in which I took NASA’s budget and normalized it to one and then normalized the rest in relation to NASA.  Almost every major government major activity has increased relative to NASA’s since 1966.

Table 1: Normalized NASA Budget vs Other Federal Agencies
Table 1: Normalized NASA Budget vs Other Federal Agencies

In the late 1980’s the Space Exploration Initiative failed because NASA came up with visionary plans, but congress, claiming increased deficits, never funded the program.  The exact same thing has recently happened with George Bush Jr.’s Vision for Space Exploration, and the Constellation program.  Presidential and congressional commissions one after the other point out that the funding does not match what NASA has been asked to do, and thus with every new failure, the chance of ultimate success of a government directed space program gets smaller.

Now comes the new century.  A new generation of companies, run by a new generation of business people, go public and billionaires are made.  Some of these people, like Elon Musk and Richard Branson, want to make space accessible to more people.  You go out of your way to separate what Elon is doing from what Richard is doing but this separation simply does not exist.

The reason that it does not exist is that with the government’s level of disinterest in space increasing it falls to those with vision and who have capital to risk to pick up the slack.  Richard Branson is not just making a tourist vehicle.  Virgin is developing a launch vehicle that uses the same infrastructure to put small satellites into space.  Richard has also talked about, as a second, third, or fourth generation of Space Ship technology to build vehicles that can take paying passengers from London to Tokyo, Beijing, or Sydney in 90 minutes.  As a man who owns an airline with a global reach Richard also tried to buy the Concordes for the reason to make airline travel faster but was rebuffed by British Airways and Air France who did not want to see him succeed where they failed.  He sees the Space Ship X technology as a means to leapfrog around this obstacle as he has found ways around obstacles in the past.

Yes it will be richer people who fly these routes, at least initially, just as was the case in the early age of intercontinental air travel.  However, there is something else that will result from these flights.  That something else is to fire the imagination of the rich people that fly these routes to think about what to do next.  Fly higher?  Orbital Space?  The Moon?

Very recently I spent a day at a major Silicon Valley venture capitalist’s office with about 40 others examining the idea of how we would build a commercial lunar development on the Moon for ten people for five billion dollars.  A couple of decades ago such talk was silly, but with the march of commercial technology in launch, robotics, computers, and communications, this is now a realistic possibility.  All it takes is for a few people like this, who have the vision, and the financial resources, to make it happen.  I know that at least one of these billionaires already has purchased tickets for a Space Ship 2 flight.

Thus the value of the Space Ship 2 flights, and the sacrifice of a good man’s life, is to help show people what is possible, to allow them to experience it, and perhaps to have their imaginations fired to put some of their fortunes up to support more commercial space activities.  The government sadly is not on a trajectory to do so, and in many ways they should not be.  The economic development of the solar system should not be a state owned and directed enterprise as they simply are not competent to do so.

The last 47 years since congress and the white house turned its back on funding the space program the way it should have been is all the proof of my proposition that is needed.  Just think how much different our world would be today had the same percentage (about 4.5%) of the federal budget continued to be spent on space development.  Most of the problems that we have today simply would not exist, as we would be much farther along in exploration and the benefits to the economy would have provided the increase in economic activity to fund many of the pressing needs that are otherwise bankrupting the treasury.

Without vision the people perish is a biblical truth that applies universally.  The more we do in space, and this includes the few minutes in space that Space Ship 2 will provide, will do more to promote people to think about what else we can do, and how much farther we can go than perhaps any other activity currently going on in commercial space.  I love what Elon is doing and I am one of his biggest supporters, but for a long time, that is only going to provide rides to space for a very small number of people.  If we can fly several hundred rich people a year into suborbital space, it will change them.

Frank White wrote about this in his book “The Overview Effect” 25 years ago regarding how the astronauts have had their perspectives changed after their flights.

Frank White's "The Overview Effect"
Frank White’s “The Overview Effect”

What we need in commercial space today more than anything else is money.  The government simply is not going to do what needs to be done, and thus we must convince men and women of capital to do so.  The sight of the Earth from a 100 km altitude by rich people may do more to help provide that capital than any other single activity and thus will help to truly open the space frontier for all mankind.

