#91 December 1995
Section 184.108.40.206.091.of the Artemis Data Book
"Commercial space programs would seem to be in bad shape. On October 23rd, the Conestoga/Meteor (what was left of it) went into the ocean. The Meteor payload had trouble finding customers, as does SpaceHab. Other commercially developed launchers (Lockheed's LLV, OSC's Pegasus XL) have not been successful. The Wake Shield Facility performed better on its second flight, but still poses reliability problems that will scare off investors.
"I fully support your efforts to encourage non-governmental development of space activities, and to introduce new ways of thinking in this entire arena. But how do you respond to the rash of failures in the commercial space industry? Does this not send a message that maybe NASA's strict redundancy guidelines, high reliability parts, and many layers of reviews and tests may actually have some value in delivering systems that work (Galileo non-withstanding...)? "
As I see it, the recent rash of mishaps are anecdotal, and don't shake my belief that the commercial route is, long term, the better way to go. After all, the commercial people need to make money, and these failures don't do that cause any good. No one will take their failures more to heart and learn from them than they themselves - the penalty for failure to do so is going out of business.
In contrast, for all the superb work NASA has done in the past and continues to do within the ever more limited myopic limits set for it by Congress, the agency does not "need to make money" and therefore its product is not optimized to be economically viable, much less to be the foundation upon which profitable activity can emerge.
The Shuttle is a case in point. It is a magnificent machine of which the country is justly proud. But it is also a machine with no future, one on which, in fact, our future in space, if we have one, will not be built. Economically, it makes as much sense as Howard Hughes' "Spruce Goose."
NASA is getting "leaner and meaner," thanks to Dan Goldin, though his reform efforts have met much resistence as well as considerable inertia. Never forget that NASA has no competition to fear. In the government, NASA's place is safe. As with public schools, there are no penalties for failure.
Have faith! A government agency can only give us token space, proxy space, space for voyeurs. Look at the state of the Antarctic frontier now, 66 years after Little America! Presumably, most of us want more than that on the space frontier. There is only one way. The defense rests. -- Peter Kokh
"Anyone who uses his or her talents to the best of his or her ability to promote and hasten the realization of an open space frontier."
This means anything! - as a writer of general or textbook non-fiction, or of hard science fiction, screen plays, poetry, even "filk" songs; as an editor, publisher, bookseller; as a speaker or event organizer or exhibitor; as a teacher or curriculum planner; as an artist or model maker; as an actor, director, or producer; as a merchant; as an engineer, chemist, researcher in biospherics or experimental agriculture or as a space architect; as an entrepreneur or venture capitalist; as a lawyer. All these roles, and many more faceless support tasks, are the essence of either public outreach in depth, or of laying concrete foundations, or both.
There are far more menu options than those amongst us concerned only with political action would have us believe. We are more than letter and check writers, more than phone dialers. We are the people who would move off planet out onto the space frontier. We do it best by each doing our own thing as well as we can, not by doing solely what someone else would have us do to pursue some smaller vision. - MMM
Entry - "Open" Space Frontier
"A future in which people of all walks of life have access to, and live, work, and play in various settings off Earth."
The NSS Mission Statement reads: "to promote change in social, technical, economic, and political conditions to advance the day when people will live and work in space, through public education, political and local chapter activism, and the publication of the bi-monthly Ad Astra Magazine."
The NSS "Mission-centered goal: by 2010: human settlement in space with 25 people, launch costs under $50/lb to orbit, and space-generated revenues of $60 billion."
This reflects crucial influence of former L5 Society members who chose to stay on board at the time of the L5 - National Space Institute merger in 1987 which created NSS.
As NSS seems overtly preoccupied with reacting to one crisis after another in which political pressures would erode the current socialized space program (in the direction of no program at all), it might seem to the unfamiliar outside observer that NSS' sole purpose is to promote the continuance of the government's "closed" frontier policy ("astronauts only, government outposts only, scientific activities only") in effect since the dawn of the Space Age with Sputnik in 1957. The NSS Board, however, is firmly on record in support of an "open" frontier. Given its preoccupation, however, it is clear that the rest of us must work that much harder at strategies that Open the Frontier - outside NSS, if need be. - MMM
Entry - "Commercial Space"
"any for-profit endeavor or enterprise which increases the amount, scope, feasibility, and/or sustainable economic viability of robotic and/or human presence in Earth orbit and beyond."
One might get the idea from many space activists that commercial space means private launch companies and small satellite manufacturers - only! Even if this is qualified with an "at this stage of the game" this short list betrays a troubling lack of imagination, coming as it does from people who say they want to live somewhere other than on Earth!
While it may be easier, and safer, to restrict one's ambitions to the "toy space" of microsats and small launchers, our goal is to create a self-sustaining human economy beyond Earth's atmosphere. This clearly requires commercial entry into man-rated rockets and habitat hardware. This has already begun. The for-profit SpaceHab shuttle payload bay module is already a reality, but has faced a rocky road.
Early plans for commercial tourist modules were ill-fated because they depended either on paper study spacecraft, or upon the government-owned shuttle. Any effort to piggyback commercial for-profit activity on profit-be-damned agency programs is at the mercy of political pressures and bureaucratic procedures - hardly a place to put dearly acquired capital.
Many put all their hopes on the X-33 program. But the dream of Cheap Access from NASA seems troublingly self-deceptive. Meanwhile, would-be commercial players stall.
We clearly need commercial manned access to space. Yet the very presence of the shuttle system works in a highly preemptive manner to prevent such access from materializing. What is needed is to tie in with a commercial manned destination: a commercial space station. With the adoption for the International Space Station Alpha of the high inclination orbit favored by the Russians, there has never been more reason than now for an alternative, a commercial station-depot in a low inclination orbit vastly superior as a staging and refueling place for deep space missions. Alpha would serve Moon and Mars missions at a severe handicap in comparison. There will also be need in orbit for more lab space at commercial disposal than ISSA can or will provide.
We also need to dust off the "Space Cartage Act" proposed many years ago whereby anything once in orbit and without its own motive power, could be moved to another space location or orbit only by a commercial vehicle.
Yet there is another kind of entrepreneurial activity which has the potential to accelerate the realization of an open space frontier. It is not at the mercy of bureaucratic, administrative, or congressional whim. Why not? Simply because it is a path that does not threaten powerful vested interests. We are talking about "spin up" research & development.
"Spin up" works like this. The entrepreneur considers the many and varied technologies that will someday be needed on the space frontier. Next he/she considers what profitable terrestrial applications there may be for each of these. There follows a business plan, and ultimately a for-profit terrestrial enterprise which has the happy effect of pre-developing and de-bugging and putting "on the shelf" a technology which will one day help open the frontier - sooner and at less cost. - MMM
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto