Just Some Good Ol’ Boys

Every nerd’s favorite company, SpaceX, has been on a roll lately. They’re on track for a record year, including the debut of the eagerly anticipated Falcon Heavy. 

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan, and it’s likewise no secret that I’m not a big fan of unaccountable bureaucracies that treat our hard-earned taxes like Monopoly money. Unfortunately this category often features the *other* perennial nerd favorite, NASA. Equally unfortunate is how conservative press outlets can almost always be counted on to utterly misunderstand and misreport the goings-on of both.

You will not go to space today.

That’s why I initially read this Lifezette piece with skepticism, but by the end I think they mostly get things right:

While Americans might love that NASA has a space-defender position opening, what they don’t love is how NASA is shielding companies from their mistakes.

SpaceX, a company that usually gets much love among conservative and libertarian circles, cost the taxpayers $110 million when one of its rockets blew up in June 2015. The company still received 80 percent of its expected payment, and we still don’t know why the rocket failed on its mission to resupply the International Space Station.

The funny thing about this is that NASA promised the public there would be a summary released of the investigation. Yet the agency announced just a few weeks ago that it doesn’t need to anymore because “NASA is not required to complete a formal final report or public summary since it was an FAA licensed Flight.”

…It’s also funny because NASA didn’t do that when it came to another company. In October 2014, Orbital’s rocket blew up, costing the taxpayers $51 million. It was an FAA-licensed flight. It was conducted under the same NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program of which SpaceX is a part. Both involved aging rockets. Yet NASA still put out an executive summary for the Orbital incident within a year.

Lots of self-serving doubletalk at the link, but I think it’s clear that something doesn’t pass the smell test.

Does SpaceX have quality-control problems? Beats me. I’m in no position to tell, but it feels like the root-cause investigations of last year’s events were wrapped up awfully fast.

This comes from someone who really wants them to succeed. For just one example of the ancillary benefits, here’s how they finally got Canaveral’s range control to modernize.

It often (okay, usually) takes private industry to drag government agencies into the future. That won’t happen if they’re whitewashing potential failure points.

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Perlan II Sets World Record 

This project has been fascinating to watch. While the rest of us spent Labor Day weekend kicking back and grilling brats, these guys were riding the Andes’ mountain wave to 52,000 feet and a new world record.

In a glider. Worth noting that the previous record holder is Perlan I, which now resides in Seattle’s superlative Museum of Flight.

And they’re not done yet. 52K is only a little more than halfway to their real goal: 90,000′. They’re hoping to scrape 100,000′.

Again, in a glider.

Read all about it here.

Pilot Freakout

I’ll take “Days That End in Y” for 500, Alex…

This amusing little gem from the NY Post just popped up in my news feed:

Pilot freaks out passengers with ‘horrific’ tornado warning.

“He seemed angry,” said Pamela Kent, a Princeton resident who was traveling with her daughter Jessica. “He said, ‘We’re going to be flying through horrific storms, including tornadoes.’”

Another PR victory for United!

Any of my readers in the biz will recognize the rest of the story embedded here:

There were tornado warnings across Warren County in New Jersey and in parts of Pennsylvania late Tuesday as heavy rain pummeled the mid-Atlantic region. When the plane finally prepared to taxi, the pilot got back on the intercom to notify the passengers that the plane had to return to the gate because of a maintenance issue, Kent said.

Let me break this down, inside-baseball style (assuming the story isn’t #FakeNews):

The Captain is probably Chicago-based, running a couple of round trips a day to EWR. The crowded airspace and concentration of busy airports in the NY area makes it notoriously sensitive to weather delays. The slightest threat of thunderstorms in the morning will start ground delays to NY by lunchtime.

I’m sure the weather was dog crap. I’m equally sure his dispatcher planned his route, fuel, and alternate(s) accordingly. And I’m dead certain that if he had any disagreements with his release, he could either work out a better plan with his dispatcher or refuse to take the flight. Either one of them has the authority to do so.

In reality? Airlines can be stingy with contingency fuel, and nobody wants to be “that guy” who refuses a legal trip. So in classic passive-aggressive style, he decides to frighten the passengers so everyone can share in the misery.