72 thoughts on “A Rebuttal to The Wired Article: Space Tourism Isn’t Worth Dying For

  1. Tom Bower writes a scathing article in today’s (Sunday) Time (of the UK) in which he says “Contrary to Branson’s pleas that Friday’s explosion was a sad but normal risk for those experimenting at the cutting edge of science, Virgin Galactic was crippled from the outset by a flawed design.” He goes on to talk of the inherent dangers in using nitrous oxide as a fuel. Your thoughts?

    1. As I said in a previous article, there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of a hybrid engine, and in fact its simplicity and failure modes are far less than with the much more complicated turbo pump liquid design of SpaceX, and certainly more safe than an all solid design. The very fact that with a catastrophic engine failure one of the pilots survived is a testament that the design has features that makes it more safe. That being said, the number of operating hours on the hybrid design is a small fraction of the time for liquids and solids.

      People today simply don’t understand how much money the American and Russian governments spent developing all liquid and all solid propulsion systems in the 1960’s According to Major General Bruce Medaris in his 1962 book blasting the cost of the space race called “Countdown to Decision” he listed the costs as thus.

      Atlas = $48 billion
      Thor (Delta) = 40 billion
      Titan = $20 billion
      Minuteman = $20 billion

      According to a 1962 Aviation Week article, JUST the RL-10 which is the first hydrogen/oxygen upper stage engine, its development costs were around $3 billion.

      Eventually the development and entire lunar program cost $26 billion dollars. That is in 1960’s dollars. That is basically today the entire cost of the Obama Stimulus of almost $1 trillion dollars. (there is an argument that aerospace development would have been a far better use for that money but that is another argument).

      Thus the reason for the relative reliability of these launch vehicles goes back to those days and on to today and the investments that continue to be made.

      Does all this mean that the Spaceship 2 engine is a flawed design? I would say that it is an immature design rather than flawed. Again, going back to the aerospace industry, the first British jet, the comet, was an immature design. Several of them were lost before they figured out what the issues were with its design. However, when the British government lost faith in it and did not push it to maturity, the loss was immeasurable to the British economy, giving the U.S. the lead in commercial jet technology that it has ridden for over half a century.

      The only real problem with nitrous as a fuel is that its triple point is at about 98 degrees F and it is unstable at that temperature. At the end of the day, that was the cause of the deaths at the test stand several years ago. That certainly was not a factor in this accident as the temperatures were cool, and they are much much cooler at 50,000 feet. I have strong doubts that at the end of the day the oxidizer will be found at fault. Liquid Oxygen is no better in that it has enormous issues, we just have the experience in dealing with them.

      1. Dennis, thanks for taking the time writing an informative article with interesting references, it also helps many of us put things in proper perspective. Wow, I knew early ICBM development costs were expensive but didn’t realize this much (I assume those are 1960 dollars). It also illustrates political priorities back then as compared to now in regards to space travel. I believe you spoke with Bruce Medaris, was this an interview? Or a meeting where you absorbed as much information as you could?

        1. Michael

          Though I did meet General (then Bishop) Medaris once at the 30th anniversary of the Explorer 1 launch at the space and rocket center, I did not get those numbers from that meeting. He wrote an incredibly insightful book about the burgeoning military/industrial complex in 1962 after he retired called “Countdown to Decision”. He warned about many of the same things that Ralph Cordiner, CEO of GE had warned about just a couple of years earlier in how we were sacrificing our national character in the space race and missile gap response. I guess LBJ really did like the idea that in chaos there is opportunity. Medaris’s book is an amazing fount of information on policy at the time as is MacDougal’s “The Heavens and the Earth”. I strongly recommend both books.

