"I think it’s fair to say that our review group drew the short straw, and I drew the shortest by having to actually do this presentation." Sally Ride, 2009 Dr. Sally Ride at the 2009 Review of Human Space Flight Plans Committee. It was August 2009 and Sally Ride was about to present charts about … Continue reading Drawing the short straw
On my shelves sits a childhood book “Planets and Spaceflight” published in 1957 by General Mills. The front cover is “Planets” and the rear “Spaceflight”, full of vivid descriptions and beautiful artwork of so many places to go and how we will get there. The publisher being best known for Cheerios leaves me sure the … Continue reading What’s old is new again – more on refueling in space
Range anxiety was invented by NASA. Well, perhaps not (or Velcro), but space exploration gives new meaning to an obsessive awareness of how much further you can go when there is not a charger on every corner. Now imagine that feeling in outer space, or back on the ground watching your spacecraft, not just for … Continue reading The rise, fall and rise again of refueling – in space
Iconic orange Space Shuttle external tanks and shiny SpaceX Starships are uncannily close in scale. I was fortunate to be on the team in the 1990’s that checked out and prepared the external tanks and then on the team that filled and launched them. I could not have guessed that 23 years into my career … Continue reading Of external tanks and Starships
There is an oddity to the International Space Station, its name – a station. On Earth this would be fine, a station, as in stationary, not moving. In space though “station” is a bit of a misnomer for a facility going once around the Earth every 90 minutes and traveling 15,500 miles per hour. Pictures, … Continue reading It’s not what it looks like – the cost of ISS per year
The room filled with the usual suspects and small talk. This year it seemed an unwritten rule that before any presenter could talk about their good work there came this certain chart. It was the late 1990’s, exciting times when ever faster computers, internet connections and aerospace technology came together to spur dreams of things … Continue reading You can’t always get what you want, but…
The same human who helped create the AI had only one task at this moment, move the stone to its place on the board as the AI instructed. The move would seem to be a bad move, except later when it seemed the AI was playing in a way we humans could learn from. This … Continue reading I’m with the AI, and I’m here to help
I was walking under a beached whale, and inside it, and around, the dangling entrails smacking me in the face, an amateur mistake on my part. I should have known how to move carefully around flight hardware. It was early 1999 and the X-33 was taking shape. With its internal rib-like frame, and more platforms … Continue reading X-33 – the middle path?
The choice was made, so the outcome was determined, if not known. In engineering as in life. Not everyone accepts this notion quite the same way, or as gospel. Making a choice and then having to live with a determined if unknown future sounds fine in theory. In practice though determined leads to deterministic. As … Continue reading Reusability – legs and fins or wings and things?
The socket cost $5,000. But we got a good deal for three at $15,000. Now this might sound like just another story about a $300 toilet seat, but it turns out there may be some rhyme or reason behind $300 toilet seats. Or even $10,000 toilet seat covers. If you make a plane and then … Continue reading The case of the $5,000 socket – it’s about the benefit when the mass is there, versus not
A launch failure is a visual event, out there for all to see, a program’s failure to meet cost or flight rate or other fuzzy goals, not so much. With an odd hardware failure, a unit gone bad, engineers might do a hybrid of Monday morning quarterbacking and applicable anecdotes. Of course, there is methodical … Continue reading Commercial space and six questions for a good story – Pt. 3 of 3 (wonkish)
First there was a forest, then just a smattering of trees, and finally just this one tree. On a specific day, at a specific time, someone came to the last tree. Maybe they paused. Then they chopped it down too. This is a version of the tragedy of the commons, a parable where incentives create … Continue reading Commercial space and six questions for a good story – Pt. 2 of 3 (wonkish)
In 2006 NASA went down a rather new path to get cargo to the International Space Station. No one could have imagined the end was so near for the dogma of space exploration as an expensive, exclusively government affair. Suddenly, getting cargo to the ISS meant inside baseball lingo about firm fixed price contracts and … Continue reading Commercial space and six questions for a good story – Pt. 1 of 3 (wonkish)
The reward is everyone's ability to go further. It’s not every day you are told your choices are not yours alone. Last year’s 2020 Space Council report did just this. NASA’s deep space exploration and the US commercial space sector are linked. The report was clear, a commercial space economy is “necessary” for NASA’s deep … Continue reading NASA’s human spaceflight strategy, sustainability and growth
Read the signs. There is a temptation to check off “sustainable” as a project feature merely because it appears to be likely to persist. Rather than this semi-circular definition, grappling with what is truly sustainable can move sideways. For one, sustainable space exploration and development can move to a measurable engineering feature - reusability. How … Continue reading Reusability, priceless.