Space, the final frontier


After my post above about the ISS, I read with interest today the following article:

It sounds as though both Russia and the USA are tempted to abandon the ISS by the end of 2024, with the potential for private enterprise to take over.

Have to say, the first thing that came to my mind was the tv series, The Expanse.

Whilst Elon’s SpaceX was touted as a potential interested party, given Elon’s aim to set up a base on the Moon (and then Mars), somehow I wonder whether he’d be interested - especially given that the main reason being offered for abandoning the ISS is the goal to return to the Moon, and go to Mars…

Nonetheless, whilst my initial reaction was “Noooo,” I guess the reality is being seen right now - private enterprise has stepped up and is playing a major role in space exploration, instead of it solely being the part of government. And if privatisation of the ISS allows business enterprise the chance to advance technology in ways that haven’t been happening thus far, plus freeing public funds for the push beyond near-Earth orbit… Maybe it is a good thing.


Dont forget to read Ben Bova’s Asteroid Wars. And Moonbase. And Jupiter. etc etc. There’s so much of The Expanse that reminds me of Bova’s work.


Getting the ISS out of the hands of bureaucracy would be a good thing. Look at the price difference between any NASA project and what Musk has done as a simple comparison example.
Why the private sector would be interested, rather than just up their own newer and better version, is another question. The bureaucrats would no doubt try blocking up with a lot of regulatory objections to any new facility which therefore might make jury rigging the already in place ISS a viable alternative.


The Expanse also reminds me of Heinlien’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” which explored how a liberation revolution could occur on a moon base, warts and all.

It is quite a famous piece, elevating and immortalising TANSTAAFL in sci-fi geekdom (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch) and interestingly, unlike standard Hollywood tropes, the computer that becomes self aware does not become evil.

I never understood why it was never made into a movie, but given recent events in US politics and the ruling class views of Hollywood in recent years, if made today it would be stuffed up and it’s original meaning would be inverted, just like Starship Troopers.


I expect a portion of the difference between Musk’s launch cost, and NASA’s, would be safety. But it wouldn’t be the entire difference. Which is not to say that Musk wants his potential astronauts to die in a death-trap, but I could imagine NASA, being publicly funded, and having felt the scrutiny of the Shuttle failures, and early Apollo fire, going to greater pains to reduce potential risks.

I really need to read more sci-fi… :thinking:


There probably are different risk calculations, and launching straight up with that much explosive power under your arse is inherently risky.
That said, civil service as a whole is a complex mesh of risk aversion, buck passing and refusal to accept responsibility, combined with power seeking empire building with copious quantities of OPM.
The private sector has this too, especially in long standing large corporations, yet it is tempered to a degree by the fact they aren’t using OPM.
It doesn’t matter in the end, institutionalisation will create internal empires that seek to self perpetuate and divert for the insiders’ Benefit. It doesn’t really matter the origin, this is true of large corporations like banks and computer companies, Government funded boondoggles like NASA, media like the ABC or even supposedly altruistic groups like Greenpeace or Oxfam. All should eventually have a useby date or accept institutional capture by a self perpetuating bureaucracy.
What are essentially startups like SpaceX have less invested in the old way of doing things and thus get more done better, at least in the early days.


Reusable rockets is the main downward driver of price isn’t it?

I also think NASA has, since 1967 at least, had quite a different approach to organisations like SpaceX. Musk has said as much, describing the “failure is not an option” approach of NASA as impractical for SpaceX, which is fair enough. Until you chargrill 3 astronauts. Horrific accidents and vast amounts of public money do tend to make organisations risk averse. Which I also think is fair enough. I doubt that SpaceX would have got Apollo 13 home.

What is OPM? Checked for definitions and there are many. Object-Process Methodology maybe?


Other Peoples’ Money curtesy of the taxpayer, or as is the norm for western countries these days, the generation after the next taxpayer. What is particularly attractive about OPM is it is much easier to use than your own money. Just ask Barnaby Joyce or Tony Burke.

Musk on the other hand is mostly risking his and his voluntarily contributing investers’ Money. Salute.


That sentence really spoke to me, @soulman!

I don’t actually know a whole lot about Elon Musk. I would like to think that, in a similar situation, he and his team would pull out all the stops and find a solution - If nothing else, facing investors and a board of directors with the news that you’d lost the crew of a rocket would be pretty poor for business.

