2008 Editorial Index
Jan 08 By Any Other Name
Feb 08 A Whole New World
Mar 08 SpaceShipTwo
Apr 08 Arthur C. Clarke
May 08 A Matter of Size
Jun 08 The Space President
July 08 The Cosmic Question
Aug 08 Solar System Warming
Sep 08 Russian Access to the International Space Station
Oct 08 NASA's First 50
Nov 08 The Right of Equality For All
Dec 08 A New Administration
"By Any Other Name" January 2008
by Michelle Evans
This is a column I never thought I would write. And I’m sure it is a column everyone in OCSS never expected to read. This will not be my normal musings dealing with some aspect of space exploration, but it definitely does relate to the future. My future, to be specific.
Each of us in this universe is a unique and valuable individual. We go through our lives in an attempt to somehow leave our mark, and hopefully, in the end, be remembered for something good we’ve left behind.
Those of us who are members and supporters of OCSS know that we are continually making our mark on the future when we talk to people at space-related functions, possibly leaving behind the spark that ignites someone’s curiosity to seek out more, and maybe even become a part of that positive, unfolding universe ahead.
One thing we hopefully have all learned in this process is that there is great diversity in all aspects of life.
I am part of that diversity, and so is everyone reading this. In my case, however, this diversity may be in an area in which you are not quite so familiar. Specifically, my difference lies with my gender, and the fact that the gender I have outwardly and publicly lived all my life is not the same one to which my brain has been wired.
How’s that for a bizarre situation, living in an alien body all your life, knowing that there was no way to tell anyone because they would never believe you? Sounds like a great idea for a sci-fi story, but it is actually the world in which I’ve lived in all my life. One where I had no idea of how it could be remedied because of the perception I had of the stigma society as a whole would place on this affliction.
I’ve known about this since I knew the difference between a boy and a girl. I had no way to know then (in the days before the internet) that I was not the only person like me out there. I considered myself a freak, how would I expect others to react?
Now, a half century later, the world is changing, and I am learning a lot about the diversity that inhabits every corner. I also learned, primarily through the love and care of my wife, Cherie, that this was something I had to deal with in order to live with myself. Hiding is no longer an option. Because of this, I have sought out professional help in order to figure the proper course of action. In this case, it means taking various medications, that include rather drastic side effects, to bring my alien body into harmony with my mind.
Over the past year, a lot of changes have been occurring within myself, and it has now come to the point where I have to share this rather personal journey with all of you.
Since about mid-October, Cherie and I have been going through the process of talking personally with as many people as we could within OCSS, to explain the situation. My goal is to be completed with this process by the beginning of the year. That goal is now upon us, which is why you are reading this today.
I definitely want to thank everyone who has been part of this discussion so far, and have lent me their full friendship and support. I consider myself eminently lucky to have retained nearly everyone I know, through this difficult and traumatic time. However, I also want to apologize to everyone in my extended family of OCSS, that I was not able to talk with privately.
Because of this, it may be a bit startling to read these words and realize that Larry Evans will no longer be president of OCSS, but will now be replaced, from here on out by Michelle Evans. Shock is to be expected, and with that in mind, I want everyone to know I welcome your comments, positive and negative, and will be happy to discuss the situation in more detail with anyone who would like to contact me directly.
Please, also bear in mind that I will never allow ridicule or embarrassment to harm our organization. If anything jeopardizes the OCSS mission, I will step aside in an instant.
To leave you on a lighter note, a good friend and fellow OCSS member, said to me, "We have tried for some time to attract more women to spaceflight." However, he thought my methods, though dedicated, might be considered a bit extreme!
Join me on my journey to the future.
"A Whole New World" February 2008
by Michelle Evans
The Discovery Science Center has been a great venue for the Orange County Space Society for many years. We started there in 2001 and have held approximately 70 meetings there since that time. Part of the official mandate when we came aboard at DSC was to provide the public with programs about space exploration, to be held in conjunction with our regular monthly business meetings. This held true for the first couple of years, but then we started to get resistance from the science center, which eventually caused us to drop these programs.
In the meantime, we continued working with DSC on other major events, so the loss of the monthly programs was not felt too widely. An excellent example is that back in 2003 and 2004 we provided several huge displays and programs concerning Mars, called “Mars Mania.” These events truly lived up to their name as the OCSS programming accounted for the largest single day attendance records up to that time at DSC.
Hard to argue with success!