      2. Hybrids are good enough engines, for a purpose of rare suborbital launch. Most really working hybrids use energetic oxydisers like nixtrous oxide or hydrogen peroxide, the cause is lox one has too much combustion instabilities and vibration. Hybrids have too many problems of both worlds(solids and liquids) – there is the need for some system to pressure oxidiser before combustion (pressure fed systems), and huge pressurised combustor chamber and grain quality in forming right channels in fuel. So instabilities and low rate of combustion is inherent hybrid quality. And those guys added the bad side of nitrous oxide in it – low and thermally dependend density, selfpressuarisation, high probability of thermal decomposition and inability of N2O to burn anything without catalyser and decomposition.
        So when you talk about not enough experience with hybrids – you’re wrong, Copenhagen Suborbitals did enough testing of small/big hybrid motors, with Lox, N2O and hydrogen peroxide. Now Rocket Madsen Space Lab works on direct combustion of H2O2 and MDX and polyurethane. http://ing.dk/blogs/raket-madsens-rumlaboratorium
        Certainly hydrogen peroxide is much better than Lox or N2O for certain reason of ability to self-ignite with certain carbon chemicals as well as easily decompose by cheap catalyzer like permanganate K. Its more stable, normal temp liquid with high density(1.33-1.43g/cm3), cheap enough to produce in a lab/factory from low grade commercial one and its effective to be used for turbomachinery as well. Nytrogen pressured gas is enough to pump small engine while self-powered turbine can pump huge one within closed cycle to almost any needed pressure. Imho H2O2 will be the last standing hybrid oxydiser as well as in space based liquid engines with H2O2+kerosene+closed cycle turbine. At least as amateur space will catch behind commercial. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_Siddeley_Gamma – Note a much cleaner exaust as well as ability to use H2O2 for regenerative cooling of nozzle. I’m disappointed that Britain lost its cool rocketry space program.
        And possibility to use aluminium hydride(up to 380sec ISP sea level) as a fuel (with wax or polymer binding) or other high density/energy fuels like cubane(C8H8) gives a H2O2 hybrid even higher than kerolox performance in ISP and density impulse(1.5-2 factor). Use closed-cycle process for decomposed H2O2 via simple turbomachine(<1200K) and you have no combustion instabilities(selfignition) and higher burn rate as well. Simplicity is high enough in it, no pressure fed systems, no toxicity (like HNO3 oxider), no need for ingnition (just small amount of catalyzer). There is some bad properties of hydrogen peroxide – it froze at high temp(60%=-50C, 90%=-10C)(Russians didnt like it) and some selfignition and decompose problem if not handled properly. Higher cost of high concentration of it is a drawback on equal footing with LOX (has much higher handling/design/equipment cost).

        1. My comments did not specifically go to their choice of engine. The article is about how the press reacted to the disaster and how certain people with axes to grind used the press to help them.

          Despite all of your comments, there is one fact that remains out of all of this. That fact is that if the Spaceship 2 had run any fully liquid system that pilot would have died when that vehicle came apart, probably incinerated in a ball of flame.

          As for testing, I go with the Germans. As German rocket scientist, one of the designers of the V2 engine once told me, “Dennis we built and tested engines with every single energetic chemical combination in the books”. At the end of the day, overall, LOX/Kero was their choice in the U.S., and I go with them.

          As for the other long comments, since this article is not about engine design, or propellant design, I am not going to approve them. I have worked on engines as well, seen a few blow up also. I have my opinion about the engine choices for SS1 and SS2 and know all of the people involved, but this article is not about that.

          1. >…That fact is that if the Spaceship 2 had run any fully liquid system that pilot would
            > have died when that vehicle came apart, probably incinerated in a ball of flame….

            How is that a fact? Are you assuming Kerosene tanks are innately weaker then nitrous oxide tanks? [Likely weaker then theengine casing holding the solid part of the hybride.]
            Not all aircraft that break up, burst into flames..

  2. Great rebuttal. The loss of Mike Alsbury is extremely sad. I am shocked by how many people are using it to draw a conclusion from almost no data that commercial spaceflight is somehow a waste of effort and money and not worth the risk. Even if they were right (they aren’t), it is a free world and others can dedicate their lives however they choose. In my blog post on the two disasters I say “these enterprises are undertaken by men and women around the world who choose to risk their time, energy, treasure, and lives in this pursuit, as they are free to do. ”

    And, even if the result of both Antares and SpaceShipTwo investigations blames flawed processes, people and/or technology, that could not somehow invalidate ALL the private space activities that are now underway.


