1996 Editorial Index
Jan 96 Looking Outward
Feb 96 Strength In Numbers
Mar 96 Failure Is Not An Option
Apr 96 I Want My NTV!
May 96 Flying High
Jun 96 Alternate Realities
Jul 96 Fantasyland
Aug 96 Connections
Sep 96 Star Trek on the Brain
Nov 96 The Uncertainty Principle
Dec 96 Evolution or Progress?
“Looking Outward” January 1996
by Michelle Evans
This is my first opportunity to communicate with most of our members of the Orange County Space Society. I think it fair that before you listen to what I have to say, you should at least know a little bit about me and why I’m here.
I’ve been immersed and enthralled by space exploration since I was a kid. My dad worked in aerospace and used to drag me along on business trips to places like Edwards Air Force Base where he’d drop me off with some unsuspecting friend at the NASA facility. That friend would have to keep me entertained while my dad went about whatever it was he had to do. What this usually entailed was dragging me out to the flight line where an X-15 was being prepped for flight, or into the hanger where a pilot was flying a simulation of his next jaunt above the atmosphere. High performance jets screamed overhead and the smell of rocket fuel mixed with hot desert dust.
For a wide-eyed 7 year old in the early 60’s, these were the types of memories that would shape my entire life. It was a time when I saw with my own eyes that whatever could be dreamed, could be accomplished. We were going to the moon, and then on to Mars, and then to the outer solar system. I remember seeing the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” when it first came out in 1968. I wondered why the producers of that movie thought it would take so long to send the first expedition to Jupiter. In reality the moon was just a few years away. Plans called for manned landings on Mars by the early 80’s. Once we got off this planet the expansion would be geometric. A new age and a new frontier was opening up before my eyes and I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.
As we all know, lack of political will derailed most of those dreams. At a time when babies should be born on our first extraterrestrial colonies, and thousands of people should be regularly plying the spacelanes between the inner planets; all the countries of Earth are now barely able to launch 50 or 60 people into very low orbit each year. It has been very difficult to maintain the dream of exploring and expanding into space over the last quarter century. Space has always represented our future, now it appears relegated to the history books. It will not always be this way. Not with people like you, our membership, out there. We have the ability to turn things around, to get people excited about the space program again!
My love of space came from a long period of exposure to its possibilities. There was no one single event that I can point to and say, that was where it all started, that was the moment when I knew that space was in my future. I must presume that this is probably the same for most of us. However, for one person very close to me, this is not the case. My wife has the the wonderful ability to be able to know for an absolute certainty exactly when the moment of transformation came to her. Like me, her dad helped to shape her outlook, only in her case it was much more profound and immediate. This is the source of the title for my column.
When Cherie was a child, her father took her outside on a beautiful, clear, star-filled night. She couldn’t help but gaze upward, staring at the bright points of light. She’d seen them before and they’d always held her fascinated, but tonight her father surprisingly said, “Look down at the ground.” Reluctantly, she did as she was told, not quite yet understanding why. After a moment, staring at the dark dirt beneath her feet, he then quietly said, “Now look up at the heavens.” She joyfully looked upward and outward. At that point he asked her a simple question: “Which would you rather have?” At that moment, the entire universe opened up to her and it has never been closed since. She looked outward into the infinite possibilities that the universe holds. The frontier where anything is possible. The frontier where we may actually have the chance to go. Given the question her father asked, I know what my answer is.
The people I have met at OCSS are dedicated in their beliefs for the future of space exploration. They don’t all agree on how it should be done, but that’s what makes it all interesting. I don’t want to be the President of any organization that blindly goes where its leadership says. I want to be a part of a dynamic group with ideas on how to get there from here. I want your input. The OCSS needs your input. Our future in space requires your input.
I hope that during my term in office I have the opportunity to meet with everyone who is a member of this organization. I firmly believe that to thrive we must have the ideas of everyone and I look forward to hearing a lot of these ideas from the rest of you this year. Come to our meetings and join in the excitement.
“Strength In Numbers” February 1996
by Michelle Evans
There really is strength in numbers. And the greater the number of people, the better our chances of accomplishing something significant. But numbers alone do not make it all happen. Cooperation and coordination are the other significant ingredients. What made me think of numbers was the fact that recently I had a wonderful experience in meeting a whole new group of people right here in Orange County who are interested in space, astronomy, and our future. It reminded me of that elated feeling you get when you find out there’s an extra 20 dollar bill in your wallet that you didn’t know was there. That is exactly what happened when I attended a recent meeting of the Leisure World Astronomy Club.
In early December, the Galileo probe made a suicide dive into the atmosphere of Jupiter and the Galileo orbiter fired its rockets to slow it into orbit for a 2 year long look at the largest planet in our solar system. Each time a great event like this happens in spaceflight, it tends to bring out the people who complain that we are throwing our money away on the Moon, Mars, or beyond. In this instance a disgruntled reader of the Orange County Register took the time to compose a letter lambasting our space program, and Galileo in particular. Never let it be said that I would let someone bad mouth our future without some sort of response. In this case it was another Letter to the Editor, rebutting his argument.
