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Fake Cover Photo?

Aurora? No way! That thing in the pictures is a very simplistic design. Reason I thought it was a model: A. An efficient delta wing has a conical cambered leading edge. B. Rudder design is too small for a supersonic vehicle; in addition there is no ventral fin. C. No visible jet exhaust or propeller. D. Canopy out of proportion to a practical military aircraft. E. Generally crude design - no area rule, wing flat, rudders appear to be lacking in lateral area and too far forward for high speed flight. (again). F. landing gear not sized for useful vehicle.


Ed: That photo was buzzing around the Internet so I put it up for kicks.  Most think its just a model.  However, a model of the F-117 was sold for several years before it was unveiled, so if anyone snapped a photo, it would be dismissed as a photo of a toy model sold in stores.

Stuck on the Space Shuttle Program

I appreciate and share your frustration with the US space program.  I would further extend it to all of aerospace development in the last 30 years.  In the 50's and 60's new airplane types and new space development were being introduced at a phenomenal rate.  Bombers, fighters, launch vehicles all were in constant development, deployment, and retirement.  Somewhere in the 70's development and deployment slowed to a crawl.  In the past 30 years we have seen the B1 and B2 and the F15, F16, F18, and F22, and the space shuttle.  Before then the aerospace technology development drove the whole technology industry.  Now my $300 PC has more processing power than all of the computers on the B2 combined. (or any platform INCLUDING the space station)  I believe the source of the problem is excessive bean counting at Congress on platform development.  They "save" money by stretching a program out over a decade or more to reduce the procurement cost.  The irony is that is costs more than rapid development and deployment and you end up with NO USABLE PLATFORM at the end.  If $10 billion for 20 aircraft is expensive, try dividing $8 billion (or any number) by 0 aircraft.  The problem will only get worse with the "winner takes all' award of JSF which will insure it is the only new (manned) military a/c development for the next 20 years.

I feel we should go back to the old model and rapidly develop and deploy new aircraft and space craft in smaller increments of technology. Take advantage of recent commercial technology developments (Segway + UAV? Tivo + air traffic control? who knows?) Reward innovative technology development and smaller companies with the balls to take chances.  The aerospace industry is stagnant and its getting worse.  I worked in the industry for 15 years and left disgusted at the wasted money in maintaining the status quo and also because I was losing ground with the developments in mainstream electronics.  I can now buy a $16 processor which could fly the space shuttle, a $3 Ethernet terminal device will transmit 200 times more data than the $3million dollar apiece MDMs on the space station (see Honeywell)

I agree with your article, I'm just frustrated at a higher level
. I don't have a problem with the shuttle's existence.  Just a problem that no (superior) replacement is on the horizon for 20 years.  If NASA can maintain the shuttle and generate its replacement, more power to them.  As you pointed out, it seems unlikely they can maintain the shuttle and build the station and develop a new orbiter at the same time.  Of course if the shuttle is grounded then the station is doomed and that's not going to happen.  The only solution I can see is the cheap development of alternative launch platforms - ala Sky Ramp.

                                                                                                Marty Fritz

Drop the Shuttle

I agree that the space shuttle should be dropped in favor of more profitable projects. One you mentioned is actually called VASIMR (VAriable Specific Impulse Magneto-plasmadynamic Rocket). It's definitely a project worth investing in. Perhaps the most interesting is ICAN II. This antimatter powered spacecraft concept could do mars in two weeks. Although it seems this is some time off (penning trap quantity limitations and expense) it would happen a lot sooner than the space elevator. That technology requires an as yet developed means of capturing an asteroid and parking it in orbit so it may be tethered with the elevator. Although it would be cheap to send material to orbit once created it would be prohibitively expensive to construct (elevator shaft micro composites) and is probably seven or more decades away.                      

A maglev rail launch system is the cheapest way to launch small payloads or spacecraft by far. The space tether launch system is probably the most cost efficient means of launching cargo from earth orbit. Together these technologies could revolutionize space travel. The only stumbling block is that these technologies are maybe less glamorous than the space shuttle.  NASA is wasting too much money obsessing with manned missions which limit exploration. They need to work on real exploration since calling what they do exploration devalues the currency of the word.