Our cooperation with DSC culmi-nated in 2005 when we were able to step in at literally the last moment to save their entire summer from total disaster. DSC was working on a large interactive dinosaur exhibit, but could not get the plans approved, nor the funding in place on time, so it appeared they would have nothing to bring in the public that summer at all. My suggestion to the center was to move up their planned Space Summer from 2006 to 2005. At the heart of all this was the donation I helped to bring to DSC, from OCSS member and Space Camp Turkey founder, Kaya Tuncer. The donation consisted of half of the former Mountain View Space Camp equipment, including a full-scale Space Shuttle Endeavour cockpit, Mission Control consoles, Manned Maneuvering Unit, and several other pieces. Because of all this, the DSC summer went ahead with a new display to attract the public and get them excited about science.
In addition to the basic hardware, OCSS was also on tap to provide special programming throughout the summer, to have events to again piqued the interest of the public. Unfortunately, this is where things started to fall apart, as once the hardware was in DSC’s possession, they basically lost interest in the help of OCSS.
From that point forward, over the last two-and-a-half years, OCSS has been relegated to simply holding our meetings at DSC, and that was it. The situation had basically become untenable as it became clear that, after supplying all we could to them as far as direct donations were concerned, they no longer had any interest in the space event programming expertise we could still bring to the table. However, with decent and viable meeting places at a premium in Orange County, DSC seemed still like the best place to at least continue to hold our meetings.
Enter 2008, and all this changed, as DSC became openly hostile to OCSS. With that in mind, board member Bob Kline has now found an excellent location for future OCSS meetings, which will also allow us to get back to providing original programming on behalf of the public. So, starting with our February meeting, we will now be at the Irvine Heritage Park Regional Library. If you weren’t able to attend the January meeting to get a flier, please check the OCSS web site for the map. You’ll find it easy to get to and very convenient.
We sincerely hope that this new venue and partnership with the OC Library System will become a very fruitful one for both of our organizations. I’m looking forward with new optimism to what we will be able to accomplish. Thank you, Bob Kline, for helping to make this happen.
And speaking of Whole New Worlds: I also would like to thank all of the members who have shown me great support personally during my difficult transition period. Everyone has been absolutely amazing, and I never would have believed it possible.
A small sample of what I have received is included on page 3, along with a commentary by our former OCSS Secretary, Jeff Howe. My fervent hope is that after all this, my situation will now slip into the back-ground as we all move forward to a better future.
"SpaceShipTwo" March 2008
by Michelle Evans
The wait is almost over. Hopefully, by later this year or early 2009, we will finally start to see the test flights of an actual spacecraft that is being built not by a government, but by a corporation. A spacecraft built not to haul experi-ments and astronauts with years of training, but people who just want to go for the thrill of being in space.
It’s about time!
We’ve been waiting for this day for many, many decades. And yes, I definitely understand that it is currently only suborbital. True orbital spaceflight is still just peeking above the far horizon. I also understand that this program is for people with a heck of a lot of money, but that’s just the way commercial airline travel started, too. These rich patrons are helping pave the road to space for everyone. I thank them profusely, along with entrepreneurs such as Burt Rutan, Paul Allen, and Sir Richard Branson. They truly are working on creating a space program for the rest of us.
As outgoing associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, Patricia Grace Smith said, “It is the entrepreneurial sprit that will take this country forward. This is going to catch like a wildfire we have never seen.”
Just look at the basic numbers: Virgin Galactic already has in place 200 fully paid passengers (at $200,000 a pop), $30 million in flight deposits, and 85,000 others registered with an interest to fly in the future. Scaled Composites is already 60 percent complete on the first SpaceShipTwo vehicle, while they have a firm contract with Virgin Galactic for five suborbital ships and two WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Rutan’s plan is to the build of a total of at least 40 suborbital vehicles and 15 motherships within the next dozen years. All the start-up costs will be amortized over the first five years, at which time, the price for a flight is expected to plummet. They plan to fly at least one flight each day with each SpaceShipTwo, that means that initially there will be four spaceflights each day, expanding the ranks of those who have seen the Earth from above the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate.
Their plan calls for flying 100,000 people on suborbital trajectories in the first 12 years of operation. To date, in the first 50 years of the space age, we have yet to achieve even the first 1,000 astronauts.
You can see how this enterprise could be a true sea change in the 21st Century for the way human beings view their planet. No longer just through photographs and videos from American, Russian, and Chinese space programs, but with their own eyes, captured on pocket digital cameras and home video.
"This is not a small program by any stretch of the imagination,” explained Burt Rutan. He has gone on record saying that wants not just suborbital and orbital spaceflight to be available to the general public, but to even go so far as to have affordable flights to the Moon, within his own lifetime. And Burt has a nasty habit of making his predictions come true.