The Register published my letter, along with the fact that I represented the Orange County Space Society, In return I got a call from Judith Jamison of the Leisure World Astronomy Club. She thanked me for the letter and requested that maybe I would come talk to their group about the missions of both the OCSS and of Galileo. I did, and I had an absolutely fabulous time doing it.
Not being aware of their organization before, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived. Apparently their normal meeting attendance is around 25 to 30 people, but the chance to find out more about Galileo brought almost 50. Their enthusiasm for the subject was overwhelming, from the interested amateur astronomer, through the retired aerospace worker that helped build the Lunar Module.
What I found that night was another untapped resource for our fight to put people into space. When you consider our own membership is around 50, combining forces with them would double our strength. Then, if we move out into the surrounding area, we find another large astronomy-based group, the Orange County Astronomers. Moving outward from there is OASIS and the San Diego L-5, our sisters chapters of the NSS. In the Los Angeles area there is also another very effective group called the Organization to Support Space Exploration (OSSE). I’m sure that Los Angeles and San Diego probably also have other related clubs in astronomy and spaceflight, of which I am currently unaware.
The bottom line here is that there are a heck of a lot of people in just our local area that love the same things that we do. Sure, they may be mainly interested in watching the stars, while our membership is interested in actually going to the stars. But I share their enthusiasm for astronomy and many of the people I talked with at Leisure World are very interested in spaceflight.
What I would like to see happen is for us to actively solicit the cooperation and coordination of all these groups. This will make us a much more effective group to make real changes in public perceptions of space exploration. When we have ideas for exhibits, displays, and educational programs we need to work together, using all the resources we can muster, to make our impact even bigger than it would be by itself. A couple of people writing letters and calling our congressional representatives will have a negligible impact in comparison to a hundred people doing the same thing.
The potential is here in our own organization, and in our own local area. It is time for us to really start making a difference.
“Failure Is Not An Option” March 1996
by Michelle Evans
I’m sure that I don’t need to remind anyone of the source of the famous quote used as the sub-head of this months column. However, what I do want to remind everyone of is what those words really mean.
Just before I sat down to write, NASA experienced a major failure during the current shuttle mission. The Italian Tethered Satellite System (TSS) which was to deploy a satellite at the end of a dozen mile long tether failed. To be specific: the tether line reeling out from the space shuttle broke, leaving the satellite at the other end stranded in space trailing what looked like fishing line. This will probably turn into one of the biggest “one that got away stories” of all time! What is very unfortunate is that this may truly turn into the one that got away concerning a real breakthrough in the way we can access space. But more about that later.
In the early years of the space program there were many failures. The Atlas missile is an excellent example. Atlas was this countries first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, it launched our first astronaut into orbit, and even some Ranger probes to crash into the moon where we got our first real close-ups of a new world. At first it was anything but successful. Explosions, electrical failures, bad computer programs, all sent this missile awry. Each mistake led to new understanding and new refinements of the design. Now four decades later, Atlas is still used to routinely put satellites into space. If we had the same mind set present today, Atlas would have been scrapped as unreliable long before the bugs were worked out. We would not now have this mainstay of our fleet of launchers in service today.
During the Apollo era when the words “failure is not an option” were used it meant that we did not accept failure. When a problem arose, we tackled it with everything we had. Brainpower proved itself a match for just about any technical problem that could rear its head at us. Now it has a new and sinister meaning: if there is a chance of failure, don’t try it in the first place. If we do try something and it does fail, don’t repeat the experiment, cancel the program.
We are now in a position of not being allowed to fail. Every time we reach for orbit we must assure everyone that absolutely everything is 100 percent perfect. Failure of any kind is so unacceptable, that we must eliminate any scenario in which that is an option. Yet space exploration is one area where failure must be tolerated, and unfortunately in some cases, expected. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m certainly not advocating rocketing astronauts away from the launch pad without taking a few precautions. But consider what it would be like if every time we boarded an airplane, the airline had to not only insure that the airplane would arrive safely, it had to absolutely guarantee it? No one would ever leave the ground (except of course for a few test pilots who were the only ones who could truly understand the risks they were taking).
What does this have to do with the Tethered Satellite System? Simply that the idea behind the TSS has the potential to revolutionize our access to space, but because of what is now the second failure of this system, we may never have the chance to see the product of tether research reach fruition. (Hopefully by the time this column is published and you read this, NASA will announce its continued support of the TSS and I will be proven wrong.)
Let me give you some examples of where this little fishing line experiment could lead if we decide to accept the risk of another failure. Tethers can be used to raise or lower the orbit of a small satellite, or even a platform as large as the Space Station, with basically no fuel expenditure. Using the right type of wire (as this experiment did) you can use the differential in orbital altitude between the ends of the tether to generate electrical power. Again, with no fuel used. Jumping much further ahead, the ultimate possibility to be seen is true cheap access to space with a flywheel type tether, tens of thousand of miles long, used to grab payloads from the ground and fling them on their way to space stations, lunar outposts, Martian colonies, or probes to the outer planets and beyond. The space elevators of science fiction can become fact if we would only pursue it.