  3. Sunday 02 November 2014
    Branson spaceship explosion: The ‘missed’ warnings.
    Sir Richard Branson’s company and US authorities were repeatedly warned about safety issues surrounding Virgin Galactic’s rocket engine system.
    “By Robert Mendick, Edward Malnick and Rob Crilly in New York 9:29PM GMT 01 Nov 2014
    Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic has been accused of ignoring a series of warnings that its $500 million rocket was unsafe for flight.
    A number of senior aerospace engineers repeatedly voiced fears over the design of Sir Richard’s SpaceShipTwo and the safety protocols surrounding its testing.
    The Telegraph has seen emails and other documents in the public domain — dating back several years, and as recently as last year — in which the engineers warned of the dangers of Virgin Galactic’s rocket engine system.
    It also emerged on Saturday that three senior Virgin Galactic executives — the vice-president in charge of propulsion, the vice-president in charge of safety, and the chief aerodynamics engineer — had all quit the company in recent months.”

    The problem with the hybrids is that they were sold as safe since “they could not explode”. Two fatal incidents have disproven that. Liquids have better performance than hybrids and are well understood. Using liquids VG would have already have had suborbital flight. Moreover because of their better performance you would not need a carrier aircraft such as the WhiteKnight. The spaceplane could have made the flight on its own all the way from the ground to suborbit.

    Bob Clark

    1. Bob, I will 100% agree, and did so in the previous article, that hybrids were oversold as inherently safe. I will also agree that the experience base for N2O as an oxidizer is immature compared with LOX. However, going to the opposite and claiming that the hybrid and N2O is inherently bad is just as incorrect as the previous claims. I disagree with you that an all liquid system would be necessarily any better and I completely disagree that taking off from the runway with a rocket powered system would be superior. Also, if a problem occurred in an all liquid system as what happened with SS2, there is a near zero probability that either of the crew would have survived. That is a mark in favor of the hybrid right there as it is obvious that whatever explosion happened, the fire was completely out within a second and the pilot that survived had no burns.

      I also am not in agreement when they confabulate the problems and the accident at the test stand with the in flight explosion. I was there in Mojave just before the test stand accident and the temperature was high, around the triple point of N2O, AND there was a lot of static electricity. I was working on a solar power system within a few miles of the site and the humidity was extremely low and a lot of static electricity was in the air. I can completely understand the accident happening under those conditions, and yes there was an engineering process and or management problem that put those people there that day in the first place.

      For this SS2 flight, the temperatures were not high, and winds were low. The humidity was low as is always the case in MJ but it is unlikely that the fuel temps were near auto detonation levels. I do think it interesting that fuel temperature was called out as a concern that morning. Since I was not there or have seen the data we have to leave it at that.

      After reading the article that you referenced, I guess that my comment would be that obviously these people quit for a reason. There is a fundamental problem that a highly technical operation such as what Virgin Galactic is needs strong technical management. Those types of people are in short supply and they have to be the ultimate decision makers as well.

    2. No you are totally wrong. Liquids have no better performance (calculate hydride-based or high energy metallic fuel with hydrogen peroxide) cause ISP is not a factor but density impulse is, most mass of rocket is in 1st stage always.
      The problem of liquid engines is that they always need preburner and turbomachinery as well as high cost design(optimized for weight) for “better performance” while most problems with LOX inherent instability was removed by thosands of tests, cabooms and rocket desintegrations.
      And in goverment sponsored projects nobody cares about cryogenic handling of your beloved oxygen, hydrogen, methane etc. To date the only viable noncryogenic engine is some cancerogenic oil (or toxic hydrazine) + toxic white/red fume nitric acid. Thats why everytime the launch postponed – they waste some liquid oxygen/fuel. And they havr those huge expensive to build/maintain launch complexes with management headaches. SpaceX affords them only be US gov permission and on its bills.
      Yes hybrids are inherently safe – just dont use this crappy selfpressuarisation of energetic oxidyser, if they use H2O2 or even cold luquid nitrous with pumping/nythrogen gas – nothing will happend.
      Virgin just didnt get that hybrids are not easily scalable, you cant get small crappy designed engine increase its size and voula. Wanna big engine be it liquid or hybrid – use tested and simple enough pumping solution, helium/nytrogen gas, or piston pump like XCOR or open/close turbomachinery. Cause rocket engine is not nozzle, its pumping solution + stable ignition/combustion chamber config (like pyrotech, fuel mixture, grain and channels and size/temp/pressure conditions).
      Crappy designed SS1 hybrid will never do – too bad oxidizer, silly pumping/flow solution(selfpressuarisation), bad channels config inherent to low burn rate fuel like polymers, no stable ignition, problems with fuel burning at the end(destroyed channels), unstable temperature dependent density of N2O, instabilities of decomposition on most catalyzers and inability to change size specifications cause rocket engine is a part of airframe even hull itself.
      XCOR Lynx is much better design, step by step approach(pilot+passanger than more), no need for airlift (which gives almost no benefit), effective liquid kerolox engine small enough to fly with good pumping solution, and engine is separate of airframe.
      High energy fuel like AlH3 or cubane + hydrogen peroxide + close cycle simple turbomachine will smash most liquid cryogenic engine for first stage, in simplicity and low cost, especially for reusable stage with optimization for low cost. Kerolox solution of ICBM era was good enough, and Falcon9 already is in service, as well as Lynx will be. But it’s not on the level of simplicity of aircraft – refuel and go.
      If someone will design hybrid in the way “refual and go” – H2O2 refuel and chamber-nozzle integrated package than possibility of reusable hybrid amateur handled spacecraft is in sight. 3 Parts – peroxide composite(xaerogel) tank + turbomachine compartment(repairable by remove/install) with selftest capability + recycled chamber-nozzle package with ablative nozzle. Flight profile is vertical launch&landing on two different spot areas. Much simpler approach that all that aircraft based launch, separation, gliding and same port return, and usable for fast intercontinental transit.
      There is no need 4 any aircraft like operation if spacecraft hasnt airbreathing engine with hypersonic performance, no operation benefit and cost of oxidiser is unimportant.