Meanwhile, he’s looking at his watch and waiting for his duty clock to run out, thus forcing the company to take him off the schedule and send him home. So, push off blocks and boom (cue Chuck Yeager drawl): “Well folks, this here pesky indicator light that’s been a known nuisance for the past month just twinkled again. We’re gonna have to return to the gate for maintenance (and where I know scheduling can probably scare up a relief crew from the bullpen because – gee whiz – we just hit our 10-in-24 limit for today and the only thing I want to do less than spending a couple hours in the spin cycle over EWR is to actually spend the night in that hellhole). Sorry folks, and thanks for flying the friendly skies.”

Just my two cents. Could be wrong.

Better Late Than Never

SpaceX scores their <a href="http://spacenews.com/falcon-9-launches-taiwanese-remote-sensing-satellite/“>12th launch this year, putting them on track for 20 by January. If they can do that and finally get Falcon Heavy up this fall, that ought to (but probably won’t) settle any doubts about their business model, even if this one cost them.

Oh, and they introduced this spiffy little number too:

About time somebody acted like we’re living in the 21st century.

I’m anxious to see what changes are coming for their Mars architecture next month. Last year’s Big Reveal was, at least to my untrained eye, too big too soon. There’s got to be some intermediate step between Dragon and the massive Love Boat to Mars that is the ITV.

Dogs and Cats Living Together

Mass Hysteria!

Here’s a perfect (and perfectly awful) example of what I was talking about yesterday:

Antifa stabs man for his “Neo-Nazi” haircut.

Because his hipster ‘do looked Alt-Reich.

A handy rule of thumb: if you’re randomly assaulting people for suspected Fascism, surprise! You’re the Fascist!

I’m convinced that we’ve become so hopelessly polarized that the only thing to snap us out of it will be some kind of national cataclysm.

The problem with cataclysms is they’re, well, cataclysmic. You can’t know what form they might take and there’s no guarantee of a happy ending. And for certain groups, it’s exactly what they want.

Decline and Fall: Threats Unmasked

So I take a few months off from the blog to finish Frozen Orbit, and you guys just up and trash the place. Seriously, is everybody a Nazi now?

Apparently so, if by “Nazi” you mean “anyone who disagrees with the received leftist wisdom.” This is something we’ve always suspected, of course, but now one of their former leading lights finally burps up the truth in The UK Guardian:

“The lesson from Charlottesville is not how dangerous the neo-Nazis are. It is the unmasking of the Republican party leadership. In the wake of last weekend’s horror and tragedy, let us finally, finally rip off the veneer that Trump’s affinity for white supremacy is distinct from the Republican agenda of voter suppression, renewed mass incarceration and the expulsion of immigrants.”

Continue reading “Decline and Fall: Threats Unmasked”

Decline and Fall of America: The Prologue

While I finish collecting my thoughts on the latest craze (“Everyone I Hate’s a Nazi!”), here’s one that’s almost as sickening: Funeral Selfies. For realz.

Allow me to suggest that these narcissistic clowns pose a greater threat to civil society than the basement-dwelling morons of the “Alt-Reich.”

Because these people are probably considered “normal” in polite company.

Though it is creepy how much the departed looks like a Zombie Mitt Romney…

UPDATE: Original photo replaced with something more civilized, in step with the original piece from Sad and Useless Humor.

Life Imitating Art

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Credit: NASA

In which NASA unwittingly threatens a big-budget production of the opening chapter of Perigee. There’s a lot to unpack here. First, The Verge on the the buzz it has created inside the agency (and the inherent challenges):

NASA is mulling over the idea of putting astronauts on the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) — the giant heavy-lift rocket the space agency is building to take people to Mars someday. Currently, NASA is hoping to fly the SLS for the first time in fall of 2018, and the original plan was for that mission to be uncrewed. But a new memo sent out to NASA employees this morning shows that the agency will start investigating the possibility of making the debut flight of SLS, called EM-1, a crewed mission instead.

This seems…unwise. Continue reading “Life Imitating Art”

Here Comes the Boom

Credit: Boom Aerospace
Credit: Boom Aerospace

Good interview with Boom Aerospace CEO Blake Scholl at RealClearFuture:

Ultimately, we would like the ability to go anywhere in the world in five hours for a hundred bucks.

Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt. But then I read this:

That’s the long-term mission. That’s our equivalent of going to Mars.

Okay then. I’m guessing he’s counting on Jet-A prices remaining stable. If I sound cynical, well it doesn’t take much time in the aviation business to become hopelessly so. Having said that, I really hope they can pull this off.

(H/T: Instapundit)

UPDATE 2/14: Forgot to link this background story from Air & Space.