It is highly possible that by the end of the current century, Rutan’s name will be better remembered than Neil Armstrong.
I’m ready to go. Are you?
"Arthur C. Clarke" April 2008
by Michelle Evans
Most all the masters are gone now. Campbell, Heinlein, Asimov, and now Arthur C. Clarke. Better than any of them, Clarke knew the real science in science fiction. He not only wrote stories, novels, and screenplays about humankind’s future in space, but he helped create it.
Twelve years before the launch of the first satellite ushered in the Space Age, Clarke figured out how the world would change with communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit. At this point in space, about 22,000 miles outward above the equator, orbital velocity matches the rate of rotation of the Earth beneath it, thus creating the illusion that the satellite is stationary in space. For many years now, the space community has used the term “Clarke Orbit” to describe this unique position in space in his honor.
My world changed in 1968 because of Arthur C. Clarke. I had a fair amount of interest in the space program as a youngster, but it was at this time a new era was born with the release of the seminal movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. I recall vividly seeing the first photos from the movie in a Scholastic magazine in junior high school. I could tell right away this was nothing like anything that had come before.
Later that summer, as I made the leap to being a teenager, my parents gave me the coolest present they could. They knew I’d been itching to see this movie for months (it was initially released in April), and so, on August 5, they packed me and my best friend, Jim Holgate, into the family car and drove us to Los Angeles for a day of 2001.
After that initial viewing I wasn’t even sure what I’d seen. heck, there are people today, after dozens of viewings, that still have the same opinion. But for me, I started on the road to capturing every book of Clarke’s I could get my hands on. I am the proud owner of just about every single book he ever published, many which go back to before I was even born. And his books led me to other authors who expanded my mind even more. Reading became a lifelong habit of mine because of Arthur.
Four years later, I got my chance to meet Clarke in person. I was visiting my dad up in the Bay Area and happened to find out Clarke would be doing an all-day event at the University of California at Berkeley, entitled “2001 and Beyond.” Needless to say I pestered Dad until he made sure I got there! Lectures by Clarke and astronomer William K. Hartmann, a big-screen showing of 2001, all capped by a question-and-answer session. I still have my cassette tapes I made sitting there, drinking in the future three decades before it would happen.
I had to meet Clarke in person, so as soon as the day was done, I raced down to the lobby, expecting him to be there greeting guests and signing autographs. He was nowhere to be seen! Of course, this was not about to deter me. I started to look everywhere I could. Opening doors and checking inside to see where he might be. Finally, my persistence paid off, and I opened the door to a small, nondescript anteroom and there he was, talking with Hartmann.
Still clutching the program for the event in my hand, I quickly calmed down from my frantic search and reached out my hand to introduce myself. He kindly replied and asked if I’d like an autograph. Sheepishly, I handed him my program, and he did so. That program is proudly displayed on my wall to this day.
We corresponded a few times over the years, and he was always gracious and forthcoming, but nothing will match that first meeting. Arthur, thank you so much for all you did.
"A Matter of Size" May 2008
by Michelle Evans
Our universe is a really, really big place. Sort of goes without saying. In fact, the universe is so large that it is extremely hard to even get your head around the concept of exactly how large it really is. One of the amazing facts that also must be realized is that it has been less than a century since it was discovered that the Milky Way galaxy was not the entirety of our universe, but just a small speck amongst billions of other galaxies.
For centuries, our place in the universe has been getting smaller and smaller. I recently found a great description of the size of ourselves in relation to our galaxy and the universe, that I wanted to pass along. Maybe it will help to put things in a cosmic perspective of the immensity in which we live. This description was created by Bradford G. Schleifer.
“Most are familiar with the shape of the Milky Way galaxy, a disc about 1,000 light years thick and up to 100,000 light years in diameter. Its spiral arms appear as bands streaming off a spinning center and contain between 200 and 400 billion stars. It is nearly impossible to convey the immense size of our galaxy.
“If the Earth was shrunk to the size of a peppercorn, the Sun would be slightly smaller than a volleyball. The distance between the peppercorn Earth and volleyball Sun would be 78 feet. Jupiter would be the size of a chestnut and be 405 feet from the Sun. The farthest point would be Pluto. It would be smaller than a pinhead and be over 3,000 feet—over half a mile—from the Sun! If you were standing at Pluto, you would not be able to see the Sun without binoculars.
“Let’s go further. If our entire solar system is scaled down to fit inside the volleyball, it would take 1.26 million volleyballs stacked on top of each other just to equal the thickness of the Milky Way! The diameter, or length, of our galaxy is 1,000 times larger than that.