Let us return to the idea that we can learn from our failures and make the next mission safer and better. But at the same time we also must remember that we are on a new frontier fraught with hazards yet undreamt of (with rewards well worth the price of admittance). Our option now is to accept the odds and get into space, or sit here on this quaint little rock for the rest of eternity, missing out on the magnificent universe that awaits.
“I Want My NTV!” April 1996
by Michelle Evans
Nearly forty years ago, in NASA’s original charter, it is stated that they must disseminate as much information to the public as quickly and efficiently as possible so that all of us can stay informed of what our tax dollars are paying for in space.
Space exploration was to be for peaceful purposes, no military secrecy was to be allowed. This was probably the best and most far-sighted thing that ever came out of the Eisenhower administration. The military had a hard time buying into that philosophy for a long time, especially since their commander-in-chief had led their military to the end of the greatest conflict ever on the face of the planet.
Unlike our Soviet space counterparts of the 60’s, our side of the race to the moon was held in full view of everyone who wanted to watch. Network coverage all the way from Shepard’s sub-orbital hop, to Neil’s first small step were picked up live by every major news media on the planet. Viewers were enraptured by visions from another world. Then the malaise set in and soon after, this infatuation with space changed. Viewers started to complain about having to watch another man hop about in the lunar dust, when they would much rather be watching reruns of I Love Lucy! (As Hal Holbrook so aptly put it in the movie “Capricorn One:” “I can understand if it was ‘The New Lucy Show,’ but reruns for godssake!”)
Some of us still wanted to see what was happening above our heads, and NASA was required to show it to us. In response to this, they came up with NASA Select, or NASA Television (affectionately known as NTV). Here was our hearts desire, a 24 hour channel with nothing but space, space, and more space. A lot of the time is filled with old mission films and educational programs. Once in a while (about 7 or 8 times a year) there is actually a space mission shown carrying people into orbit for a week or two. Also thrown in for good measure are all the small satellite launches done by Delta, Atlas, Titan, or Pegasus that are never shown, even on CNN.
NTV is the only source to see this material and yet most people can’t even see this. Here is our perfect channel and yet we have no access to it. What could be more frustrating (besides waiting for your check from the IRS to arrive)? NASA is required to show us this information, but what good is it when no one is allowed to see it since the cable companies choose to devote their precious channel allocations to Home Shopping Channel Number 3, or the Food Network, or better yet: more Infomercials?
Not long ago there was major legislation passed by Congress regulating the channels that would be required to be carried by cable television companies. It was felt that without this regulation, small, specialized channels (such as Food TV) would never get on the air. Cable operators now must carry these channels or be fined by the FCC.
My local cable company, Dimension (now Cox), actually used to devote an unused channel to NASA Select during the shuttle missions. Now there is no more room and NTV appears to be gone for good. I have talked with many people who once had cable companies that carried NASA Select full time, only to now find it gone, replaced by the Home Needlepoint Network.
What can we do? Well, Congress mandated that certain cable stations had to be carried. Why can’t NASA Select be one of those channels? Congress itself has mandated that NASA must disseminate their information directly to the public. Let Congress live by their own words and put NTV into everyone’s home. Sure, not everyone will tune in, but what of that coach-potato channel-surfer who just happens to flick onto NTV during the next docking mission with Mir, or the next Hubble Servicing Mission, or just at the moment when a spacewalking astronaut sticks his or her earth-reflecting visored face right up next to the camera, grins broadly, and waves at the audience back on earth.
I’ve seen it happen. People will stop and stare. They will again become transfixed. Here is a person floating in zero-g several hundred miles above the earth, doing extraordinary feats, and loving every minute of it. This is how we start getting people connected to the space program again. Let them actually see what is happening. Let them watch exploration live and in color. What would our great, great, great grandparents have given to be able to watch Lewis and Clark discover things never seen by European eyes before, as the explorers were seeing it for the first time themselves?
I know you’ve all heard it before, but I’ll say it again anyway: WRITE YOUR CONGRESSMAN AND SENATOR! Without your input, they’re just mindless idiots, walking aimlessly from committee to committee without a clue as to where you want them to go. Tell them you want their mandate that everyone should have the right to tune into space whenever they want to. Tell them: “I want my NTV!”
“Flying High” May 1996
by Michelle Evans
I can’t believe we actually pulled it off! It was an amazing feat that a lot of people said could never be done, but with a heck of a lot of perseverance, and a great deal of effort by everyone involved we actually made it work.
If you haven’t already guessed, the event I’m referring to is the 1996 El Toro Airshow. I have to admit that there were many times when I wanted to just give up on this idea myself, but I got prodded enough to keep me going and with the hard work of others like James Porth, George and Debra Osorio, Carol Dowd, Phil Turek, James Penn, Hank Murdoch, Steve Smith, Kevin Smith-Daguerre, Cherie Rabideau, and Steve Bartlett, we ended up with a most fantastic booth. We also need to thank the people at McDonnell Douglas who supplied us with a great many items to excite the kids, such as the 3-D space station posters that we gave out. These posters were of such high quality that we were constantly being asked how much we were charging for them.
For those who are unaware of the trials and tribulations leading to our appearance at the airshow, let me give you a quick recap of what we were up against. A special Expo tent at the show was to have a couple of hundred vendors and exhibitors, along with a handful of non-profit organizations present. Each booth was worth $1000, or more, so the competition for the few free non-profit slots was fierce. We got our paperwork in early and was told that we had a good shot at one of the slots. Finally, the great day arrived when I was notified that we had beaten out the competition of over 200 other groups for one of only 8 non-profit booths. OCSS was given a booth number and was even one of only two groups listed by name in the official Airshow Press Release.
As with all good things, it was too good to last. Literally, the day after receiving notification of our good fortune, the hammer fell and I got a letter and a phone call saying they were very sorry, but we had not been accepted! Apparently, they cut two of the non-profit booths so they could generate more revenue, and we were one of the unlucky ones. I fought for another week, crawling up the Marine Corp chain of command, but was repelled at every effort. I had been totally worn down by the process and had pretty much given up by the time of our last meeting before the airshow on April 21st. At that time I received the encouragement of the members present, along with some good suggestions on how to slug our way back into the airshow. What finally did it was John Goerger’s suggestion of calling our congressman and having him intervene on our behalf. Steve Smith made the phone call for us the next day. This is the point where it was very handy to have our local Washington representative also be a founder of OCSS! Jim Muncy from Dana Rohrbacher’s office straightened the Marines right out and the Orange County Space Society was back in business at the El Toro Airshow.
We had a very small booth space, barely enough room to change your mind in, but with the fantastic volunteers we had manning this space over the three days of the show, it was more than enough. Over a million and a half people came to El Toro over that weekend and I think that nearly every one of them was pounced on by one of our group. Carol had the excellent idea of putting out a bowl for donations, which made this the first profitable event we’ve had in some time. The proceeds from a joint membership flyer with OASIS and San Diego L-5 are yet to be realized, but we’ll see if we attracted any new members over the next few months.
What we definitely did accomplish was putting out our message about creating a spacefaring civilization to a heck of a lot of people. My personal favorite was when, soon after OASIS member James Penn showed up for the Saturday morning shift, a deaf family showed up with an interest in space. I know I would have been at a total loss, but the timing was perfect: James was highly proficient in sign language! I can’t say enough about how much of a help he was. I hope we will see him at other joint functions in the near future.
Another group that we made a large contact with was parents and teachers. I would like to get much more involved with local schools in helping teachers teach space. Many of the parents we talked with wanted their kids to know more about space exploration and the teachers who came by were very interested in all of the educational material we had to offer. I gave out our phone number to a lot of these teachers with the offer to help them in any way we can. I hope we get some response from them. Anyone in our membership who has kids in school should pass on to their teachers that OCSS is available to aid them in teaching about space.
So, where do we go next? How do we follow up such a successful booth? Well, there’s always next year! I have already received confirmation that the airshow will be going on for at least one more year. With the base closing in just three years, its getting harder for them to support this massive undertaking each year, but they feel there is at least one more of them left. Hopefully we won’t have to call in congressional support next year.
But before that happens, we have several other major events ahead of us for this year. We are just two short months away from Spaceweek. As you all know, this coincides each year with the commemoration of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission, July 16th to the 24th. Our hope for this year is to sponsor an Imax space film festival with the people at the new Edwards Imax theater in the Irvine Spectrum. This giant theater multiplex has Orange County’s first Imax theater and it has been showing to sell-out crowds since its opening. The theater complex is huge and there is a wonderful lobby area for displays. Right now there is a biplane in the lobby to give you an idea of the space available. Think what this area will look like with some large spacecraft models to catch the publics eye!
There isn’t much time, but I think we can pull it off. After the El Toro Airshow, I know we can accomplish anything we set our minds and resources to.
“Alternate Realities” June 1996
by Michelle Evans
Let’s take a look at what might have been if things had gone just a little differently three decades ago:
It is now late July 1969. The public euphoria over the first steps taken on another world show no signs of abating. President Nixon knows a good thing when he sees it. Soon after he returns from China he decides to listen to his advisors, including Vice President Agnew. They are all saying, “Space is the coming thing. Voters . . . er, the American People just can’t get enough of it.”
This new frontier that has been opened is limitless. Nixon sees that expanding our horizons will spur growth in the U.S. economy for generations to come. He will be remembered, not as the President who fulfilled Kennedy’s challenge to land men safely on the moon within a decade, he will be seen as the President who started the human race on the road to the stars.
