Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Curmudgeon Gets It Exactly Right On China And NASA.

Writing in the Houston Chronicle, Mark Whittington, who blogs at curmudgeon.blogspot.com, cautions the US against collaborating with China in space.
"But until China gives up its drive to superpower status and begins to adhere to human rights norms, it should not become a partner in space exploration to the United States.

"Does that policy mean a space race between China and the United States? Probably. But that is not something that should be feared, but rather welcomed. Competition breeds progress and innovation.

"The last space race took America to the moon from a dead stop in eight years. The next one could determine which system will spread civilization beyond the Earth: democracy and capitalism or tyranny." (Here.)
Our sentiments exactly. (Here.)


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Monday, September 25, 2006

Up, Up, And Away In Bigelow's Space Balloon.

In this week's issue of The Space Review Jeff Foust tries to make sense of Bigelow Aerospace's recent actions that follow on the successful launch of the company's inflatable space habitat. (Here.) Perhaps the most notable moves by the Las Vegas-based space company involve their relations with two rocket companies.

Elon Musk of SpaceX announced the following in his September 8, 2006 update: "In addition to servicing NASA needs, I expect that F9/Dragon will also be of service to Bigelow Aerospace, which recently had a very successful flight of their sub-scale commercial space station. Bigelow Aerospace and SpaceX have an ongoing dialogue to ensure that F9/Dragon meets the human transportation needs of their planned space station as efficiently as possible." (Here.) Just the other day Bigelow and Lockheed Martin announced a study to determine the feasibility of using the Atlas V for Bigelow's planned space station. (Here.)

These moves seem to represent a significant change of plans for Bigelow Aerospace.

Just last month the Los Angeles Times profiled the company and described a business plan to build an orbital destination for other areospace companies to service: a kind of a Field of Dreams in space, if we build it, their rockets will come.

Bigelow has hedged its bets by funding a $50 million competition called America's Space Prize to encourage the development of an orbital launch system. But America's Space Prize has always seemed significantly underfunded. Compare its paltry $50 million prize to NASA's $500 million COTS award. Furthermore, its restriction against the use of government development funding has always seemed extremely limiting for an industry that is not exactly rolling in dough.

What Bigelow's recent moves seem to indicate is a recognition that simply building a destination and offering a prize isn't enough to develop low-cost transportation to Earth's orbit. Instead real money will have to be paid to credible space companies to avoid a future in which one day Bigelow might have a space station ready to fly to orbit and no way to get it there, or almost as bad, a station parked in orbit with no ships able to get there except those flown by governments.


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Republished once for editing.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Outer Space: The Province Of All Mankind

Michael Huang writes an article in The Space Review this week arguing for a pre-emptive legal strike on behalf of humans in space. (Here.) His concern is that a creeping environmentalism in space will seek to preserve planets in their current state and limit humans to this planet. He advocates an express declaration of rights for humans in space.
"Rights are most effective when they are enshrined in law. It may prove necessary to protect the rights of humans in space in this way. A modest statement, something like, “All human beings have the right to exist at any place beyond Earth,” would help defend against attempts to ban humans from Mars and other places. A more comprehensive statement would be, “Human beings beyond Earth have the same rights as human beings on Earth.” All the hard-won rights that humans have achieved on Earth—including, of course, the right to exist—would apply to people in space.

The rights of humans on Earth are self-evident, but unfortunately the same cannot be said of the rights of humans in space. In a world with an ongoing attempt to reduce and eventually eliminate human existence beyond Earth, a strong declaration of human rights would be very useful."
The principal treaty governing human activities in space already seeks to balance the interests of humans and the environment in space and comes down heavily on the side of humans. (Here.) The first two paragraphs of Article I in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 establish the right of human beings to explore and use space:
"The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.

Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies."
The balance comes later with one sentence in Article IX:
"States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose."
The treaty assumes that humans will explore and use space. Indeed, the treaty's first article establishes as a principle of international law that the exploration and use of outer space is "the province of all mankind." The subsequent articles of the treaty set out the limitations on humanity's use and exploration of outer space.

Out of 17 articles one sentence in one article deals with the environmental impacts of humanity's presence in space, and that sentence does not bar human use or exploration of space. Instead, the sentence merely states that "harmful contamination" of "the moon and other celestial bodies" is to be "avoided." By modifying "contamination" with "harmful" the treaty appears to recognize that any human activity in space could constitute contamination but that contamination is acceptable so long as it is harmless or beneficial.

Environmentalists who would seek to bottle up humanity on Earth and remove all traces of human presence in space have no support in international law and humans who seek to explore and use space have every right to do so. Just don't ruin the planets for everybody else.


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Thursday, September 07, 2006

On The Road And Offline.

Leaving the laptop home and heading north to the Bay Area for a family visit and to watch the Padres play the Giants on Friday night. Unfortunately, I'll be missing the San Diego Air and Space Museum's talk by Sex in Space author Laura Woodmansee. Godspeed to NASA on Friday.


Monday, September 04, 2006

My Big Fat Greek Planets.

Greek astronomers are riled about the free and easy naming of Trans-Neptunian Objects in recent years. They are specifically unhappy with the unofficial name of 2003 UB313, "Xena." (Here.) Greek chauvinism, sure, but they have a point. How about that dwarf planet, "Quaoar." Go ahead, pronounce it, I dare you. But if the IAU's definition of planet remains the law, it won't matter whether dwarf planets get their names from Greek mythology or not. Nobody will care one way or the other because the discoveries won't be real planets.



Sunday, September 03, 2006

Space Property RIghts.

This article (here) is a very good discussion on the issues regarding private property rights in space. It's remarkably well-informed on the issue, which is evident by the article's discussion of sea-bed mining as a model for future space exploitation and property rights in space.

The article is a bit too charitable to the Lunar Embassy's bogus sales of Lunar real estate. The Lunar Embassy's land sales may demonstrate there is a market for owning property in space. On the negative side the so-called land sales make the idea of private property in space seem like a joke in media reporting and, frankly, the sales are a scam.

Also, judging by the comments of Planetary Society's President Lou Freedman, he's not exactly an advocate of space commercialization. That could explain why he thinks the Planetary SOciety's so-called Save Our Science campaign to have NASA continue doing the Same Old Stuff in space is such a great idea.


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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Fighting Insurgents Within NASA.

This New York Times Opinion (here) touches on what appears to be an insurgency being waged within NASA by scientists protesting the space agency's new direction. Judging by the article, there's at least one person in Washington who knows how to fight an insurgency: Mike Griffin..


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