“Put another way, it takes light approximately seven hours to travel from the Sun to the edge of our solar system. This means it would take light 876 million hours to traverse the Milky Way.
“Generally speaking, it is thought that the visible cosmos is approximately 93 billion light years in diameter. Since each light year is 5.879 trillion miles, the diameter of the visible universe is 546 billion trillion miles! It is impossible to fully comprehend a number of such proportions.
“To make these distances more meaningful, we must shrink our universe to a more manageable scale. First, let’s reduce the Earth to the size of a grain of salt, making our planet 42.5 billion times smaller.
At this scale, the diameter of our solar system shrinks to less than 600 feet and our galaxy reduces to only 14 million miles across. Even at this scale, the visible universe is still 12.9 trillion miles wide.
“Numbers this large are impossible to appreciate. Let’s reduce the scale even further.
“If we could shrink our solar system from the Sun to Pluto down to the size of a single grain of salt, the Milky Way galaxy would be 24 miles in diameter—an easy distance to visualize. This still leaves the universe’s span at an incredible 22 million miles—about two-thirds the distance from Earth to Mars.
“This number is still too large to envision. The scale must be reduced yet again.
“If the Milky Way galaxy (in reality, nearly 600,000 billion miles in diameter) was reduced to the size of a grain of salt, the visible universe would be just over 915 feet wide—about the length of three American football fields. Finally, a size we can picture!
“What is lost in this analogy is the sheer mass of the Milky Way galaxy and how much reduction is needed to reach this result. In fact, this manageable cosmic scale would mean we have reduced the universe 3.2 trillion trillion times. Our solar system, never mind the Earth, would be smaller than a single hydrogen atom!”
I hope this little exercise didn’t quash your sense of self too much! But with such a large universe, it brings to mind the question that Eleanor Arroway asks her father in the novel and movie, Contact: “Are we alone?” To which her father says, “If not, it would be an awful waste of space.”
"The Space President" June 2008
by Michelle Evans
Last month’s issue of O.C.Space featured a cover story about the possibility that there are cycles governing large technological achievements such as polar exploration a hundred years ago or the lunar landing in 1969. The next cycle is due to begin in the next decade, and the hope remains that this may be our opportunity as a species to finally break the bonds of Earth to become a truly spacefaring civilization.
In order to do that, we must have dynamic and insightful leadership. The 2008 election year is still a bit early to anoint the one who may lead us down that road of exploration, but the possi-bility exists that whoever is elected this year may also be elected to a second term in 2012, which happens to be at the cusp of the next expected cycle.
President John F. Kennedy was the right leader at the right time for America. He innately understood the need to reinvigorate the country through long-term goals. He didn’t come to his conclusions easily, instead he faced horrible defeat on the world stage when he followed his advisors, plan to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. He needed something to take our collective mind off this huge blunder, and that is when his presidency truly found its wings.
Often we all find our best moments after recovering from our worst. As a nation, right now a lot of people around the world would say we are at our nadir, our lowest point, at least in the respect we now lack from other nations due to failed foreign policy.
So, who’s next? Many cite Senator Barack Obama as being from the same mold and would make the same type of charismatic leader as Kennedy. Could Obama become our next Space President? Others have said this may be possible, but, unfortunately, I have to disagree.
If Obama is indeed destined to be our next Space President, I would have to say that he has a very steep learning curve to get there. Out of the three current presidential candidates, he is the only one who has an expressly stated policy of slowing down our human space program. In fact, he wants to slow it down so much that it would, in effect, be canceled. His policy is that he wants to take money from an already budget-crunched NASA and put it into other programs such as education. He understands fully that his policy would leave at least a decade-long gap between the final Space Shuttle flight and the eventual first flight of Orion. My position is, if we have a human space program with a decade between flights, that is, in essence, canceling our program. Ten years of Chinese and Russians moving forward when we are sitting on our thumbs will forever relegate us as a second- or event third-rate space power.
Obama has had people point out to him the detriment of his proposed NASA plan, and yet he has still said this is what he wants to do. And with the force of the presidency behind him, it would take an awful lot of work to change that policy over his objections.
For the predictions of this techno-logical cycle to become fact requires someone at the lead who can marshal the forces necessary to take action when the time is right. With Obama, I fear that, if the time became right, he would be the president who would squander that possibility. He could have the same overall effect on shutting down the cycle as would happen if a major conflict were to divert attention too early.
Clinton is the only presidential hopeful who has shown she understands space and its ramifications for the future of our society with her stated policy of seeding additional money to NASA, and not accepting a long gap without an American human presence in space beyond what the Russians might allow on taxi flights to ISS. She wants Ares and Orion built and their schedules accelerated, whereas Obama wants the opposite. And if he were to become president, I can only hope that our congress can convince him of the error of his current policy and not allow his wishes to become law. The window is very short for that learning curve to happen and for him to truly understand the long-term human effects his policy holds.
Whoever does become the next Space President has some mighty big shoes to fill, and a heck of a lot of exploring to do!
"The Cosmic Question" July 2008
by Michelle Evans
Dr. Stephen Hawking has long been an advocate of human spaceflight, even hoping to possibly one day hitch a seat into sub-orbit on SpaceShipTwo. Last year he rode aboard the Zero-G aircraft to get a feel for weightlessness (see O.C.Space, June 2007). Since his ALS has kept him in a wheelchair for so many years, we can only imagine what he must have felt while soaring through the cabin of the converted 727.
At a recent speech at George Washington University, Dr. Hawking took the time to ponder some cosmic questions about our place in the universe and why humans have a destiny to be there, too. Overall, he supports the goals laid out in the Vision for Space Exploration of returning to the Moon to stay, then creating the infrastructure to go anywhere else, primarily Mars.
He talked about how the Moon would be a good place to begin our journey because it is “close by and relatively easy to reach. The Moon could be a base for travel to the rest of the solar system.” And he reiterated that Mars would then be the next logical step, due to its relatively close distance.
"A goal of a base on the Moon by 2020 and of a manned landing on Mars by 2025 would reignite the space program and give it a sense of purpose in the same way that President Kennedy’s Moon target did in the 1960s,” he told the students and faculty.
Dr. Hawking certainly agrees with those of us in OCSS when he said, “Robotic missions are much cheaper and may provide more scientific information, but they don’t catch the public imagination in the same way, and they don’t spread the human race into space, which I’m arguing should be our long-term strategy. If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
There are few academics of the caliber of Hawking anywhere in the world today, and none of them, to my knowledge, has taken the positive stance toward human space exploration that he has. He is a favorite on college campuses around the world and speaks to standing-room-only crowds. Hopefully his vision will rub off on these students and ignite their passion as it has been ignited in so many of us. It is hard to believe how hard it sometimes seems to get the basic idea of exploring across to people. Hawking can hopefully get many people to re-evaluate their priorities to understand our survival imperative.
With so much publicity on the supposedly huge costs associated with space travel, especially of the human variety, he pointed out, “Even if we were to increase the international [space exploration] budget twenty times to make a serious effort to go into space, it would only be a small fraction of world GDP [gross domestic product].”
A primary goal in astronomy is now to find planets in other star systems. We may hopefully be the generation where we locate Earth-like planets. These planets may be havens for humanity in our future. But just because we don’t know where they are now, and can barely make it into low Earth orbit with present technology doesn’t mean to stop dreaming big.
“We cannot envision visiting them with current technology,” Hawking said. “but we should make interstellar travel a long-term aim. By long term, I mean over the next 200 to 500 years.”
And what if we find that some of these planets may be inhabited? Hawking stated that he believed there would be abundant life elsewhere, but that “personally, I favor the second possibility–that primitive life is relatively common, [while] intelligent life is very rare.” With his famous quick wit, he added, “Some would say it has yet to occur on Earth.”
One way to prove that intelligent life actually does survive here on our third rock from the Sun would be for us to set realistic human goals to continue the space programs started just 50 years ago. We must learn to transcend our current limitations, to see the bigger picture of where will we be centuries from now, not just through the next election cycle.
“The discovery of the New World made a profound difference to the old,” he said. “Just think we wouldn’t have had a Big Mac or KFC!”
"Solar System Warming" August 2008
by Michelle Evans
There are a lot of theories out there about why our Earth is warming up, primary of which is that it is all, or in part, caused by humankind. It has been pointed out that it is only since the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s that saw a sharp rise in global temperatures, so it then goes without saying that it must come from us and our pollution.
The idea was first brought to the forefront in the early 1960s. It came because of the confirmation of a major theory originally proposed as to why the temperatures on the surface of Venus are 900 degrees Fahrenheit. The clouds of our neighbor closer to the Sun completely gird the planetary surface, preventing much visible light from reaching to the depths. These clouds are primarily carbon dioxide, and trap the infrared rays coming from the Sun, thus creating a greenhouse effect, drastically raising temperatures far beyond what would be the norm for that position in our solar system.
The release of “greenhouse gases” within the Earth’s atmosphere can theoretically do the same thing here as they did on Venus, and those gases are primarily created by us—at least, that is the natural assumption.
In reality, many of the gases that cause global warming come from other sources, such as the methane released by billions of farm animals. But even this may be paltry in comparison to the possible biggest culprit when it comes to warming: the Sun.
At the heart of our solar system is the engine of energy that keeps our life possible. It drives much of the dynamics of all the planets, even out to the edge of solar influence at the heliopause itself.
It is now an interesting dichotomy that the very same space program that first proved the runaway greenhouse effect on Venus—and got us all thinking globally about our own environment—has now shown that this case may not be as closed as was once thought. Are we humans the culprits for creation of global warming, and thus the eventual destruction of our very civilization?
The answer may be very surprising to most people, that this may actually not be the case. The true culprit may truly be a much bigger player on the field, the Sun itself.
Our Sun is not the constant many think of it as being. Its energy output is in flux, although usually so minutely as to be hardly noticeable. Even large-scale changes may elude our detection, since seeing them over such brief periods as we have so far witnessed just doesn’t give us enough of a clue.
All good science is done by those willing to not take the status quo as something immovable, but as some-thing that must be sought out. Until the middle of the last century, scientists that proposed that the continents themselves moved about the face of the Earth were ridiculed. Nowadays, it has become politically correct to say that humanity is bad for the universe, and that we are destroying our home and all upon it through global warming from our pollution.
Scientists worth their pay will look beyond what the politicians and public want to be true, and look elsewhere for clarity and understanding. This is why we are now looking at global warming on other planets, especially Mars and Jupiter, to see if this is happening in more places than just Earth. Both these planets have shown unequivocal signs of global warming. Does this mean that our despicable human pollution is wafting its way across our entire solar system? Are we mucking up other planets besides our own? Very doubtful. The Sun is the much better answer to reconcile these scientific data.
The polar caps on Mars are shrinking year by year. Recent evidence has shown that Jupiter’s atmosphere is becoming more energetic, a sure sign of increased energy flux from the Sun. All of these things are the natural phenomenon of our solar system.
We like the status quo. It is comforting to know what is today, will always be. The universe has other things in mind for us. If we had advanced our civilization in the midst of the last Ice Age, would we have striven to stave off the next heat flux?
Life, the universe, and everything, is not static. Humanity may indeed be adding to warming, but it also may be miniscule compared to what naturally occurs due to our own Sun.
"Russian Access to the International Space Station" September 2008
by Michelle Evans
We are now less than two years and less than ten flights away from the end of the Space Shuttle era. It started with the launch of Columbia on mission STS-1 on April 12, 1981; and is scheduled to end on May 31, 2010 when Endeavour launches on mission STS-133, a final resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Under the most optimistic scenario, recently released by NASA, the next human-crewed launch into space from the United States will not occur until September 2014, with the first flight of the new Orion spacecraft (this, of course, does not discuss private sub-orbital spaceflight such as offered by Virgin Galactic, which should begin about the same time the shuttle stops flying—see page 1). That hiatus means over four years of nothing. Anyone who thinks, in the intervening six years between now and then, that this date will not slip further, has a great deal on a New York bridge awaiting them.
Of course, we continue to have spaceflight obligations during this time. The ISS is a joint mission with many countries, but it is the U.S. and Russia supposedly leading the way. Just because the U.S. stops flying doesn’t mean we are abandoning the ISS. Instead, control is being turned over to the Russians. Not that NASA would ever phrase it that way, but it is none-theless very true. What this means is that, if we want continuous access to the station, we will have to rely on the generosity of our former Cold War rivals.
This shouldn’t be a problem, since we have already flown many American astronauts aboard Russian Soyuz rockets. Our mutually-cooperative spaceflights go back over a decade. What is there to worry about? Actually, it can become a big problem when we just don’t know if the Russians will still be granting us that spaceflight access once the shuttle fleet officially retires. When that happens, we are then completely at their mercy.
As Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin recently told me during the rollout of WhiteKnightTwo, “To get to our own $100 billion space station, you have to hitch a ride with the Russians. Now that’s a lousy plan.”
On August 6, the Russian military invaded the neighboring autonomous state of Georgia. Invaded is definitely the right word, considering they used not only ground troops, but tanks, aircraft, and bombing missions, not to mention cyber attacks on their computer networks. This definitely was 21st Century warfare, and it was not a peacekeeper force. This was a full-up military operation to regain territory lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. The Russians have not done anything comparable to this since the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. What exactly are these people up to, and what does it mean for our future cooperation in space?
