Dedicated to the Health and Safety of the Personal Space Traveler

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

George Whitesides and Virgin Galactic

Looks like George Whitesides has bailed from NASA to assume the CEO role at Virgin Galactic.

As one of my colleagues put it, "this man wants to NASA isn't going anywhere soon."

I think the prevailing wisdom is that Virgin Galactic is the pack leader in terms of commercial launch vehicle development. And, doesn't George want to spend his honeymoon on a VG flight?

That may very well be... but I question when any of these commercial carriers are really going to start flying. Any thoughts out there on the real timelines... and whether this "commercial spaceflight market" does-- or will-- exist? Will anyone make any money... or are we listening to a bunch of "PT Barnums"(to quote another colleague.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

So now that the International Space Station is near completion, here come the platitudes about its value as a research platform being fully realized, etc. Indeed, platitudes abound (particularly promulgated by NASA over the years) regarding the value of space research conducted on the space shuttle as well as the ISS. Some have questioned the "real" return on investment of such research (the IOM report which cited the waste of time that protein crystallization experiments have been is one that immediately comes to mind.)

One oft-cited "factoid" about space research concerns the value of biomedical investigation... and how knowledge of the physiological effects of spaceflight can lead to effective "countermeasures" to mitigate such effects. Nevertheless, has any of this research really led to breakthroughs in true countermeasures? What has the NSBRI been doing all these years? As one colleague has put it, the only effective countermeasure to the physiologic effects of spaceflight is.... a Gravity Prescription. Indeed, man has evolved in a 1G environment... and if taken out of that environment, logic would dictate that replacing that G force is the obvious answer to the deleterious physiologic effects which occur in microgravity.

The problem is.... what IS the Gravity Prescription and how to we "make" it? I'd love to hear some of your ideas and speculations (or frank disagreements with my opinions regarding the "real" value of space research.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Neil Armstrong on the offensive-- too little too late?

I have to admit I am a bit shocked that the typically silent Neil Armstrong is so vocal about President Obama's space policy. A little late to open his mouth, in my opinion. Nevertheless, I am also in a bit of a quandary as to whether he and his like-minded former Apollo comrades are right... or backward-looking:

While I want to applaud Obama for throwing the gauntlet down regarding a greater role for commercial space in LEO and perhaps beyond, the reality of the situation is that.... we have no launch vehicles flying yet... or likely in the very near future! And I don't know about anyone else, but does it bother you that we may be hitching rides to the ISS on a very expensive Soyuz (though, admittedly, it probably is a bargain, relatively speaking.)

The question becomes, philosophically, who's right? Is anyone right? Does anyone care? Should we care?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Obama's plans for NASA-- shades of military procurement disasters?

The Space Review has a provacative article this week which compares the Obama "space plan" to the disasters which have befallen the military in the past with their miscellaneous schema for procurement, project oversight etc:

The horror stories contained within remind me strikingly of the similar idiotic procurement nightmares I deal with daily in the pharmaceutical industry. No surprises there; I'm surrounded!

Thoughts on the legitimacy of this comparision/prediction with the Obama plan?