                                                                                       Damon Moran

Ed: Insiders tell me that maglev is a great concept, but requires some major technological breakthroughs.  The Economist had a great article about the Shuttle two weeks ago: 2020 Vision with the funny cartoon above.  They concluded "...even if scaled back, most of this programme is pointless, and it would be unreasonably expensive even if it had a point."

Space Fantasies

With all respect, you do not know what you're talking about. I work in the fringes of the space biz (astronomy & unmanned satellites) and am familiar with the realities, vs. the fantasies which you might succeed in putting past some of your uneducated readers. I suggest you take some courses in space systems & operations to learn of some of the realities first hand.

The statistics you use throughout your writing are vague and misapplied, similar to the approach used by many "conspiracy theorists". You should change your writing approach to admit the fact that you are anti-space, to me you don't seem interested in promoting new launch technologies except as a means to disparage existing ones like the shuttle. That is if you have the guts to be honest.

                                                                                               G. Feil

Ed: I asked Mr. Feil to identify specific fantasies.  He provided examples, but eventually agreed they were debatable.

The Shuttle Conspiracy 

Shuttle was designed to directly employ 30,000 people and tens of thousands more mixmastering data from scientific experiments.  It has accomplished this mission wonderfully.  The present Station has followed Shuttle's primary design principle.  Station's purpose is to provide employment for people on the ground, not in space.  It's an extension of the worldwide scientific-academic complex.  What goes on at Station is designed to provide data to justify tens of thousands of academics snagging research grants and writing dissertations for the next 100 years.  Station, like Shuttle, serves no further purpose.  Both were ends in themselves.  It's the same with all of NASA's proposed Mars projects.  These proposed Mars boondoggles are also not designed to accomplish anything beyond mining more "data" for yet more legions of chair-bound parasites thronging the universities.

Naturally they talk about reducing costs up front.  That's just b.s. designed to get the sucker hooked like 1972.  The real program goals boil down to two:

"1.  Keep Shuttle funded and operating until 2020."

"2.  Keep NASA's consultancy and academic-scientific complex fully funded until 2040." 

SLI isn't about going to space.  It's about keeping people employed on the ground talking about going to space.  Meanwhile Shuttle will go to space once a quarter until the next mission disintegrates.  At that point the ISS crew will board their lifeboat and manned space is finished.

Same-o same-o.  More paper studies, more consulting contracts, more conferences, more TDY to the Bahamas, Moscow, Paris, more C-V entries for yet more articles and conference papers,  on and on it goes.  There's never a deadline for a decision point.  And so one will never be made.  That's because next year's technology will be better than this year's technology.  "Here, we have computer sims to prove it." Meanwhile the 5 legions employed on Shuttle keep on trucking at $100k @ a year.  This Sky Ramp thing makes them look like idiots, so they hate it.

Sky Ramp offers a real near term competitor to the entire Shuttle system that doesn't take until 2020 to field. I know Sky Ramp is doing better than the others on quantitative.  But Sky Ramp does not have slick lobbyists, big budgets or an existing political constituency like Shittle and the offered alternatives.  We're a just small community of virtuous true believers and boy scouts.  Some of us are boys who grew up in the 60s building models of Mercury, Gemini, Apollo.  We've spent the rest of our lives wondering who the hell stole our dreams from us.  Sky Ramp has to "sell" to the other millions of small folks from the grass roots.    It has to be sold to all the Space Development people who are ready for Phase II once someone else solves Phase I (cheap launch).

The Washington process is irretrievably corrupt.  After years on Joint Staff and working in Force Modernization I learned a few things about how bureaucratic-contractor complexes function. I have a different view of why NASA (really NASA/Boeing) is doing SLI as it is and seeding easily disproved  alternate concepts.  SLI was always  designed to produce an incrementalized Shuttle II.  Since Shuttle has acquired such a bad reputation it became necessary to create a negative consensus that upgrading Shuttle is the only 'practical' alternative'.  Like swallowing castor oil.   Same reason NASA internationalized the space station.  It raised the bidding for Congress to decide to kill Station outright.

So SLI funded a lot of virtual reality companies with $1-$4 million grants to 'names' and credentials willing to front.  70% of the money gets pocketed, 20% advertises the idea and 10% demonstrates things that are already known.  A great example was Kistler showing pictures of airbags attached to cylinders drop tested from cranes outside a $5k a month rented hangar.  It was all chaff.