    1. Bill, an intelligent comment that addresses issues such as Bob’s above is fine. Name calling is not.

      As a general principle, on my blog, if you want your comment printed, be respectful of others, and be respectful toward the subject matter.

  4. Any reason why these tests couldn’t be automated, or at least flown remotely? If no one had died, it would be a lot easier for the public to chalk this failure up as just another step in the learning process.

  5. Good response. But I’m still left wondering. Why is it worth dying for? That’s in your title, but it doesn’t appear in the text. “The more we do in space, and this includes the few minutes in space that Space Ship 2 will provide, will do more to promote people to think about what else we can do, and how much farther we can go than perhaps any other activity currently going on in commercial space.” I’m having a hard time parsing that sentence, but I think what you’re saying is that dying in space helps promote people to think. I find that a curious conclusion.

    It is correct to risk life to do hard things that NEED TO BE DONE. Not completely clear from your response what it is that needs to be done. Making a settlement on the Moon for $5B certainly doesn’t need to be done. At least, that justification has never been clearly laid out.

    This SS2 enterprise is founded on tourism. Is it worth dying so tourists can get a thrill? Actually, risk is often part of thrill, so I have to suspect that this unfortunate episode will actually help marketing for SS2. But marketing SS2 doesn’t need for people to die.

    1. …It is correct to risk life to do hard things that NEED TO BE DONE….

      One person’s want is another person’s need. We did not need barnstorming in the 1920’s but the increase in public interest that was brought from thousands of farmers, city folk, and others who got to fly for the first time in a Jenny helped set the cultural stage for the aerospace age, even though it was the 1970’s before more than 15% of the American public flew.

      There is a book that illustrates the intertwinement of want and need that is about the foundation of what we call aeronautics. It is called “With Brass and Gas” and a couple of quotes from this book, which is a compendium of newspaper and other articles of the era on the subject of want/need in opening the frontier of the air…

      …In the meantime, balloon ascensions have grown to be of a daily occurrence, and many who have had no experience whatsoever are rushing madly into the business. As a necessary consequence, we must expect to read of many deplorable casualties. In yesterday’s Herald we had accounts of two ascensions which were attended with great risks to the aeronauts. In the one case, the balloon exploded; but in descending to the earth, it acted as a parachute, breaking the force of the fall…

      The aerial excursionist were perfectly cool, and conversed together during the descent. But for the few seconds after the explosion, when the car and the remnants of the balloon were swaying alternately above each other, their fears could not be suppressed.

      In the other, the balloon was torn by coming in contact with trees, and those in the car narrowly escaped with their lives. The business is now in danger of being entirely overdone, and thus confidence in the final success of aerial navigation, instead of being increased, is being much diminished.

      The point is that these people think that it is worth dying for, whether you or I think differently. It was exactly the same in the era of ballooning but at the beginning of the civil war it was the technologies developed by the aeronauts and their balloons that gave the north a decided advantage in aerial surveillance.

