16 July 2009
Events - General (Strange)
Apollo 11 Fortieth and other Anniversaries
by Patrick Collins
Thinking about the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, what can one say but

"How the mighty are fallen!"
40 years after Apollo 11 there should be hotels on the Moon (not to mention hundreds in orbit), and the first lunar "dome city" should be under construction. But of course such economically valuable uses of space are nowhere to be seen.

How many people could possibly have guessed, as Neil and Buzz walked on the Moon in 1969, that 40 years and a few months later Americans would no longer even be able to get to orbit?! Actually, I'm surprised that more Americans aren't enraged! How can they sit quietly while Nasa, far from leading humans' exploitation of space, actually unmakes the country's space flight capability?!

SpaceShipOne showed dramatically that the prospects for commercial space development could be transformed by changing how Nasa spends just a tiny part of its budget. (Remember: the whole project cost what Nasa spends every morning before lunch!) So if just a few percent of Nasa's $16 billion/year was used to start what Nasa's own "ASCENT" report concluded is by far the largest market in space - passenger travel - it's blindingly obvious that this would be an improvement on Nasa's present plans.

There's sporadic talk of spending more billions for a few more flights by the space shuttle in order to avoid the humiliation of having to beg the Russians for rides to orbit. But it would be FAR BETTER to use the same funds to establish a joint FAA-Nasa working group to accelerate passenger space travel - sub-orbital, orbital and lunar. This could start with generous funding of a range of sub-orbital companies, and let them fight it out. At the same time fund work on fully-reusable passenger-carrying orbital vehicles. This would also light a fire that will do more than any other initiative could to revive the U.S. economy, which is suffering near-terminal lack of new industries.

Last year was of course the 50th anniversary of the transformation of NACA (the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) into NASA. It's not widely known that this was bitterly opposed at the time by a number of politicians who argued that it would just become another pork-barrel for the Military Industrial Complex, which was then getting into its stride with ICBM mass-production for the "Cold War", among other activities.

It's no secret that Nasa's 50th anniversary was not a happy year for American taxpayers! The economy reached its direst situation since the 1930s, and is still getting worse in 2009. Moreover, the outgoing administration "busted the budget" so comprehensively that the new administration is finding it hard to revive the economy without creating a tsunami of red ink.

So what should Nasa be doing in its 2nd half-century? Luckily the answer to this is extremely simple: obviously it should work for the benefit of the American people who pay for it. What does this mean? It was spelled out clearly in 1985 when the law governing Nasa was updated to include language stating that Nasa must ". . seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space."
This is pretty clear, eh? With the US economy in its worst state since WW2 on many counts - indebtedness, trade deficit, government deficit, inequality, unemployment, low pay, homelessness, de-industrialisation, ruin of the financial system - you name it - a major new industry offering millions of high-quality jobs would be greatly to the benefit of the American people - right? So Nasa should work to enable companies to supply space services that huge numbers of the public wish to buy. Fortunately there is one: simply traveling in space is a fascinating experience - as everyone who's been to space confirms.

Not only is it now well-known that a large majority of Americans would like to take a trip to space, we also know that the cost of developing passenger space vehicles is trivial compared to the $16 billion/year that Nasa gets. So, if Nasa works for the benefit of the American people, it should develop passenger-carrying space vehicles. Can there be any argument about this?

Instead, despite spending $1 trillion, Nasa hasn't developed any commercial use of space with even a small fraction of the economic value or promise of tourism. Yet to "encourage space tourism to the maximum extent possible" would need about 10% of Nasa's budget.

Imagine if Nasa had started a side-project - using say, 1% of its budget - on sub-orbital tourism in the 1960s after the X-15 had been developed. If so, sub-orbital space travel services could have already been booming by the time of Apollo 11! Orbital tourism could then have started in the 1980s, so there would already be a fleet of orbital hotels - instead of just part of the first one waiting for customers - and even the first lunar hotels could be in business by now. Imagine how good that would have been for the US economy. That would have demonstrated true US technological prowess!