These virtual reality companies started in the mid 90s also addressed another danger that the stock market crash has since eliminated.  There were a lot of young Silicon Valley types with jeans bulging with cash.  A dude named Joe Firmage even started backing UFO research of all things.  Gates was talking about Space and he had serious money to put behind it. The danger was 10 or 20 of these types grouping up and backing something practical.  So Boeing/NASA funded a series of fronts designed as blackholes to trap any venture capital.  Don't underestimate "them".  They're completely capable of confronting Congress and the nation with the alternatives of  "Shuttle II or no manned space program."

 NASA is polluting private space development and the public debate with all its million here million there grants to "private" companies. The only real private companies seriously aiming at operations are targeting micro-satellites and cheap launchers.  The designer of SLI (i.e. Golden) understands the Washington decision-making process alright.  He knows that Shuttle will always win so long as its competition is always in the future and hence carry more apparent technical risk to non-expert Congressmen. 
Maybe Sky Ramp needs to be sold to the USAF.


Cave Technology

Do you live in a cave? You must have tripped on a stalagmite and hit your head. To publish that editorial on scrapping the shuttle program shows how little you know. Get a book and read how the system was designed, it was a series of compromises on reusability cost and development. It was a typical government decision to go with it the way it is. Sure it is not perfect, but it works. Look at the last 12 years of NASA spending. We have not grown in the NASA budget since this year when the FY '03 budget went over $15B. We are a bargain for the services provided, wouldn't Saddam love to have our technology?

While you rave about exotic antigravity rotators you ignore that little fact that IT IS EXPENSIVE! You could blow 20 years of Shuttle budget on the R&D for that baby and never get there. While you look into that and wild rail systems which will go on a fast track to nowhere, think about the technology we have gained by 22 years of manned orbital flight. Have you ever heard of SIR sir or SRTM? I'll let you look that up we can see through rocks with it. It is quite handy in hunting cave dwellers with bad intent. 

Those groceries you eat are farmed most efficiently with our Shuttle payloads. Weather and geology have also made marked breakthrough with shuttle payloads. When you have to ask what spectacular discoveries we have gained by Shuttle payloads look at the Hubble Space Telescope website and check out what has been going on or look at the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory or the X-Ray telescope launched on Eileen Collins mission. We have made dramatic strides in 3-D cancer cell growth in micro gravity and we continue with breakthroughs on reverse engineering these 3-D cell structures, finding the models for fighting these cells.

                                                                                                            John McKenna

Ed: My editorial stated the Shuttle was a good try for the 1970s, but like most Americans, I can't believe the plan in 2002 is Space Shuttle II.  One problem in working in large bureaucracies like NASA with a huge public relations department is that so much BS is produced that everyone involved starts to believe it.  If you offered all the details of space shuttle technology to Saddam, he wouldn't give you a dollar for it.  NASA has spent $100 billion on the shuttle, if those gadgets you mentioned are all we got, I'm not happy since I don't live in cave and have no use for a SRTM to see through rocks. 

We Need Progress

Rocket science is indeed a local issue for Huntsville. With peaceful uses of space being the very soul of this place it is important that MSFC be successful especially in regard "to orbit" propulsion. If we can be successful we might even be able to restore the greatness of our space effort here and begin bringing back (peaceful) space related work instead of continuing to witness the steady drain that has occurred over the past decade.

But we have been faltering in regard to designing cheap methods of getting into orbit. For example the physics would not allow the X-33 Venturstar concept to gain orbit (there was no payload here, I got into trouble in 1996 for suggesting that) without assisted launch and yet we wasted essentially a decade on this attempt. Now the space shuttle launch must be continued at least another decade or more. Decade after decade of the same $500million launches into earth orbit. And most disappointing we are now finding that the physics was never learned by the people who do this space launch work.

For example for (Aldrin's) SLI booster flyback it's a "mass divergence" problem. The wings weigh a lot, so there is a greater fuel requirement to lift the wings, therefore the need for larger wings, etc.., thus the mass divergence. Therefore you really can't fly back that huge shuttle fuel tank thus making SRB booster flyback the only option left. But booster flyback is hardly worth it since the boosters are reusable anyway. So we have only an incremental gain in booster flyback since the huge fuel tank is still not reusable.

