the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Government at Work

Posted by Jeff Id on September 10, 2010

I love space exploration.  I like the idea that money is spent on it, that people who do it are smart but just how many government employees are required to move a space shuttle?

I wonder what it looks like when SpaceX moves a rocket?


34 Responses to “Government at Work”

  1. Andrew said

    This is why I am of two minds on the scrapping of the manned spaceflight program by the administration. On the one hand, clearly we are getting toward the point where the market can and should start to take over the spaceflight business. I want to be a part of that, and would in some ways prefer to not have to compete with the government. On the other hand, I know that private spaceflight can’t close the gap over night, and in the mean time, the United States is going to be dependent on the Ruskies for getting into space, which is all kinds of wrong. I guess I just feel like the timing is wrong.

  2. David said

    I can’t tell if you are being snarky or not, but this is the last Orbiter to be rolled out of the Shuttle Processing Facility for the last flight of the Shuttle fleet. Just a bunch of KSC workers saying good by.

  3. kuhnkat said

    “… that people who do it are smart…”

    You mean like James Hansen and fellow travellers?

  4. Jason Calley said

    Jeff, I hope you have not been tricked by this video. I am pretty sure this is an out-take from Airplane II, the movie.
    🙂 Just kidding.

    Like Andrew (comment #1) I am of very mixed feelings about the end of the US manned space program. The anarcho-capitalist part of me says “stolen money wasted on something that private industry should do!” On the other hand, I cannot forget my excitement as a young child and teenager when the first Sputnik was launched, when the first humans went into space, when Apollo 11 landed… I was at the Space Center with a press pass when the first Shuttle launched. Such high hopes, and ultimatly such small (and delayed) accomplishments.

    My primary consolation is that SOMEONE will eventually find a practical way into space. I still hope that Americans will be an ongoing part of that process.

  5. Mike said

    I am not sorry to see the hugely wasteful manned space exploration program end. If it has ended.

    For some excellent history and perspective on space exploration, manned and unmanned, and exploration in general, I highly recommend Stephen Pyne’s new book *Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery* available at Amazon.

  6. jstults said

    Through countdown automation and simplicity of design, our rockets require an order of magnitude smaller launch crew than other US rockets.

    Rather than “two men and a truck”, it’s something like “ten geeks and some laptops”…

  7. Larry Geiger said

    It’s manned spacecraft. Requires more people than unmanned.

    This is not the last rollout. Discovery was rolled out yesterday for the November launch. The last launch is scheduled for February. Most of the people watching are reporters and KSC workers (not on the clock) saying goodbye. We were all invited to go watch.

    Manned spaceflight is expensive. No doubt about it. Some say that we should use unmanned craft only. Someone else makes those decisions. I happen to believe that the human race is going to spread out into space. Eventually. Why not us? YMMV.

  8. Brian H said

    SpaceX may get a go-ahead finally to man-rate the Dragon, and that will get astronauts to the ISS in far greater comfort than the Soyuz, at a fraction of the cost. Could have been in process already, but Congress is micro-managing the issue.

  9. Brian H said

    P.S.
    Take a look at the SpaceX manifest. Everyone from Canada to the EU to Argentina to Iridium etc. are signing on for Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launches.

    http://www.spacex.com/launch_manifest.php

  10. Ecoeng said

    Note the first shuttles had teeny tiny computers executing launch and re-entry programs which resided on a cassette tape in a little running Tandy cassette player!

    Despite a few snafus along the way, not too bad for a generation which was probably the last gasp of the good ol’ (real) engineers who had put together the Apollo program i.e. way back before post-modernism, sci-lite green degrees and the rise of wholesale spin doctoring sucked the heart right out of good ol’ American ‘can do’ technology.

    And who said humans weren’t or aren’t or shouldn’t be wholly ant-like in their major endeavours?

    When eventually we run up against the (equally) aggressive Bloboids from Beta Centauri we will probably be very, very thankful indeed there will be available about 10 billion backup copies (good and bad) of ………us.

  11. Jeff Id said

    I forgot about the cassette players. Wow.

    As I wrote above, I really think that the space program is worthwhile and necessary. There is way too much waste in it though.

    My guess is that SpaceX is about to blow it away in a manner unseen in history. Safety, cost, performance and cost^2.

  12. Mark T said

    “I really think that the space program is worthwhile and necessary. There is way too much waste in it though.”

    These two statements seem contradictory. If it is worthwhile we would be getting what we are paying for. We are not, not even close. That makes one wonder as well, why is it necessary if it provides such little reward at such great cost?

    IMO, if it was truly necessary, we would have gotten to space without government involvement. “Necessary” is nothing more than what people need, and if we needed it bad enough, we would have done it on our own. We likely would not be in space (other than satellites) right now without the government because, quite frankly, we don’t need to be.

    I realize that people like to make claims about how technology needs to advance and the only way to do so is through the government since they are the only ones that can fund it… But isn’t that the same argument used by people pushing health care on us? Why is socialism bad for health care but good for space exploration? Shouldn’t it consistently be a travesty to force people to accept something they don’t want or need?

    You (Jeff) have your own justification for why the space program is good, but so do those pushing health care or cap and trade down our throats. It’s the same clothes, just in different colors.

    Mark

  13. Brian H said

    Mark;
    So, anything that’s “necessary” (needed for a major goal, or for survival) necessarily gets done? I think not. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many failures to achieve major goals, and (historical) failures to survive. E.g.: whatever was “necessary” for the USSR to succceed an survive didn’t happen.

    Don’t confuse “inevitable” and “necessary”, IOW.

  14. Brian H said

    Re: Brian H (Sep 11 12:26), typoz: “succeed and”, not “succceed an”. 8-p

  15. Brian H said

    Mark;
    The need is something like what Hawking postulates: we’ve got to access the resources and real estate of the neighborhood at some point if we’re to survive. He’s pessimistic about how much time there is, but it might as well be sooner as later, regardless.

    Consider: one 1-mi. dia. nickel-iron NEO asteroid nudged into an accessible orbit (say, 20,000 miles up, or 2,000, or whatever) would provide easily extracted (almost pre-separated) precious metals equivalent to all those extracted from the crust in human history (plus plenty of base metal for eventual use in space, etc.) The current market value would be about $1M/capita — for the entire Earth. That’s a few quadrillion dollars, enough to make pocket change even of Obama’s deficits.
    And make the billions spent on space till then look like pennies on the sidewalk — hardly worth a glance.

  16. Mark T said

    So, anything that’s “necessary” (needed for a major goal, or for survival) necessarily gets done? I think not.

    Make up your mind, either it’s “anything” or only “needed for a major goal or for survival.” Either way, your claim is ridiculous and you apparently weren’t really reading what I said or didn’t understand it. We would have died out long ago if you were correct. The simple fact that we are here indicates that, on average, we have managed to get done what we have needed to get done. I never said all things that are necessary (for anything) get done, I said that those things would have been done if they were needed bad enough (we wouldn’t be around had survival issues not been done.)

    Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many failures to achieve major goals, and (historical) failures to survive. E.g.: whatever was “necessary” for the USSR to succceed an survive didn’t happen.

    Um, the USSR failed because it stifled the ability of the people to do what was necessary by doing for the people what the government thought was necessary. This is a really bad example.

    Don’t confuse “inevitable” and “necessary”, IOW.

    Why don’t you try to understand what “necessary” means, and how it is acheived, first. I’d also suggest commenting on what I wrote, not what you think I wrote.

    Mark

  17. John Norris said

    re: ” …just how many government employees are required to move a space shuttle?”

    Pretty funny. If I worked there and walked by, I certainly would have stopped for a quick view. I am guessing you would have too. It looks like that is much of what was going on; mostly curious onlookers.

  18. Jason Calley said

    Mark, I understand why you say “IMO, if it was truly necessary, we would have gotten to space without government involvement. “Necessary” is nothing more than what people need, and if we needed it bad enough, we would have done it on our own. We likely would not be in space (other than satellites) right now without the government because, quite frankly, we don’t need to be.”

    You are leaving out an important factor however. Government does indeed have a recent (last 50 years) history of advancing space flight — but primarily for and by the government. Private groups have been running a gauntlet of government rules, regulations and restrictions for decades now. If the market for space travel had not been artificially distorted by governmental regulation of some groups and also by granting limited access to other groups we would certainly have reached a free market solution — either for or against space travel — that better reflected market desires.

    Is anyone here old enough to remember the failed private space flight company OTRAG? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OTRAG

  19. Mark T said

    And, for the record, you still missed my point. Whether or not necessary things get done was only a side from the (obvious to most) larger point that it is not the government’s job to tell me how to live my life, no matter how many justifications you, or Jeff, or anybody else may come up with.

    Mark

  20. M. Simon said

    I forgot about the cassette players. Wow.

    I wonder if they were using the Kansas City Standard as their recording protocol. 2400 BPS.

  21. Brian H said

    Re: M. Simon (Sep 11 20:59),
    Shades of my Vic 20! Centipede, Frogger and the boyz.

  22. AJStrata said

    Jeff,

    Everyone in the business knows the shuttles are soon to be extinct. NASA employees and contractors who have put off for years seeing them up close and personal are now racing to catch a few last glimpses (since we can get on base with our badges). These pilgrimages are done on off time, not the tax payer dollars.

    Don’t over interpret this. NASA has not all of a sudden grown in size.

  23. nc said

    Jeff you dump a video like with some implied caustic remark on government workers, without looking into what is happening. Is this a reflection on the quality of your work. I expected more.

  24. dean said

    It looks like there were more than just a few photos taken. You can see the lines of people coming and going.

    On an aside, I was at a satellite manufacturer a couple years ago for a tour. They were moving a communications satellite (base cost of about a billion dollars). You should have seen the army they had watching the move. They had to have had 50 people standing around watching them move the satellite about 50 feet. All had a clipboard and were annotating on their specific areas…

    When the investment is high, the number of hands that touch it is also high.

  25. MarkS said

    SpaceX and other companies will probably lower the cost of launching cargo and humans into space using less complex and less capable systems. However, they will still be receiving substantial government support in the form of development funding, guaranteed launch contracts, as well as in indemnity. I believe that all of the companies who want to get into the spaceflight business are relying on the government for indemnity in case of an accident. That is a huge transfer of risk. Few commercial entities could survive a catastrophic accident that sends debris into a city. Wayne Hale (former Shuttle Program Manager) has an interesting blog entry on commercial space.

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.rss.html?pid=32537

  26. Brian H said

    Re: MarkS (Sep 13 13:57),
    ‘less complex and capable’? Compared to what? Soyuz? The Shuttle? Ares? Ariane?

    The Dragon capsule is extremely “capable”, and would comfortably transport 7. Your belittling nonsense is kinda juvenile.

  27. Jeff Id said

    In the eyes of an engineer, simple is beautiful. I believe the SpaceX design is superior to anything Nasa has or is building. They used the good tech which Nasa developed, in a far more simplified design. Every time engineers did something too complex, the boss came down on it hard. The result will be a low cost and very reliable rocket – my guess is that it will be shown to be better than anything previously developed for safety and cost and yes it will be paid for by you and I.

  28. Jeff Id said

    #23, sorry, it was difficult to look into. I think now that I was probably wrong, but my views have been colored by visits to state run offices around the country so you might give some points for that.

  29. Brian H said

    Re: Jeff Id (Sep 13 19:03),
    “… and yes it will be paid for by you and I.”
    Not hardly.

    The billing SpaceX submits to NASA or any client is a fraction of what Soyuz or any other launch provider would/does charge — including the current costs of using the Shuttle or Deltas, etc. SpaceX is developing a large stable of foreign clients — so how is the revenue from that “paid … by you and I”?

  30. Brian H said

    Jeff, everyone:
    Please stop referring to posts by number. With Greasemonkey in place, the numbering varies depending on how many posts “make the cut” to be shown for each user. E.g.: Jeff’s Sept. 13 7:04 post shows as #9 for me at the moment. The next time I log in, it will be some lower #, or not showing at all.

    Please use the timestamp or use the “Reply w/link” feature!

  31. Jeff Id said

    Currently SpaceX is extending into the billions in contracts from our government. It is a massive massive cost savings, which if it works, allows continued space exploration at a fractional cost. I’m a huge fan of SpaceX’s efforts to date and hope that it continues.

    I think what some of the critics miss about the space program are aspects of science which would be otherwise unexplored. The space program has given the US our huge advantage in aeronautics, materials and several technologies which would otherwise not exist. You can say, we’ll just invest in materials or we’ll just invest in something more direct, but the problems encountered in the space program need to be solved. What makes it far more worthwhile is that unlike climate science, the solutions MUST work. If they don’t, everyone knows in a hurry.

    What I don’t like about Nasa, is the incentiveization for ever more complex solutions. It feeds the organization when the device is more complex. No single person can direct it to achieve the same goals at lower cost or with less equipment. The replacement rockets which Obama cancelled were expected by some to be 1 billion USD/flight. Way way out of line. I’m still believe we’re stupid to cancel Nasa’s rocket, even at that cost but someone directing them to do it for 1/3 would get my vote.

    There is a legacy of knowledge at Nasa which we really really don’t want to loose. A kid can read a text, an experienced engineer knows how to apply the text. Anyway, I don’t expect anyone will change their minds about that either, but thought I’d put it out there.

  32. the video look like Egyptians moving temple parts in the desert.

  33. Brian H said

    …but someone directing them to do it for 1/3 would get my vote.

    There is a legacy of knowledge at Nasa which we really really don’t want to loose.

    Agree.
    Disagree.

    Having a long-range rocket would be nice, for sure. There are other initiatives in the works, though. Once halfway there/anywhere (in orbit) a long-duration ion thruster produces much shorter flight times than any butt-burner.

    And it would be good to loose as much NASA knowledge as possible (i.e., cut it loose for all to use.) Wouldn’t want to lose it, after all! 😉
    :-p

  34. MarkS said

    Re: Brian H (Sep 13 18:53),

    My intention was not to belittle. I should have referenced the Shuttle. I think that it is difficult to dispute that the Shuttle is overall the most capable and flexible space vehicle anyone has built (as well as the most complex), which is/was a big part of its problem. It was supposed to do too many jobs with a single design. For strictly launching people or cargo (separately) into LEO, yes – the Dragon (and the other commercial systems) will probably be much less expensive. I hope that they will also be much safer.

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