      Also, it was the technology advances of the private aeronauts like Thaddeus P. Lowe that echo down to the day. The Water-Gas shift method of making hydrogen C + H2O + heat = CO + H2, which is the preferred method of making industrial hydrogen today was invented to make gas for balloons.

      Thus the life of a private aeronaut, who used tourism to fuel the revenues for his further experimentation in balloons for practical cargo type operations.

      Here is his Wikipedia entry…


      Also, in one of those incredible “Connections” type of completely unpredictable historical amazing effects, Pancho Barnes, who (if you remember the movie the right stuff), who owned the happy bottom riding club outside of Muroc (now Edwards AFB in Palmdale) was the GRANDDAUGHTER of Thaddeus Lowe. She was an amazing female pilot of the barnstorming age, who in her Wikipedia page…

      Florence Lowe “Pancho” Barnes (July 22, 1901 – March 30, 1975) was a pioneer aviator, the founder of the first movie stunt pilots’ union. In 1930, she broke Amelia Earhart’s air speed record.[2] Barnes raced in the Women’s Air Derby and was a member of the Ninety-Nines. In later years, she was known as the owner of the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a bar and restaurant in the Mojave Desert, Southern California, catering to the test pilots and aviators who worked nearby.[2]

      Thus the point is that you and I today have absolutely no idea where this will end up and what the contribution of SS2 and Virgin Galactic will be to humanity. As was the case in the ballooning age and the barnstorming age of airplanes, these activities helped to provide the foundation for our technological society today.

  6. Dennis, your main thrust – rebutting the Wired naysayer – is spot-on. Risk-taking by commercial space is just as legitimate and necessary as the public sector variety. The space econosphere can be expanded/developed only through private-public sector partnerships, with each sector taking on a different set of risks: financial, technological, and human. Anyone – and I’m referring to Rogers here – who sees the endeavor as an either-or proposition has it wrong, IMO.

    One quibble though. While you of course have a point about the opportunity cost of the historical decline in federal support for technology and space, you tell only half the story in asserting that “Today American federal policy is little more than figuring out new programs that will enable the buying of even more votes”. To the extent that there is a real or perceived trade-off between social spending and technology R&D, there is a spending side and a revenue side of that equation. Democrats may have sought to provide their constituents with policies that benefit the directly, but so have Republicans – who have never met a tax cut they dislike.

    I might suggest a revision of your sentence to: “Today American federal policy is little more than figuring out new programs or tax cuts that will enable the buying of even more votes”. That I could agree with.

    1. If that were the case then I might agree. However, just look at the budget. Both parties are responsible for out of control spending. Like Ronald Reagan said to Johnny Carson in 1975 when asked if he liked what was going on in Washington,


      The problem is out debt. When the choice is between $53 billion in new debt or $80 I am not happy with either choice. Well as history knows, after Ronnie got in he saw how hard it was to get things done. People love to whine that Ronnie too ran up the debt but he had to deal with a Tip O’Neil house that was every bit as intransigent as any other. I remember every single year O’Neil would make a great show of Ronnie’s cuts to the budget as Dead on Arrival. All the way to forcing a near default on our debt. People don’t remember that today, and the media chooses not to.

  7. Of course the bigger question is, if you can’t – after ten years of development and testing – get your craft to fly without killed test pilots, why should we rich space buffs risk our lives on it? In the real modern world, deaths of test pilots and system testers is extremely rare. SS2 and its “inherently safe engine” has killed 4 so far…..

    1. In the real modern world of test piloting, I don’t know of any other vehicle currently flying to 100 km, thus your statement does not correlate.

      There is no such thing as an inherently safe engine. That is a mistake on their part to characterize it as such. A Pratt Whitney jet engine on a 737 is not inherently safe either.

      The three people on the ground were not killed in an engine test. They were killed around a test of oxidizer flow in an inert system. That is just a throw away talking point to claim that.

  8. Paris Hilton wants a refund on her ticket. Says she doesn’t want anyone else to die for her 15 minute ride into near Space. She says that even she doesn’t think she’s worth it. Hard to argue that!

      1. That’s hardly an intelligent reply. The point being made is that a customer wants to opt-out of a buy and reconsiders the product alltogether.