So up to now it is not the physics that mattered so much as whether the launch system is simple, safe, whether the launch facility is cheap to build, whether it is too different (not much for booster flyback), is someone important (like Buzz Aldrin) pushing the concept, etc.

But the priorities should be:

1) Does the physics allow it to work?

2) Is it totally reusable? (partial reusability has proved a failure, $500M launches)

3) Is the RLV small enough to mass produce? (using perhaps commercial airplane mass production methods)

4) Even if the launch facility itself is complex (your car is complex!) and very expensive (airports are expensive) will the costs per launch go down and down (to perhaps even commercial airline travel airfare with little launch support needed eventually) as the bugs are taken out of launch system and the frequency of launch increased?

Now if these priorities (especially the first one) are not satisfied we needn't worry about how safe to make it or how simple and 'new' the technology is since it won't be worth building anyway.

By the way, these priorities can be satisfied by pneumatic assisted launch (nondetonation preheating, mach 2 release, etc.), maglev on a slope,  rocket sled launch and possibly by certain types of supersonic piggyback or supersonic towing (with midair refueling); being careful here of course that m/mo~.9 here so fat RLV with high isp, etc. Also there are more exotic methods of space launch that would do far better than even these (e.g., space elevators, electromagnetic methods mentioned at STAIF, etc.).

The simple fact is that a very different launch methodology (assisted launch) must be incorporated if we are to make more than incremental gain in space launch, develop a true, operational, RLV. There has to be a paradigm shift here or we are not going to be successful and incrementalism is not success in this case. We cannot afford anymore failures (especially ones that ignore simple physics). They are ruining us here in Huntsville.


Can't Fix the Shuttle

The Space Shuttle is a magnificent machine, but we cannot let our affection for it blind us to the reality it is a complex, expensive, and fragile system.  Plans to extend its service for another twenty or thirty years are misguided as the fleet cannot meet demands of the future.

     We’ve flown no more than nine missions in one year.  Those who want to keep using the Shuttle another two decades say the system can manage 10-12 flights per year.  Considering that a Shuttle launch costs $500 million, one wonders how this will ever happen.  Structural fatigue is an important issue with the system, with some predicting an individual Shuttle will be worn out after 50 flights.  The original plan to phase out the Shuttle in 2012 is the correct one.  A new generation vehicle based on Sky Ramp technology should make its initial tests a few years earlier so that it could be operational by 2012.

     I do not like the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) so I did a feasibility study earlier this year (for a graduate class) for the liquid fly back booster (LFBB) system and discovered it is more involved than it seems.  Two different aerospace companies state they could complete the product in four years with $5 billion dollars.  When President Reagan committed the nation to a space station in 1984, the project was supposed to be complete after eight years and $8 billion.  Considering history, your estimate that a LFBB would require a decade’s development seems more realistic.  We would have to build a new crawler (vehicle) to transport LFBB-equipped Shuttles to the pad, and that would take five years.  Furthermore, the Shuttle’s two launch pads would require 18 months of changes to support LFBBs.  Actually, we would need three years, because the pads must be modified consecutively, not simultaneously, if we want to keep flying.  This would cost $300 million.  Additionally, the building in which we assemble the Shuttle stack would have to be modified to accept the new boosters. 

     In a best-case scenario, the LFBB system would be ready in five years, though we were planning to phase the Shuttle out in ten years.  Therefore, if we developed the LFBB system we would be obligated keep using the Shuttle to 2020 or 2030, ignoring that even with nice updates it an aging and antiquated vehicle.  As you’ve mentioned, the program would consume all the funds for better vehicles and deserving projects like the plasma rocket.

     We absolutely have to reduce the costs of getting into orbit, or else the space program will die.  It cannot continue to be something only the government can afford.  Almost everyone who has been to space is a government employee; this cannot continue if space really will be a frontier.

     A few people recommend we fly commercial passengers on the Shuttle.  This is a controversial, even inflammatory suggestion.  But we’ve already flown legislative passengers.  The Russians have been charging people $20 million for Soyuz flights.  That would not make a dent in the costs of a Shuttle mission.  But many have noted the irony:  Russians are being capitalists, while we are acting like communists.