What this means is that, even after the initial ceasefire accords were signed between Russia and Georgia, and that Russian insisted it would pull out immediately, it didn’t happen. Bottom line is, now we can not trust they will keep their word.
If they can’t do this on the scale of a whole sovereign country—and with an entire world watching their arrogance —what chance do we have believing our access to space will be maintained? Vladimir Putin has been on a roll to bring back the good old days. About the only thing left is to rename their government leaders as the Politburo, and reinstate the KGB. Putin has officially left office, but it has been obvious since well before the election who was pulling the strings over there.
We cannot allow our American human spaceflight capability to be held hostage by the political whims of a “wannabe” communist state. We must make a firm commitment to do whatever it takes to speed the first operational missions of Project Constellation (the Ares booster and Orion spacecraft).
Specific proposals have been put forward to keep the Space Shuttle operational longer and close the gap from that direction. This may be the only sure method, as NASA has made it clear that it is doubtful they can speed up production on the replacement vehicle and booster. This will take political will and a large infusion of cash, but NASA gets such a puny amount anyway, it will be well worth it.
"NASA's First 50" October 2008
by Michelle Evans
October 1st. On this date, 50 years ago, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) came into official existence. Created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a civilian space agency to counter criticism about the militarization of space, the seed of NASA was grown out of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), that had been around for almost a half century itself.
NASA inherited a major requirement: to take on the Soviet Union in the race for outer space. This from an agency that, prior to then, had barely been noticed on anyone’s radar in Washington, let alone on the world stage. They were completely unprepared for what was to come. At the time, they were still in competition with other agencies, such as the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, the Air Force, and the Navy, for space resources. These military agencies still had hopes of proving they could do the job better and faster than a civilian upstart like NASA. The new agency had a lot to prove.
With today’s moribund standards of performance, it is hard to believe how quickly things moved all that long time ago. Of course, the major difference is that the space exploration program, both human and robotic, became a major national priority, at its peak, eating up something like five percent of the national budget each year. Today, NASA receives just over 10 percent of that number, currently standing at about 0.6 percent. That means that only 6/10ths of each penny that goes to the government coffers is turned into space exploration.
With a whole country, congress, and president behind them, NASA was able to put men on the Moon three months prior to their 11th birthday. Most all that development and flight was done in a short eight year period.
Compare that to our program today, which barely limps along on just enough money to sustain it. We are already nearly five years into a development effort to replace the Space Shuttle with an Apollo-like capsule, and yet we are still seven—and possibly more—years away from its first human crewed launch, let alone finally getting back to the Moon another half decade later.
The good thing is that in this 50th anniversary year, many politicians are waking up to the fact that we need to maintain and expand our access to space. Both presidential candidates now fully endorse speeding up Project Constellation and not allowing our access to the high ground be contingent on the whims of newly-aggressive Russia.
Hopefully, the next 50 years will see a true renaissance in space exploration, with new frontiers being sought and conquered, and possibly even having the first permanent colonies off our home planet. The birthday of that settlement will truly be one to mark and celebrate.
"The Right of Equality For All" November 2008
by Michelle Evans
This is becoming one of the most difficult election years in recent memory, if ever. I can’t recall a time when I heard so many people say they just didn’t really like either candidate and had no idea of how they should finally cast their ballot on November 4.
Welcome to the leaky boat we all seem to be floating on. We’re awash in rhetoric but very little substance. How low can the common denominator go? How many of us recall a time when someone running for President of the United States was considered a smart and knowledgeable person, when we actually believed they were doing what was right for our country instead of figuring some way just to line their wallets or purses? The job used to be to run the country as well as you possibly could, while now it has degenerated into a fiasco of who can raise the most funds.
On a state level here in California, there is a perfect example of money over everything else. Millions have been raised and spent by groups outside our state to support a proposition on the ballot that would actually write into the constitution, of our supposedly great state, that not everyone is actually equal. The proposition is a divisive and bigoted attempt to cast a minority’s morals upon the majority of reasonable people. It is called Proposition 8, and I must urge all of our California members to Vote No on 8.
We are supposedly moving toward a brighter future of compassion and understanding, one in which spaceflight, exploration, and settlement are an everyday part of life.
There is no place in this future for bigotry. Would anyone take away the civil rights of another, or the ability of an interracial couple to marry? Yet, not too long ago, there were laws on the books that did provide this discrimination. We like to think we are more enlightened today, but then something like Proposition 8 pops up, showing just how backward we are.
For those of you members out of state or who have not heard about the battle waging here in California over this basic issue of equality for all, the proposition states that, if passed, it will write directly into the state constitution, that some people will be denied the basic right to be married to whomever they so chose.