The blueprint is presented to him that says we must expand the Apollo program to longer stays, with more scientists bringing back more rocks for study, then building a permanent base so they can do their work in situ. To accomplish this we will construct crewed space stations in low earth orbit, as well as in Clarke orbit, and lunar orbit. With this basic space infrastructure in place it is easy to plan, fund, and execute even larger and more impressive missions that would lead to the first American placing a boot in the rust red soil of Mars, not much more than a decade or so into the future. Even more spectacular will be the private industries that will evolve, taking the lead in space after being shown the way by their far-seeing government.
This plan is so bold, so far reaching that it will eclipse even his finest achievements. As the politician who set our course beyond the moon his re-election would be nothing more than a formality. He paces the carpet in the oval office. “I was thinking about trying to see what the Democrats had up their sleeve,” Nixon might have said to himself. “I’ve had my eye on the files in their office over at Watergate. But now, I guess there’s no need to worry about that.” His hand reaches to the intercom and opens the line to his secretary. “I want the NASA Administrator in my office in one hour. We’ve got places to go!”
Fast forward. It is now nearly three decades later. The new century is about to dawn. The science fiction movie that dared to predict how far we would come by the first year of that new millennium has been hopelessly outdated. Unfortunately we haven’t found anything buried by aliens on the moon, but we’re still looking. It doesn’t matter anyway since at the rate we’re going they won’t need to find us, we’ll meet whoever is out there on their home turf.
Unfortunately this is but a fanciful dream of what might have been if only one person had had the foresight to use that public enthusiasm for space after Apollo 11 and turned it into a true national goal, instead of just a political one. Maybe this alternate reality does actually exist somewhere in the vastness of our cosmos, on on another planet, or even another dimension parallel to our own.
None of that matters since we are the ones stuck here in this corner of the universe, in this unforgiving reality, on this small blue planet. We can always speculate on what might have been, but where does that leave us after another three decades have passed, and another three after that? Nowhere.
If we continue to sit on our hands what do we get? Numb fingers! It’s time to start changing the future instead of lamenting the past. I don’t want to sit down at my keyboard, or my thought pad, or whatever passes for an input device in the year 2029, and write about another What Might Have Been. We have the ability to change things now to insure our future is not as bleak as some want you to believe.
Single Stage To Orbit. Space Tourism. Lunar Mining. Martian Archeology. Space Elevators. O’Neil Colonies. Interstellar Ramships. Xenobiology.
All this starts today! The first step in that evolution will be built in the next few years as long as we prod our politicians in the right direction. Don’t let the enthusiasm die like it did before. It has taken us too long to struggle back to this point in time and space, to falter now. Let them know that we’ve had enough of numb fingers. Shake things up and get that circulation moving again. 2001 may be a little late in arriving, but that is certainly better than not having it arrive at all.
“Fantasyland” July 1996
by Michelle Evans, OCSS President
Once upon a time, (oh, how all writers have yearned to start a story with that!) not so very long ago, in a mythical little city not far from where I sit in my cubbyhole and write, some engineer had the idea that maybe science fiction was not so far off the mark. This idea slipped almost unnoticed into his head as he groggily watched Rocketship X-M or Destination Moon for the hundredth time on Movies ‘til Dawn. “Why,” he asked himself, “do rockets always have to blast into space poised on their tail of fire, and yet they are forbidden to come back the same way?” Of this thought was born the concept of the Delta Clipper Experimental, or DC-X. Fantasyland was about to become Tommorowland.
I remember the first time I heard about the DC-X rocket. An article in Aviation Week and Space Technology mentioned that McDonnell Douglas was going to build this wonderful, reusable demonstrator vehicle that would prove the concept of a rocket that takes off and lands vertically, then can be reflown quickly just like the shuttle was promised to do over two decades ago.
I’d heard this type of story countless times in the aerospace press and I thought how neat it would be if this rocket would actually fly, instead of becoming one of innumerable paper studies that litter the trash cans of space engineers everywhere. To my absolute amazement, not too many months down the line there was a photo of the actual vehicle rolling out of the assembly building in Huntington Beach, ready to take to the air!
Then, in August of 1993 the DC-X was launched for the first time, sailing upward on nearly invisible rocket exhaust, stopping in mid-air (like a rocket is not supposed to do) then sedately dropping back to earth to land safe and sound to do it all over again. Not since the science fiction movies of our childhood, had we dreamed a real rocket could actually do this remarkable feat.
Over the next two years, surviving monetary and political problems, as well as a few technical glitches like a blown out aeroshell, the DC-X flew eight times. Each flight pushed the envelope for this type of rocket. The last of the series, in July 1995, saw the Clipper rise to nearly 9 thousand feet, then lay over on its side, the nose pointing below the horizon, before it swung back to the vertical, and landed on its four dark gray foot pads.