     Reducing the cost of low Earth orbit space would cause demand to explode.  All kinds of opportunities would open in manufacturing, tourism, exploration, and engineering.  To begin with, there could be two versions of your first Sky Ramp-based space vehicle; one designed to include a crew and another that would be a fully automated freighter.  Ultimately, Sky Ramp technology would lead to more opportunities for the aerospace industry than a LFBB program keeping an already antiquated system going for another two or three decades.  I’ve included a link to an aerospace engineer’s editorial that says the USAF is getting frustrated with NASA’s dependency on the Shuttle.,2933,66621,00.html

                                                                                     Phillip Park

Limit Veterans Day Holiday to Vets

I absolutely agree with your piece on Veterans Day.  Not only am I a Vet (who saw combat)  that has to work on Veterans Day, but when I was in the service, I never had Veterans Day off either.  The only people that get Veterans day off presently are non-Veterans.  It's a disgrace.

                                                                                      Scott Storkamp

I totally agree with you. I see all the schools off for this day and I'm safe to say that most of the teachers and all of the children are not war torn vets. I served in Vietnam in 1968-69 and have had to work every veterans day since then. If anyone should be off with pay it should be us!

                                                                                          Bud Tucker      

As an Honorably Discharged Veteran, I sure support this idea. Particularly as I sit here working on Veterans Day since my employer doesn't recognize it as a day off.

                                                                                         Jeff Huckins

I'm an honorably discharged veteran of the Vietnam "conflict", and also a federal employee with the DVA. As a firefighter, I'm one of a handful of employees deemed "essential" enough to be here serving our veterans today. I'd like to commend you on the concept of your article, tho I doubt very much that it will ever come to fruition.

                                                                                  Richard Maltaverne

Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!!!  I am not a veteran but live with a veteran.  I had yesterday off and he had to work.  What is with that.  I agree with you, I would gladly give my day off up so that he and other veterans can have a day for themselves.  They preserve our Freedom for us! They defend our Country against all enemies and what to we do for them.  Nothing!  Again, take my day and give it to them.  Thanks for speaking up.

                                                                                  Connie Dempsey

Bravo!!! I spent ten years in the US military, from 1960 to 1970.  Since then there have been 32 Veterans Days - I've only had one of them off.  It has always been a slap in the face to me to watch all of the government employees get the day off, with pay, while I am required to show up and put in a full day's work.  Then, to add insult to injury, I have to pay for them taking the day off through my taxes.

The brave men and women that served during the Vietnam era were treated with disrespect and disdain for answering the call to duty for their country.  Now virtually all of those who held us in such disdain willfully and without hesitation take the day off, with pay, that was set aside to acknowledge our efforts in the defense of our country. I have never seen such hypocrisy in my life. I haven't seen one of those who protested our response to our call to duty turn down the Veteran's Day holiday as an expression of their continuing opposition to what we were
asked to do in the service of our country.

The day that was set aside to honor the veterans in fact dishonors them by rewarding those who didn't serve and ignoring those who did.  I agree with your suggestions entirely.  If a person has a DD-214 he/she should be awarded a paid day off on Veteran's Day.  If not, it should just be another working day.  This country needs to honor the right people.  The only consolation to the veteran is that on Veteran's Day the freeways are virtually empty on the way to work because of the inordinate number of undeserving government employees who are still home in bed.

                                                                                       Thomas Pederson

I loved your editorial regarding Veteran's Day. I am not a Vet. But I never have been happy the way Americans ignore Veteran's Day. My father is a Vet of WWII.  In the private sector non of us get Veteran's Day, Columbus Day, etc. off.  However, I think by pulling a little extra weight while Dale (Navy) and Kyle (Army)(2 managers in my department) would be a trivial price to pay to honor these men and women.

                                                                                          Charles Snyder

Ed: I received dozens of supportive e-mails about limiting Veterans Day holiday's to veterans.  Some wished there was a way to make everyone appreciate veterans, and one thought spouses and children of veterans should get the day off too.  Overall, this is one of G2mil's most popular ideas, and would save the government money too.