So what is Nasa actually doing? Under administrator Griffin, Nasa was trying to spend another $100 billion (or was it $200 billion?) of taxpayers' money to develop . . . yet another large expendable rocket to carry a tiny number of government employees to the Moon, every mission at great expense and risk, in order to do . . . it's not at all clear what.

A new paper by "father of space tourism" David Ashford, The Aviation Approach to Space Transportation, ( Aeronautical Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, July 2009) estimates the cost of developing a fleet of orbital passenger vehicles and using them to build a Moon base: the annual cost is about 10% of Nasa's existing budget, and the total cost about 10% of what Griffin proposed to use.

We have to conclude that it would obviously be far, far better for Nasa to take this route, and to first develop low-cost reusable passenger vehicles, which would automatically reduce the cost of returning to the Moon so far that it could probably even be done privately. But that would be if Nasa works for the US public, rather than vested interests.

2008 was also the 10th anniversary of the report General Public Space Travel and Tourism, Nasa report number NP-1998-03-11-MSFC As we have stated elsewhere, this report is the most economically valuable report that Nasa has ever published. This is because it explains that space tourism is easy, and likely to grow into the largest commercial use of space - which Spacefuture maintains is the most promising new industry for the 21st Century.

Good work. So Nasa's proud of this pioneering report published way back in 1998, and features it prominently on its web-site, right? Dear reader, just try getting a copy from Nasa! Just have a try. First, try to even find it on their web-site. (NB finding a link to the copy in Space Future's library doesn't count! :-)

Then try calling Nasa and asking for a copy. Seems a pretty reasonable request: it's public property, and only 36 pages long. But please record your calls: they'll be part of the historical evidence that Nasa is NOT fulfilling its legal mandate. Indeed, we'd be delighted to receive copies of any such correspondence or dialogue about trying to get hold of this report.

As of December 2008 (my most recent attempt), this Nasa Report (No. NP-1998-03-11-MSFC) could still not be found on NASA's web-site - although ex-administrator Goldin, when challenged in public about it, promised that it would be put up. So the question has to be asked: Why does Nasa not want Americans to read this report? - which, we repeat, is the most economically valuable document it ever published.

Well, it can only be because the Nasa leadership do not want the public to know about it. Otherwise they'd put it up prominently on the web-site. Instead, they've kept it well concealed for the past 10 years.

The fact is that this Report is a touchstone: any reason offered for hiding it is traitorous nonsense, and strongly contrary to the interests of the American people. Conversely, putting it up would be evidence of a sea-change in Nasa.

With the overall US economy threatening to collapse into a depression, there's a vital difference between seeing space activities as another government cost to be cut, and as a potentially major contributor to reviving economic growth - and sustainable growth at that. If the US and other governments would mandate just 10% of their existing civilian space budgets to encourage passenger space travel, the commercial space industry would boom, directly creating millions of aerospace jobs, and indirectly tens of millions of secondary and tertiary jobs, exactly like civil aviation.

Some people worry that it will be impossible to start space tourism during the deepening recession, and conclude that "We'll have to wait till after the recession". The problem is that this is no ordinary recession: bad policies across the board have severely damaged the US economy, so recovery is going to be slow, at best. While there are many good ideas on how to make the economy more stable, the fact remains that many industries are now so efficient that far fewer people are needed.

America has to go forward.

Recessions recover through investment in NEW INDUSTRIES. America still has outstanding aerospace engineering know-how. It's the obvious country to build space tourism into the biggest new industry of the 21st Century. Trying to re-employ everyone back in old industries is not going to solve the problem of unemployment.

Making the tiny investment needed to open space up to the people is the single most powerful initiative possible. Such a path-breaking move would be the best possible way to commemorate the path-breaking Apollo project.
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Patrick Collins 16 July 2009
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