By this time, the original group who had said they wanted this technology, the Department of Defense, was pulling back their support. It seemed that maybe the DC-X was too good. Here was something that had delivered what it had promised, when it had promised. I don’t think the military knew what to do with it. They liked paper studies. When one was finished, they would just move on to the next, and then the next. With the success of the DC-X out there for all to see they were in trouble of someone actually expecting them to go to the next step: Produce a viable and cheap single-stage-to-orbit rocket.
Luckily, like all fairy tales must, we have a white knight ride into our story. His name is NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. He originally had held back when the concept was first proposed, waiting to see where it would lead. Once he finally was convinced of its potential and had seen it perform, he decided that this was the way to go. Those dastardly military people would just as soon see the program die, slipping back into oblivion for another generation to awaken. He stepped forward and said “This program must not die!”
Now NASA has the DC-X rocket and they have taken it into a new life as the DC-XA. Under the skin, it is a whole new vehicle, proving technologies and concepts that are required to make a fully reusable rocket a reality: high reliability, low cost, small staff, fast turnaround. Each time something unexpected happens (as has happened on just about every flight) the team of people scratch their heads, figure it out, and move on to the next square.
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara canceled the first fully-reusable spaceplane program, the Dyna-Soar, in the early 60’s. His stated reasoning for this was that we had already learned 90 percent of all we could learn from the program without having to waste our time actually building the vehicle and flying it into space. Even my polite response to that comment can not possibly be printed in this journal.
This month we enter the next phase of the fantasy with the X-33. Lockheed Martin has been selected to carry on the work started by McDonnell Douglas and the DC-X. In only 32 months (March 1999) we should be traveling to the edge of space and back in the fully reusable X-33. From there it will be on to the final stage, all the way to orbit and back with a vehicle that will be operational less than a decade from now, delivering people and cargo for one-tenth what it costs to do now.
Only 40 years after the dawn of the space age, spaceflight will start to be within reach of the rest of us. With the work started by DC-X and now continued with X-33 we may all have the chance to live happily ever after — in space!
“Connections” August 1996
by Michelle Evans
I was listening to a recent radio interview with second man-on-the-moon, Buzz Aldrin, done by morning show hosts Mark and Brian, when I noticed that they made a very astute observation. These guys are real space buffs and have had several astronauts and other space figures on their show over the years. During this interview, Buzz had made the comment that he and the rest of the Apollo 11 crew had missed all the excitement of seeing the first men walk on the moon because they were too busy actually doing the mission! Even out on the surface, shuffling about in the gray talcum-powder-like dust, the Earth hanging majestically over their heads, specific timelines had to met and there was never a time to reflect on what was actually being accomplished.
In response to this, Mark and Brian stated that this was the reason that NASA would never allow them to be on the first, or any subsequent space missions. Their first reaction would have been: “Whoa…Cool!” Then NASA would have had to yell at them to stop having fun and get back to work. They related it to being a kid and having your mom come out and call you in from a summer afternoon at play.
An actual incident happened that was very similar to this early in our space program. On our first spacewalking mission, astronaut Ed White was floating serenely over the Earth, only the second person in human history to have such a beautiful and unobstructed view of our home planet. When it came time to slip back into his seat on Gemini 4 and close the hatch to this magnificent universe, Ed was understandably reluctant. Finally, Mission Control radioed up the order from Chris Kraft: “The Flight Director says, Get Back In!”
From that time forward, through the remainder of Gemini and Apollo, NASA made sure that the astronauts knew that they had to follow orders and stick to the flightplan. No gawking at the sights, and trying to wax poetic to the general populace. Even personal time to reflect was frowned upon, to the point of a near mutiny during a Skylab mission. Any time the astronauts wanted to do something out of the ordinary, something to bring the space program down to earth a little and make it more personal for the folks at home, NASA said, “No.” Even something as insignificant as putting a bumper sticker on the Lunar Rover had to be kept from the public eye.
But now it gets worse. During the radio interview with Aldrin a fax was sent to the station that said one simple word: “Boring.”
Of course its boring. Space is boring. NASA has made sure to keep it that way. Who else could take the manned landings on the moon, the most momentous event in the history of our planet, and make them boring?
The main reason for this is that the average person-on-the-street has absolutely no connection to exploring the cosmos. This is where we need people like Mark and Brian. These guys reflect what we want to see and feel. Its people like Christa MacAuliffe, and her successor Barbara Morgan, that could have brought the space program to the rest of the people on this planet.
The average person doesn’t want to hear about rates of descent or spacecraft apogee. They want to hear: “Look at that crater we’re landing in! Its bigger than the San Fernando Valley and older than the dinosaurs. There’s not a traffic jam to be seen and those dusty hills to the north will make this a really neat place to live once the colony takes hold. Think of all the people that can make their homes and fortunes on our newest frontier”
Or maybe they’ll hear: “Can you believe how high above the Earth we are? I’ve never seen so many colors as I saw during an orbital sunrise. The clouds, the deserts, the mountains. I’ve been around the world in 90 minutes and every orbit brings me something new and exciting. Did you see the lightning race across hundreds of miles? Flashing once and starting a chain reaction that didn’t stop! How about that night pass over Canada? I could see every city between Montreal and the Gulf Coast. And the highways that glittered and connected them all together. Whoa… cool!”