I’d like to think that Musk is a well-intentioned individual given that his 2 main ventures - Telsa (all about environmentally friendly cars) and SpaceX (all about moving mankind toward being an interplanetary species) are at face value rather philanthropic. Yes, he’s a billionaire from his ventures… But - a good guy… right?

From my perspective… Unless we kill ourselves before Musk can pull it off, I could certainly believe he will put man back on the moon, and possibly even start a “moon base”, with Mars presumably then just a footstep or three away. My completely self-serving view then is that hopefully once established, they’ll open the doors for tourists (!)… (Though for fiscal, if not health reasons, I doubt I’ll ever actually set foot on the pale sphere that circles above our heads each night…)

Tourism however - again provided it was safe - would have such potential to increase funding for further exploration.


Seeing that image, I can’t help but think of the opening of Heavy Metal. I guess a re-do could use a Tesla in place of the Corvette.


Whatever their intentions, they are going to have to find some other fuel source.






I have no idea what he’s like, but am inclined to think of him in a positive way because he is coming from a completely different place to most CEOs. I consider him a visionary in the same sense as Steve Jobs, though he doesn’t capture my attention in quite the same way. He’s not at all driven by money, which makes him extremely dangerous to his competitors, and seems pretty cavalier about shareholder value.

I really like that he is so playful. Sending a Roadster up in the FH test was just great. A creative way to get people dreaming about space flight in particular and the future in general. Neil deGrasse Tyson says that one of the most important reasons to fund NASA (though I’m sure he would apply this to SpaceX too) to do big things is that things like going to the moon gave us all something to dream about and also encouraged people’s trust and confidence in science. We desperately need more of that.


Thank you for recommending this show. I loved every second of it and it’s sparked this excitement in me that my generation has never had the privilege of feeling. I hope Musk can make the Mars colony a reality! I’m rooting for them!


I still can’t believe that reverse-landing a rocket is the best approach…!

Surely they would be better splitting the rocket - have the humans land in something akin to the Moon lander, and then land the cargo some other way. That, I presume, would allow for the cargo section to tolerate a lot heavier G forces in the landing, than if it had humans aboard…??

That said, I’m sure NASA / SpaceX have much better educated space techs on their payroll than myself. :slight_smile:


Voyager 1 and 2 were launched just weeks before I was born… and now they have both (kind of) left the solar system…


If you’d asked me 30 years ago I’d have said the future lies in aero landings (a properly reusable version of a shuttle design possible launched from a launcher using runway take off) and even 15 years ago I’d have pointed at SpaceShipOne as ‘evidence’ that I was probably correct.

Now I’m not so sure, I still think the design idea is elegant and has potential to save operating costs (which means more launches and more weight in space) but it appears (from the outside) that development has slowed down since Scaled Composites have been taken over by Northrop Grumman.

They do have the Stratolaunch scheduled to ‘launch’ in 2019 but that puts them well behind SpaceX and they were IMHO in front 15 years ago.


Pluto did not complete a single solar rotation from being named (1930), to being reclassified as a dwarf (2006).

New dwarf planet just found beyond Pluto - nicknamed Farout.



Single greatest achievement?

Hmm, well, got to be the moon landing, right?

(Sorry conspiracy theorists - I don’t buy into it - fun as it may be to theorise that there was a “Capricorn One” style fake landing, I believe we did make it to the moon in 69…)

What one really really really has to wonder therefore - how did NASA’s brightest reach the conclusion that wiping 45-odd tapes of data/footage from that fateful day in 1969 would be a good idea? Why wipe your master copies of the moon landing?!?!

For decades I’ve known that the BBC wiped hundreds of reels of Doctor Who, and other back-catalogues from their archives in the 1970’s in order to make room for new content / save costs / re-use original tapes etc etc. (And - I can understand the logic. Warehouses full of content that could not conceivable be re-used. Bin it… sure.)

Included in that was the BBC’s recordings from that day - the BBC’s coverage of the moon landing - wiped.

But - what I didn’t know til now was that NASA themselves also wiped their master tapes of the moon landing. (!) 15 or so tapes each from 3 different locations (including the Parkes radio telescope). The low-res copies that went to broadcast are all that’s left.

Doctor Who I can understand. The moon landing however - One giant leap for Mankind - must surely have deserved the cost of buying a few new blank tapes…

Man, that’s bad.