Tuesday, May 30, 2006

You Too May Be A Journalist!

Over at misteramericano.com we've written an article about a recent California case in which the court ruled against Apple and in favor of a website that published secret information obtained from the computer giant. The case resulted in a sweeping victory for online journalism with the judges saying "not enough to make a difference" in answer to the question: What's the difference between "legitimate" journalism and online journalism?

If you're interested in finding out how computer giant Apple suffered a legal smackdown, or you're interested in online journalism, or you just want to read about judges doing the right thing, read the article here. The democratization of the news continues.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Design A NASA Rocket Online.

NASA has a flash site where you can design a Delta or an Atlas rocket. (Here.) It's very cool. And it's educational!



Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The True Believer At NASA.

The US and India will be cooperating on India's first mission to the moon. (Here.) Curmudgeon's Corner quickly noted his approval (here) and we share that view. Politics does not stop at the atmosphere's edge and it's in America's security interest to move closer to India.

What is striking about the announcement of the US-India cooperation is the statement by NASA boss Michael Griffin:
"It is my hope and belief that as we extend the reach of human civilization throughout the solar system, the United States and India will be partners on many more technically challenging and scientifically rewarding projects."
That bit about extending human civilization into space could be boilerplate spacer rhetoric, but it doesn't seem so. The guy seems to be a true believer.


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Lawyers, Government, And Laws, O My! Impressions of ISDC 2006.

We don't like you. We really, really don't like you.

The message comes through loud and clear at space conferences that people who really, really want to go to space, really, really dislike the government. And NASA? Don't even go there! Space entrepreneurs seem to hate that government got to space first. They think government is doing space all wrong. And they claim they could do the job so much better, if only government would get out of the way.

The anti-government attitude showed itself at Space Ship One's X-Prize flights two years ago when somebody made a sign that read, "Space Ship One, Government Zero." We won't dwell on it for too long, but "one to zero" is not the correct score. Here's an estimate of the real score of government flights of humans into space (100 km) versus private sector flights:

NASA, about 147 --- including two X-15 flights, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Shuttle;

Private sector, 3.

Not to overly praise government, however. Its recent track record is not so good and space entrepreneurs are moving forward with their private space programs.

Despite all their disdain of government, space entrepreneurs still seem to want the government's money. "Give us the money and we'll give you the rockets, just keep your pesky rules and regulations to yourself," is their message to government. It's no wonder they love the idea of government funded prizes.


Berin Szoka is a very smart young lawyer. He runs the Institute for Space Law and Policy. (Here.) He gave the best talk on a strategy for reforming ITAR one could ever hear. It boils down to Mr. Clinton's old campaign slogan about affirmative action or welfare, whichever it was, "mend it, don't end it." Szoka's slogan is a better one, "An ITAR that works for America." It's probably more sincere, as well. In either event, his bottom line is that spacers need to stop trying to kill ITAR and start thinking of ways to convince the powers that be in Congress to fix it for the good of America.

Go to any space conference and you'll hear constant complaints about ITAR and how it makes it so hard for American space entrepreneurs to do business. The horror stories are compelling but after a while the constant complaints become a very off-putting whine. The question then comes to mind, even to a supporter of space entrepreneurship: "Don't these people care about America's national security?" Szoka's strategy for reform aims to nip that impression in the bud.

Who ya gonna call?

At the ISDC Szoka ran the legal track of discussions. The legal track included great topics that were unfortunately sparsely attended. The talk by adventure sports lawyer Tracey Knutson should be required listening for anybody who hopes to launch people into space and avoid liability when something eventually goes wrong. (Here.) But few attended.

There's probably a reason for the sparse attendance. One, there are the really cool view graphs of spaceships and hardware at the other talks. At the legal talks, what viewgraphs there are typically have words, lots and lots of words. And not just regular English words or even whizbang rocketry words. No, we're talking legalese. Who wants that?

The more likely reason is that many spacers don't like government, but arguably they dislike lawyers even more. Maybe if they ignore them, the lawyers and government will just go away. In fact, Pete Worden got some appreciative laughs with a few lawyer jokes during his luncheon talk on Sunday. One joke suggested that even one lawyer in space was too many.

Yet during his talk Worden said an important requirement for opening the Moon to economic development is the right to own private property on the moon. He acknowledged not being a lawyer but said his understanding was that the Outer Space Treaty didn't bar private property ownership on the Moon.

If Worden or the audience had attended Szoka's comprehensive and insightful talk on private property rights in space under the OST, he and his audience might have learned that owning real property on the Moon is not going to be as easy as he and they think. However, mining its resources, possessing enough territory to mine those resources, and selling the resources are all legally possible even under the OST.

So let the lawyer jokes continue. Lawyer jokes are the price lawyers pay to run the world. Just remember, if you're not satisfied with one world, do you think lawyers are? And who do you think you're going to have to call when you're finally ready to stake a legal claim to a platinum group metal asteroid or helium 3 on the Moon?


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Monday, May 08, 2006

Space Captains Of Industry: Impressions Of ISDC 2006.

Elon Musk spoke at the ISDC on Thursday. He is an historic figure and brilliant. He talked about leaving college and choosing his life path with an eye on affecting the future history of mankind. He said there were three things he was interested in that had history-changing potential: the internet, changing the energy cycle from hydrocarbons to solar-electric, and humanity becoming interplanetary.

What's interesting is that he made a fortune in the internet, and he's going to make another one in space. He's still young. Will conversion to solar-electric be far behind?

Despite his obvious grand ambitions, he comes across as a humble man interested in making a difference not in making a name for himself. That humility adds to the impression of him being the real thing.

Burt Rutan is another historic figure who made an appearance at the ISDC. He's a smart man who clearly has thought very much about the direction private human space travel is going. He is completely devoted to his work and passionate about human space travel. He also appears to be thoughtful about human character and the power of belief to drive and retard progress. His assertion that visionaries who believe what they can't prove and set out to prove it drives human progress was probably the most insightful theme of the conference.

Yet Rutan is a practical dreamer, who is putting his money, time, and energy into something he knows he can make work: suborbital human spaceflights that are affordable and safe enough to fly ordinary people repeatedly. It makes for an interesting contrast. He's also a man who is not afraid to speak his mind and perhaps a bit too quick to criticize others, for instance, the Rocket Racing League folk, his fellow former X-Prize competitors, and his former X-Prize associate, Jim Benson of SpaceDev, all of whom he criticized by suggestion in his speech.

The Virgin Galactic people were a different breed of animal. Visionary yet corporate. They were a breeze of 21st Century change blowing through the convention. They consciously try to make money in an environmentally sensitive fashion and they are sensitive to the bottom line. The Virgin Galactic President, Wil Whitehorn, spoke of something he called "Gaia Capitalism," which he described as using the power of capitalism to help solve the world's environmental problems.

They are concerned with making money in space and being successful. They want to become a commercial space line offering suborbital flights and eventually orbital flights and beyond. Apparently the name Virgin Galactic is as much descriptive as it is cool.

For them to make money in space they need to sell tickets to many paying customers. The customers may be adventurers but their idea of adventure includes coming back to share the experience not making the adventure the last experience of their lives.

There was little emphasis from the Virgin Galactic people about the danger of space travel or the need to take risks to open the space frontier. Instead, they went out of their way to emphasize safety and to state that they will only fly when it is safe to take passengers not based on a schedule dictated by the calendar.

Actually being responsible for other people's lives does a lot to focus the mind on the need to be safe.


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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Rohrabacher Is No Fan Of American Cooperation With Chinese Government On Earth Or In Space

Representative Dana Rohrabacher came out strongly against cooperation with China today at the ISDC 2006 luncheon. He said "until there is reform in China he will oppose any cooperation with that dictatorial regime." He said cooperation with China without political reform by the communist government sends the wrong message to the regime.

The California Republican said he hoped that Michael Griffin remembers America's ideals as he visits China and not just profits. Earlier in his remarks he said America would not be the same country if it abandoned its values of freedom in favor of becoming a nation of mere profit-seekers. He also said that the United States is a diverse country held together by allegiance to the ideals of freedom embodied in the Declaration of Independence. In his view, our country's diversity is representative of the world's diversity and imposes a duty on America to lead the way into space.

Rohrabacher also praised the space entrepreneurs at the luncheon. He framed the questions today as being how to ensure that government gets out of the way in space and how the private sector can get into space bypassing the government. He argued that the private sector should lead America into space and said "we need to empower people in the private sector so they can do a better job in space." To do that, he touted two bills of his designed to jump-start America's private space ventures.

HR 1024, the Zero Gravity, Zero Tax Act of 2005, would give tax breaks to companies that do business in outer space. (Here.) HR 1021, the Space and Aeronautics Prize Act, would set up a government space prize commission to give large multi-million dollar prizes for the achievement of significant milestones in space. (Here.)* Not surprisingly, his remarks were well received by the special interest crowd of space advocates and would-be space captains of industry.


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* Rohrabacher is sponsor of two other space-related bills. HR 1022 and 1023 both involve setting up programs to search for Near Earth Asteroids. (Here and here.)

Posted twice due to Technorati link problem.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

The First American In Space.

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American to fly in space. He flew in the Freedom 7 spacecraft, "launched by a Redstone vehicle on a ballistic trajectory suborbital flight--a flight which carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles and to a landing point 302 statute miles down the Atlantic Missile Range." (Here.) Shepard's flight took place about three weeks after the Soviet flight of Yuri Gagarin. Three weeks after Shepard's flight on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced that America would fly to the moon within 10 years. (Here.)

Thus was born the human space age.



Thursday, May 04, 2006

He Wants To Go To The Moon Before He Dies

Burt Rutan spoke during lunch at the International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles today. He said his goals are to travel to the Moon himself and for his grandchildren to be able to travel to the more interesting moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Apparently for him, humanity is not getting off the planet fast enough.

He started his talk with the statement that it's neither safe enough or affordable enough to send humans to orbit on a commercial basis. In itself, this is not a controversial statement, but he argued in his talk that cheap and affordable travel beyond suborbit will depend on the invention of breakthroughs we can't even imagine now.

For that reason, he said, NASA's plan to develop the Crew Exploration Vehicle and return to the Moon the same way America went there 40 years ago, "makes no sense." NASA's plans will not result in the kind of breakthroughs humanity needs to make space travel beyond suborbit cheap and affordable enough for ordinary people. As he explained, if Apollo-type programs could make space travel accessible to everybody, it would have happened in the 40 years since. But it hasn't.

Rutan's main point was about the power of believing in things that aren't proven to drive human progress. For example, he believes suborbital flight can be made safe and affordable and he is setting out to prove it. He also believes that space flight beyond suborbit can be safe and affordable but he says he can't prove it. Proving it is waiting for somebody else who believes it and who thinks he or she knows how. In his view, large companies --- he cited Boeing as an example --- don't believe that spaceflight can be safe and affordable and so they won't be on the cutting edge of making it happen. They'll come in later when somebody else proves it.

As for commercial spaceflight now, Rutan argued a serious flaw in FAA's new regulations is they are based on the premise that suborbital space flight is dangerous. In his view, the FAA's regulations should aim at making suborbital flight safe. The new regulations have the wrong focus for that. Rather than focusing on protecting the uninvolved public, the regulations should focus on protecting paying passengers. To him, the uninvolved public runs a very low risk of being injured by commercial suborbital flight while paying passengers and crew run the highest risk.

Rutan recognized the FAA's dilemma in trying to regulate a technology for safety that is so new we don't yet know how to make it safe. Perhaps in jest, he suggested that rather than regulating the technology, the FAA identify the people involved in making suborbital vehicles and require them to launch their own children before they sell tickets to the public.

Rutan saw signs for optimism regarding future investment in commercial spaceflight. He said that the $1 billion committed to spaceports, when there are no spaceships flying yet, suggests there is money available for investment. He predicted that in about 12 to 15 years, private space investment will equal about half of what NASA spends but will be 10 to 20 times more efficient. When that happens, he said, "everything will change."


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Monday, May 01, 2006

Somebody Else Gets It.

Dennis Wingo has an insightful comment on America's government space program. (Here.) This site argued a similar point about a month ago. (Here.) Our government's space program is not about space for its own sake. It's about serving the national interest.


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