We need these personal connections to space or there will never be general support to expand the program back to the Moon and on to Mars, then to the Stars! NASA needs to understand that everyday people must become involved with space or it will be lost to us for generations. There is only one solution to this immediate problem: Let’s send Mark and Brian to the Moon!
“Star Trek on the Brain” September 1996
by Michelle Evans, OCSS President
This September marks the 30th anniversary of the premiere of Star Trek. What does this possibly have to do with our mission of creating a spacefaring civilization? Well, probably the same as Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers did for the likes of Robert Goddard and Werner von Braun, or what Jules Verne and H.G. Wells did for Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Hermann Oberth. To make the reality happen, you first must have the dream.
I was there as an 11 year old starry-eyed kid watching NBC that fateful night when Captain Kirk and crew first blasted across the airwaves. It was September 8, 1966. Four days hence, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon would blast into space themselves aboard Gemini 11. Neil and Buzz wouldn’t land on the Moon for nearly 3 more years. Yuri Gagarin had made the first orbit of Earth just over 5 years before. To be there at the beginning of our space program and then to see the Enterprise warping between solar systems in the 23rd century was not that far into the realm of fantasy.
Of course most people didn’t catch onto Star Trek until much later. Poor viewing audiences led to bare survival for a 3rd season and certain doom after that. Maybe one of the reasons for the low viewer turnout to those original shows was that the real thing was going on right above them. Why watch science fiction when Apollo was happening for real? On June 3, 1969, just 6 weeks before our first bootprint was left in the lunar dust, Star Trek left orbit, supposedly for the last time.
Then a very odd occurrence happened. President Nixon gutted the Apollo program, dashing hopes of a vigorous program with space stations, lunar outposts, and missions to Mars. So as Apollo wound down, taking with it the dreams of many, Star Trek was dropped into the magical world of syndication. Here it found an eager audience for the wonders of space and the triumph of the human spirit. Sure it had cheesy special effects, but the ideas transcended the budgets of Hollywood. The hope and excitement of strange new worlds bore directly into our brains.
What was the result of this? Has the world changed because of Star Trek? Has there been any effect on our space program and how fast we are progressing to the stars? I think the answer is “Yes” to these questions. It is now a part of our psyche. We know that our planet will survive the tribulations we now face to become a truly spacefaring race because too many people subscribe to the ideas presented each week on Star Trek. If Kirk can solve the problems of the Kohms and Yangs, or even the Kzinti or the Gorn, why can’t we do the same?
The viewers raised on Star Trek will insure that we continue looking outward. Our astronauts and cosmonauts are fans of the show. There have been many instances where crewmembers have referenced Star Trek during their orbital duties. Instead of changing the lithium hydroxide canisters that scrub carbon dioxide out of the air aboard the shuttle, they’ll tell the commander to shut down the warp drive so they can change out the “dilithium crystals containers.” One time I saw footage where someone had taped a star chart to the mid-deck wall, then started zooming a model Enterprise across the stars!
Now there is a new generation that never knew a world without Star Trek. Sometimes this can actually be a bad thing. How do you get a kid interested in a spaceflight to only two hundred miles when they see Jean-Luc hitting Warp 9? But even this shows the interest that we can tap into. We all want to seek out new life and new civilizations and if we keep plugging away at it we will get there.
“To boldly go where no one has gone before” is the most famous phrase from Star Trek, but actually I prefer another:
“The human adventure is just beginning.”
“The Uncertainty Principle” November 1996
by Michelle Evans
Whenever I meet anyone even remotely interested in space I am forced to jump on my pulpit and ask what they are doing to make their dreams of a spacefaring civilization a reality. How many of you reading this column want to go into space someday? How many want to know that future generations will have the unlimited possibilities of the universe opened to them because of what we are doing now?
But we are each just one person. Many of you rightly ask what an individual can do to affect the outcome of this grand scheme. Most of our members don’t even work in the aerospace field. What we do have in OCSS are contractors, writers, policemen, teachers, retirees, students, travel agents, photographers, and yes, even a few real engineers and rocket scientists. But we all share the vision of space as a place for human beings. It’s what brings us all together.
How many times have we been frustrated by the lack of progress in advancing our frontiers? This thought has occurred to us so many times that we have to wonder if it’s even worth the trouble. But just being who we are must eventually change the outcome. This is the way the universe works.
To prove this, let me explain a concept known as “The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.” On the atomic scale this phenomenon means that you can never know every state that a given element has at any specific moment. You can tell where something is, but not what direction it’s headed. This concept changed scientific thinking forever. Originally you could set up an experiment, then witness and record the outcome. Find any event in nature, then sit idly by and see what happens. Now we understand that no one can be just a passive observer. The act of being a witness makes you a part of that event.
