NASA Enters the 21st Century -- Kicking and ScreamingMichael James Scharen
michaelsbookcorner.comMay 5, 2021
The Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena seem to be the only part of NASA willing to do more with less -- and succeeding.
Though you will not see a lot of detailed analysis of NASA’s recent decision to award the next lunar landing project to SpaceX, let me fill you in. Sparks are already flying as of just last Friday. Jeff Bezos’ company, Blue Origin and their traditional crony capitalists went crying to the government saying that the award was unfair and that SpaceX is far too dominant in the private space industry. This is what they do! Abe Lincoln was doing this before being elected, while in office and throughout the War of Northern Aggression. He was a slick talking corporate lawyer for the railroads who received massive government subsidies at his hand. Is it a coincidence Abraham Lincoln had purchased a good bit of land in Council Bluffs, Iowa – the government designated starting point of the transcontinental railroad? Bezos and friends may have garnered a temporary stay in their struggle against the Free Market, but it cannot last. Let’s go into some of the details as to why my prophesy has legs, shall we?
It has come to my attention just why NASA chose SpaceX to handle what ULA, Boeing, and Blue Origin cannot contend with in terms of cost and effectiveness in their the rival efforts. What really rankles the competition is that now SpaceX is not only the prime contractor – but the only contractor on this one. No doubt NASA will do their best to publicize their efforts with Artemis and the Lunar Gateway platform, but that will mysteriously morph into an all SpaceX effort with the NASA Worm Logo pasted on the side of Musk company spaceframes. SpaceX has already beaten Boeing in shuttling astronauts to the ISS and soon they will deliver the first four astronauts to the station who are not government employees! Despite all of the cover from NASA, it was NASA’s own cronyist policies which lead to their lack of oversight with Boeing. The reports, from what we know of them, indicate there essentially was no oversight, period; leading to over 80 software glitches not being caught by testing – if there was any testing at all. The much vaunted Boeing Starliner was lost in space, not knowing where on the planned trajectory she really was so tried to correct. She began firing thrusters wildly, over-correcting, then firing them again with the ship tumbling unpredictably. Neil Armstrong once faced a similar situation but his brain and courage became the computer to save the craft and his own life! All of that thruster use (in the wrong place) depleted the fuel supply. This, to such an extent, that the unmanned Boeing spacecraft’s faulty software failed to right the ship, mission aborted, and Boeing’s Starliner never made it to orbit. SpaceX has been to the ISS numerous times with unmanned Dragons and twice with an FAA approved vehicle. FAA approval means they consider the Crew Dragon safe for anyone of the general public – as safe as an airliner. NASA has never achieved this (or never thought of seeking approval) – not with a spacecraft, anyway. The FAA is another bureaucracy in the ointment, but that is another story.
Boeing has done many wonderful things over their illustrious history. Before WWII they spent their own money developing the B-17, B-29 and other aircraft. But management of late seems to think that success comes from Washington, not their talented but poorly led design teams. They need to literally and figuratively go back to the drawing board and start from first principles. They are a company at a crossroads. Say what you will about Boeing (and I did), but what of Blue Origin? Granted, they have launched a booster and set it down right side up a handful of times. However, Blue Origin has been a company longer than SpaceX and with the same resources at hand. The company has never put a payload into orbit after twenty years. Jeff Bezos has milked this vanity project long enough. SpaceX just launched their 25th Starlink deployment (the second in less than a week) with ~60 communications satellites each flight -- on top of everything else they are doing. One booster has been used nine times! This is what is needed for mankind to reach out into space, to Mars, and beyond. This is what NASA, for all of their taxpayer funded self-promotion has finally had to swallow.
NASA has had to accept the fact that private (and not crony) interests will beat the government nine times out of ten. Kicking and screaming, NASA had to admit that they were not going to make it to the Moon unless they hired SpaceX to do it cheaply and safely. Elon Musk’s enterprise has out engineered, outperformed, and drastically undercut all competitors (though there are some poised for action like Sierra Nevada. Competition is healthy). Years ago, NASA claimed that to develop reusable boosters, as SpaceX has done, would take ten years and cost $32B. SpaceX did it in seven and spent less than $3B. Even the once worshipped NASA has to bow to a limited budget and SpaceX is their only way out. The four private company astronauts being ferried to the ISS work for an outfit called Axiom that intends to create the first privately built space station in Low-Earth-Orbit or anywhere else. The way to colonization will be private as I detail in my several science-fiction adventure novels. As in my novels, governments will continue to compete at your expense, steal from you to maintain their poor efforts, or assume that they can control everything done among the innovators by some religious claim at a later date. The U.S. government even claims the right to issue permits for you just to leave the planet! Permission to leave the planet? Yikes! In the recent release of Starlink TOS (an unlikely place) Elon Musk has declared that the laws of no Earth Government will hold sway in colonies SpaceX is developing. I began stories with just such a premise six months before this announcement was made late last year.
All this being said, we should still have high praise for that one pocket of NASA that has done more for mankind’s knowledge of space and the solar system than any other. This would be the Jet Propulsion Labs out of Cal Tech. JPL saw the writing on the wall in the early 1990s when the first major budget cuts came down. They made it their mission to do more with less and have been spectacularly successful. The numerous deep space probes from Mariner and Pioneer to Voyager, Cassini, Galileo, and Mars rover missions to name a few. On top of that, Vikings I & II found life on Mars. (There is another interesting story of NASA foot dragging behind that.) Just recently, JPL flew the first aerial vehicle on Mars in an atmosphere only 1% as thick as on Earth. (Spoiler – the storm that Mark Watney experienced would never have created the damage caused in The Martian.)
The absurdity, double standards, incompetence and malevolence of government knows no bounds. The evidence for this is hiding in plain sight. It still amazes me that so many in this day and age of information accessibility do not recognize governments for what they are – a collection of killers, thieves, liars, and dupes who feel they have the right to rule over us. I once read of Russian monks who kept moving deeper into the wilderness to escape the control of the Tsar and his meat-brained enforcers. Such will drive man to the frontier. Next time, just don’t tell them where we are going.