Can you imagine being told you cannot marry the one you love, no matter who it is? Many of our members are married—hopefully happily and long term. Sometimes even our family and friends have told us we were idiots to marry that person, no matter how well it might have turned out in the end. I’m sure that if someone said this to you, that you probably laughed it off and said you’ll marry whom you please, that it is none of their business what makes you both happy as a couple.
What right then is given to the state to mandate having a say over whom you can marry? What right does any other individual or institution have over that same right?
We have freedom of religion in this country, yet this attack is primarily religiously based. Shouldn’t it be up to the individuals and their respective churches? If you know the law, it already is. There is not one word in this right to marry already on the books that forces anyone to do anything they feel is morally incorrect. It does not force churches to marry people they don’t want. It does not force anyone into anything. Why take that right away?
It’s amazing how scared some people are of the right to marry someone you love. This is a return to the Dark Ages, not the place we live today in the Space Age of the 21st Century. Those days were called “dark” for a reason. A select few people had complete say-so over pretty much your entire life—from birth to death. Are those the days to which we want to return? I would hope all of you in the Orange County Space Society would be above such things as foisting your beliefs onto someone else’s rights.
For those who may be worried that, as a nonprofit group, we are not supposed to take a direct stand on any political issue, I want to assure you that, on matters such as this, we are fully allowed to express our opinions and ask for a specific vote on November 4. We cannot do the same for an individual politician.
Just say No to Proposition 8!
"A New Administration" December 2008
by Michelle Evans
The past eight years have been a heck of a rollercoaster ride, to say the least. At this juncture, President Bush is being seen as one of the worst presidents this country has ever had. His policies led us into conflicts of questionable merit, and have diminished America in the eyes of the world.
Of course, this was not always perceived this way. At one time he was actually considered one of the most popular presidents, especially right after 9/11 when the entire Western world was out for revenge against the terrorist cowards that had brought their conflict onto American soil for the first time, destroying thousands of innocent lives.
His popularity started to wane as the war in Afghanistan dragged on and he took the unprecedented action of becoming an invader by going into Iraq before any attack had been directly aimed at us. Even then, it might have gone well, except that things did not go as planned and the deceit to the people of the United States became compounded day by day.
The one bright beacon in all this was that, in January 2004, President Bush issued a new policy statement with regard to our future direction in space. For the first time since the Apollo Moon landings, America was being told that, just simply going round and round the Earth thousands of times was not good enough, that we had to expand and reach outward.
Considering all that had come before from this administration, it was a refreshing change of tactic. Of course, all was not rosy in that the promised funds to keep the new Project Constellation on proper track were not forthcoming. NASA was barely making it from budget cycle to budget cycle. They were being asked to do way more than their budget would safely allow. Still, they persevered, and the Ares and Orion are now entrenched as the way we will access space after the Space Shuttle retires. Instead of simply orbiting Earth, these new boosters and crewed vehicles will allow us to reach back to the Moon, propel missions to the asteroids, and maybe even eventually step foot on Mars.
We have come far enough that turning back to the old ways no longer seems possible. Our path is clear, as long as the funds materialize to make it happen. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have agreed to this course, and made it clear to then-candidate Barack Obama that his initial policy toward NASA and space exploration was flawed. He has apparently taken their advise to heart and has pledged new funds for our space agency to help fill in the shortfalls that have plagued it for years, thus stretching out programs to some indistinct future date. It is no longer acceptable to say the status quo is okay. Russia must not hold our keys to accessing the International Space Station. As a first-rate power in the world, we have to act like one, not by being a bully, but by cooperating with those who want to participate and lead the way to peaceful space exploration and settlement.
Space Shuttle retirement in 2010 is now in question, as is the first flight of the manned Orion spacecraft. The shuttle life may be extended, while Orion may be accelerated, closing the gap between the two as much as possible. Under the original candidate Obama plan, we could have seen a decade-long gap between American spaceflights. Under the new President-elect Obama plan, the gap will be as minimal as possible, with engineering hopefully holding priority over politics.
Wow, what a way to run a space program! This plan must move forward.
Many people have seen Obama’s election as a truly positive step in restoring America to the status it once enjoyed on the world stage, one of power emanating from respect, not power due to being the big bully on the block.
I have always loved the American flag. It is a truly beautiful piece of art that reflects the best this country has to offer. I was amazed at my own feeling just a couple years ago on my last trip to Turkey where I found I was actually embarrassed that a jacket I had brought happened to have an American flag sewn onto the shoulder. Even in the cold, I never put that jacket on. Now I look forward to wearing that jacket again with pride someday.