Base Closings

"A small research base with no aircraft" is a really inadequate description of Hanscom Air Force Base, one of the largest businesses in New England, handling about $3.3 billion dollars a year, base population of around 16,000, which handles acquisition of air traffic control, ground based and airborne surveillance radar, communication links, both satellite and airborne, basic research which has included inventing phased array antennas, the modem, and the CD.  Hanscom is also the full service base for the 85,000 military retirees in New England.   Please get your facts straight.

                                                                                           Alan Budreau

Ed: According the USAF, Hanscom has 2036 active duty and 2380 civilians, and I'm sure you will agree that half of those positions exist just to support the base itself.  It has never been a mission of the US military to "support retirees".  They are allowed to use base services, but its selfish to suggest that taxpayers keep bases open for their convenience.  Hanscom work can be done at other Air Force Labs, or contracted out.  The Air Force Lab in Rome NY functions without support from a military base with over 2000 airmen.

Rubber Boats in the Attack

    After reading your and Mike Sparks article about the U.S. Army's lack of amphibious vehicles, I found a Sept. 29 article in the Washington Post  "Tanks Test a 'Barrier' to Baghdad" about a Texas exercise to cross the Euphrates.  Yep, you are right, they start out by sending infantry across the river at night in rubber boats.  I guess the Army may have to relearn World War II lessons, or ask the Marines to help out, again.

                                                                                                 Name Withheld


When you said people might be "Wellstoned," my hair stood on end. I hope there is no reason to believe that poor man (and everyone else on the airplane) was assassinated.          

                                                                                          Phillip Park                                                                                          

Ed: I certainly have no proof, but then no proof has been presented that this was an accident.  The King Air is considered highly reliable and can land safely if one of its two engines quit.  Both pilots were experienced and tests proved drug and alcohol free.  The weather was not perfect, but not bad.  There was no distress call or bad approach, it just fell from the sky.

Senator Wellstone was the leading critic of the Bush administration's suspension of civil rights in the USA and massive new military spending.  His opposition to invading Iraq made him unpopular with radical Israelis (e.g. Mossad) and he opposed wasting three billion dollars year on a pointless drug war in Columbia.  Much of that money goes to CIA mercenaries whose operations against minor drug lords keep prices high for the big fish.  Keep in mind the CIA just murdered a US citizen in Yemen who was riding with known terrorists and there has been no outrage in Congress or the major media.  

Wellstone was favored to win his seat, which will now become a Republican seat as that party takes charge of the Senate.  Small plane crashes are a common way to eliminate political opponents in Third World countries, yet the American media will not even suggest that it can happen in the USA.  The media also minimized news coverage last year when new computerized ballistics fingerprinting tests were conducted on the gun that was used to kill Martin Luther King, as part of a civil lawsuit by the King family.  James Earl Ray claims he did not kill King, and why he would leave a gun registered in his name at the scene makes no sense.  The results of the test were sealed by a Federal judge, the civil suit dismissed, then the Federal government agreed to buy King's personal papers from his family for $20 million.  All this information was reported in the back pages of major publications, but never in one article on the front page.

Christian Devils 

I came across your site from a link at Yahoo. In the depths of my recent "depression" lately, of Bush war hawks and a Christian fundamentalist movement intent on preserving Israel at all costs to assure the second coming of Jesus (I saw it on "60 Minutes" and at the Christian Coalition web site), I'm ecstatic to find a site of (ex-)military men who want a sane defense structure. How can we survive as a country with a $400 billion yearly "defense" budget? When will those square-miles of military hardware at Ft. Hood in Texas ever be used? How does all this funding stop Al-Qaeda types from using the tools of our open society against us again?

I'm sure few in power pay attention to your words and your site, but I hope I'm wrong. I loved reading through your different articles and send you all the encouragement I'm able.  Keep up the great work!

                                                                                                  Howard Hyten

Ed: Former international terrorist Oliver North is part of that group praying for World War III.  He was on Fox News saying it wasn't Israel's fault that children were killed by a 2000 lb aerial bomb dropped on an apartment building; it was the suspected terrorists' fault for sleeping there.  When North ran for the Virginia senate seat a few years ago, fellow Republican and former US Marine, Senator John Warner endorsed his Democratic opponent, Charles Robb.  Obviously, Warner has inside knowledge of North's shady "activities".