        The main point to me is that if people want to build space ships with their own private money and other people are willing to help them – I have nothing against it, if its environmentally safe, of course. Putting government money (my money) into it – that’s a different story! I don’t think that’s the government job to sponsor expensive tourism ventures for the ultra-rich. I think that bringing people to Mars is not a goal in itself, as it serves no scientific purpose, but if people want to go there on their own costs I couldn’t care less.

        Bottom line – if it is commercially interesting, people will do it. Whether its “worth dying for” is for them to decide – these are grown up persons taking calculated risks and they should sort this out with their insurance company and employer, not Adam Rogers, you or me.

    1. This is reality for me, before anything safety and stability is the primary conern that needs to be addressed. First propulsion, solid fuel is not even 90% stable thats why you have NASA technicians with their balls on their throat and when you pat them at the back they will be able to spit it out because of nervousness in every shuttle launch , hence the solid fuel instability. Correct this and convince Paris hilton, then you have just convinced 20% of the worlds population that space travel is safe.

      1. The solid propellant in the Space Shuttle is a completely different animal than the solid fuel in the Spaceship rocket.

        The Shuttle solid propellant combines fuel and oxidizer and is exactly like the fireworks rockets that you fly on the 4th of July, light it and it goes until it burns out. You can’t turn it off no matter what you do. Sometimes they explode, like a Titan IV did in 1986 just off the pad at Vandenberg AFB in California.

        On the other hand the solid fuel in the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Series is nothing more than rubber (the original engines), or a plastic (the current engine). They are no more dangerous when there is no oxidizer present than your tires or a piece of plastic laying on the ground. It is the oxidizer in the hybrid engine (the reason it is called hybrid between solid and liquid fueled vehicles), that is liquid. If you turn the valve off supplying oxidizer, the engine immediately quits. This is where the “inherently safe” claim comes from. A hybrid has (in theory) better safety than a solid as when you turn off the oxidizer it immediately quits running. It is also less (again in theory) of a hazard because (in theory again) N2O as an oxidizer is safer than liquid oxygen.

        There is no such thing as a completely safe rocket engine just as the fact that there is no completely safe airplane or automobile.

        1. Sorry Denis to interupt, but N2O is not an oxidiser in itself. Until it decomposes by special catalyser or by temperature selfdecomposition and release hot oxygen it cant burn with anything. Is this property make it safe? No, N2O as some other energetic material (hydrogen peroxide) decomposes with release of energy, once it began its selfsustaining, thats how those 3 guys died, cold flow mechanical energy release than like firework decomposition continues to N2O tank and that was last caboom. Almost always disaster rupture of N2O or peroxide tank happens this way. Huge amounts of energy released and like in solid engine they cant do a thing.
          So this engine not inhearently safe, nor safe at all, cause it is selfpressuarised, and only valve prevents flow into the chamber while almost nothing prevent decomposition shock wave to go to tank. Thats why pumping of small quantities of energetic oxidiser through preturbine catalyser chamber is much better than open valve selfpressure flow. Cause at least there is whole system with deflagration parts, outside pressure valves, nytrogen flow oxidiser removal and all other not so simple prevention schemes for a detonation wave not to go to tank. Cause any oscillation, burn instability or residual oil waste can devastate hybrid engine in the same way as kerolox one if you cant constantly control ignition, fuel-oxygen mix or deflagration wave while it becomes detonation one. Fast moving valves can even prevent a pressure buildup before chamber collapse.
          And there is inherent test problem with this engine and craft configuration – everytime they either test it on stand (one environment) or inflight test whole config. Which was impossible without White knight (with pilot) and SS2 again with pilot in it. Most crashes in rocket history happened before someone even go inside any cabin. Russian spaceprogram was launch new rocket for test and then find a cause of crash. And it happens saddly even with humans onboard, so there is no such thing as inherently safe, only approach is in probablity safer.
          Thats not with Virgin whole thing – its not probably safer to build, nor test nor even fly. Design decisions made it in probability unsafe, even dangerous. It is hactic solution for Ansary X prize(SS1) in unsucceful to date attempt to scale it up. I dont see any means to change that – until rocket part has a safety removal from airfoil altogether with new kerolox liquid rocket engine for efficiency boost.