An example on the macroscopic level would be if you wanted to go outside during a rainstorm and observe the water hitting the pavement in your driveway. The act of standing on your driveway to make the observation blocks some of the water from hitting the target. Thus you have changed the outcome from what it would have been if you had not been present.
This is where we are as individuals observing our push into space. The mere act that you are interested enough to observe will make a difference. Now the only question that remains is how much of an effect you can have. The more you observe, the more you will unwittingly participate. As this participation increases you will start to see an increase in the positive direction the results take. This increase will happen exponentially as you dive deeper into the experiment.
In the couple of years that I have been with OCSS I have seen this principle born out time and again. At first there were small changes within our group. Then some of our members saw progress and decided it was time to jump in themselves. A perfect example is that in just the last year our regular monthly meeting has changed from a small group of about 3 to 5 people gathering over dinner to lament over the lack of progress in space, to an energetic group of 15 to 20 who come each month to talk about real progress and what we can do to make it happen even faster. Our members are volunteering to put on programs to educate others in our chapter, as well as the general public.
When Buzz Aldrin dropped by our October meeting to talk about his ideas for the Earth-Mars Cycling System and the Starbooster project he started some great discussions that are probably still going on. Many years ago someone sparked his interest in the workings of the universe. Now he’s passing that spark along to others. Many more within OCSS are also passing along their own spark. It’s what comes from the realization that you are no longer just an observer.
Each of you is affecting the universe right now. There is no uncertainty about that.
“Evolution or Progress?” December 1996
by Michelle Evans
War is the best thing that ever happened to the human species.
No, I haven’t gone off the deep end, nor have I taken to writing my editorials from a small cabin in the wilds of Montana. This is just a simple but unfortunate statement of fact. Without armed conflict we would still be picking berries from a bush on the African Savannah, if we had even survived this long at all.
Let’s recap what has transpired so far: Since the beginning it has always been aggression and competition that begat life. A single cell vying for survival against the turbulent forces at work on our new planet found a way to win a round by reproducing itself and carrying on into another generation. Several hundred million years passed while its progeny discovered a way to become multicellular. Another billion passed as specialization began. Every step of the way it was a fight against other primitive organisms, or even against nature itself.
When dinosaurs came on the scene it was the biggest evolutionary battle Earth had yet seen. Constantly striving for bigger, stronger, faster. Nature finally walloped back with an asteroid that took them all by surprise! But maybe they would have disappeared anyway, or at least fell from their role as the dominant lifeform, since all they knew was how to eat their neighbors. With that single purpose in life there was never an opportunity to form an alternative to aggression.
Now we, as upright-walking upstarts, have arrived to bring progress and “civilization” to Earth. But the progress always comes with a price. It’s always about which side can develop the biggest club, the sharpest knife, the truest arrow, the fastest gun, the most explosive bomb, or the most accurate rocket. This is how progress was made and measured. This is who we are and how we got here. But will we also become extinct like the dinosaurs if we don’t find that alternative before it’s too late?
During World War II we made the most explosive evolutionary progress in technology. When the war began we were barely past the age of the biplane. When it ended we were at the beginning of the supersonic jet age, had already entered space with ballistic rockets, and atomic power had been harnessed. All the ingredients were finally in place for the ultimate subjugation of all cognizant beings on our small world.
Then the most amazing thing happened. We got side-stepped on our way to global destruction. The two superpowers that emerged from that war were originally hell-bent on taking the high ground of space for the purpose of raining atomic weapons on the military bases, factories, cities, and homes of their enemies. But before doing so they decided to show off these powers to the potential targets, to let them see just how futile it would be to resist.
First was the Soviet Union. On October 4, 1957 they used the booster of their prized intercontinental ballistic missile, not to loft an atomic warhead at Washington, D.C. or New York City, but to launch a small satellite, less than two feet in diameter, into a stable orbit around Earth. Here it beeped away at everyone, proving that no one was safe from the mighty prowess of the Soviet War Machine. Their point was immediately taken and we responded in kind with a satellite of our own to show we were not a bunch of laggards.
This is the moment when that alternate door of evolution cracked opened for all of us with a new direction that could set us apart from the dinosaurs. We now had the ability for massive destruction of both sides in a war. In fact our nuclear capabilities would ensure that the entire planet could be scoured of all life if we chose to obliterate it. Instead we took that power and channeled it into the “peaceful” exploration of outer space. At first it was all a simple guise to intimidate each other, but if you do something long enough, sometimes you lose sight of its original purpose.
In one short decade we made humanity a spacefaring race, defying every prediction ever made for how fast we could actually develop the technology needed to walk on the moon. Perhaps this is how our species will survive, finding a peaceful means to evolve, without breeding stagnation. Space technology can then replace war as the best thing to ever happen to the human species. However we are still a very short-sighted race. Will we learn that death accomplishes nothing? Can we grasp the concept that great leaps forward can now be accomplished without leaving millions of dead on the battlefield, but instead by sending millions of people to the stars?