  9. Of course, it is unstoppable. Economic growth demands that we begin harnessing the resources of our solar system in the near future. Asteroid mining is only a few decades down the road, along with humans living in space for prolonged periods of time. And I don’t mean a select few dozen with the potential, but cohorts of humans scattered throughout the (inner) solar system. It won’t only be possible, but necessary to install permanent colonies on distant planetoids for logistics purposes in a solarized humanity.

    1. There is no such thing as unstoppable or inevitable. It is the hard work and sacrifice of those who believe in the future that get it done. Right now it could go either way.

      The next 20 years is going to be crucial to civilization.

      1. I’ll agree to disagree on the point of inevitability. But by unstoppable I didn’t intend to imply that it wouldn’t mean a hell of a lot of work. If that were the case, we’d have had space mining australopithicene a million years ago. And of course, if we are annihilated by nuclear war it won’t happen, but neither will it matter who’s right in this argument. But if we do remain on the economic trajectory that was set by the protestant capitalistic ethos, which demands constant economic growth to survive, our planet will not suffice indefinitely, which means if there isn’t a major paradigm shift, we will be inhabiting the entire solar system in a matter of generations

  10. Pingback: Design? | humbuggg
  11. The reason to climb Mt. Everest is not for the view. It is that man and woman need the rush to do what is impossible. Going into space is the frontier. It is the time of Christopher and the boats which are rickety to go across the expansion of water. The exploring of Africa. It is there and we will try to figure out what is there, what is new and what excites us. Losses are expected and although tragic acceptable.

  12. Well, I wish I could the the space anthropologist who could go study space tourism. It was fun learning about tourism on earth but our future is in touring space next.

    1. These types of articles should be countered, and considering the large number of people that read this one (as seen from my wordpress metrics), it was one that is both timely and pertinent to the discussion.

    1. Without the money that has been spent on research and development and the improving of our lives through capitalism, the people that “actually need it” would be far higher and the vast majority would be dead by the age of 35.

      1. Reading this blog again I still can’t see the scientific purpose. That research hasn’t impacted all people. Some still starve to death, sleep on pavements, etc. I’m a firm believer of the word priorities. This to me isn’t. Unless I’m missing the point

        1. There are fewer people on the planet starving to death as a proportion of the population than at any time in human history. The reason is research and technology development. Before the industrial age, the average human lifespan seldom exceeded 35 years. Read history. Plagues, famines, and devastation from weather were the norms around the world. We have conquered the biggest biological problems of HIV and even the Ebola outbreak has been kept to no more than around 10,000 people in its worst outbreak. Just in 1918 tens of millions died from one flue epidemic. Cholera periodically killed tens of thousands of people here in the United States no more than a hundred years ago.

          The economic development of the resources of the solar system for the benefit of humanity will increase our total society’s wealth by another factor of 100. This will provide sufficient resources to guarantee that no one goes hungry or does not have a place to sleep. It is really just that simple.

  13. Great piece. It’s a shame about what has happened to NASA in the decades since the moon landing. However, the private sector has a way of getting things done.

    I’m curious what sort of territory problems could arise from developments on the moon.

  14. Reblogged this on MelsABloggingRookie and commented:
    I agree with him. I live at the crash site and the handling of it was very organized, discreet, law abiding and kept very private because of private ownership I am sure. They were very good at keeping us informed as to what was going on as well.

  15. Reblogged this on vancitydowntown and commented:
    I am one who is critical about the space race. The idea for it is not based on human advancement or even educational. The space race will not effect me or you . Its all about the stake holders and investors. I see it as a private venture in pursuing a high stakes event that looks past our basic concerns that we have about Earth, and hypes the impossible connection we would pretend to have with the other planets in our solar system. The astronaut going to Mars is running a fools errand.

    1. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but you could not be more wrong. We rely on space based assets every single day, from GPS to help you get where you are going with mapping software on smart phones, to weather, and communications. Every single cell tower in the world gets its time signals from GPS.

      If you complaint is about human spaceflight, you are equally misinformed. The economic development of the solar system, which requires humans, is the watershed event that allows the rest of the world to lift itself out of poverty, and keeps us in the west from falling into poverty due to the far more plentiful resources out there.

      If war is not to your liking, then this economic development is crucial to keeping us out of wars related to the limited resources of the Earth.

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