Ellis on Space Flight

Deathmatch on Mars

The thing is, it's a bigger question than maybe it looks: everyone but China has abandoned human spaceflight. Russia uses its crewed capability to make money from America, at this point. ISS was only lofted as a place for the Shuttle to go, because the Shuttle was such a crocked piece of shit that it couldn't reliably go more than two hundred miles up. And sometimes exploded trying even that.

I'm not pessimistic about Chinese creativity, because if you're starting a space program from scratch, of course you look at what worked for other people. I see combinations of Apollo and Russian technologies, robust and proven gear. Apollo vehicles made round trips of half a million miles and brought 'em back alive even when the gas tanks exploded.

Now, some people will say to you that Virgin space tourism counts as human spaceflight. But to put a bit of perspective on that, what they do is what Alan Shepard did in Freedom 7 in 1961 ----" a suborbital lob of fifteen minutes duration, an order of magnitude below what Yuri Gagarin did a month earlier. So what you can say about Virgin Galactic in 2012 is that it's matched capability with, um, 1961.

[...] You know, it's funny: a couple of years ago, a film producer told me that he thought the opening vista of Kennedy Space Center as an inoperative wasteground, lightly populated by shanty towns, was implausibly grim. In a way, he was right: the place is now so poisoned by spacelaunch byproduct that it's going to take years and millions to clean it to the point where it can be occupied.

Previously, previously.

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19 Responses:

  1. TJIC says:

    Graphic above is from Orbiter, right? I enjoyed that book well enough, but one thing the image reminds me of is a bad trope of cyberpunk: in the future all the suburbs and apartments are gone and people have to squat in the most unlikely places. Everyone is either camped out in a Vehicle Assembly Building, urban parking deck, houses built into a bridge, etc.

    Dare I point out that there is so much housing stock in this country that even if population goes up 20% and incomes go down 50%, there are still enough ACTUAL BEDROOMS to accomodate everyone...in places with insulation, running water, and roofs?

    • Thomas Lord says:

      A lot of those places are: in houses banks will tear down to shore up housing prices; in indefensible suburban wastelands; in urban wastelands where you might have taps I wouldn't be so sure about running water; far from where commerce might survive in the grim meathook future; etc.

      • Pavel says:

        Exactly. The only reason people live in the 'burbs now, is because they can afford to drive into the city center do actually do business. Suburban homes don't even have backyards big enough to run a sustainable garden in.

        • Brian B says:

          Yep, and one reason some people are walking away from their new houses is the sheer distance to anything besides more houses. It's as if some developers read a critique of soulless suburbia and thought it was a planning guide.

        • TJIC says:

          > Exactly. The only reason people live in the 'burbs now, is because they can afford to drive into the city center do actually do business.

          1950 called; it wants your outdated model of where business is conducted back.

          At a current used price of $0.01, this book is well worth buying:


          • Pavel says:

            Can you give me a quick summary, so I don't spend a week reading a whole book before replying?

            • Adam says:

              I believe the quick summary is 'ha ha, you're wrong!' or something similiar.

              • TJIC says:

                Yeah, I was being a bit dickish, and I apologize for that.

                OK, the argument, sans snark:

                1) city cores used to be centers of manufacturing, economic output, etc.
                2) at some point the suburbs came into existence
                3) because (i) people prefer shorter commutes, (ii) density brings problems (e.g. harder to park, harder to commute, etc.), (iii) big city regulations brings problems (e.g. more arduous permitting processes, more mandates to comply with, higher taxes) .... productive activity started following people out to the bedroom communities
                4) because moderate density still brings benefits, the new development is not spread in equal rings around city cores but clumps in a few small outlier sub-cities

                Or, in summary, a lot more actual business gets done outside of cities - but near them! - then gets done in city cores. If you look at the cash flows wealth is generated in the ring, and transferred into the core in two ways: (i) the big one: taxation and social spending, (ii) cultural tourism, as the suburbanites go in for a fancy dinner and a show.

  2. nikita says:

    Russian space program at the moment consists, for all intents and purposes, of sending overpriced probes into unlikely places in the Pacific ocean.

  3. NotTheBuddha says:

    Ellis gives good rant as always, but I'm not sure why he thinks Newt wouldn't or couldn't withdraw from the Outer Space Treaty.

    Not that it will matter any decade soon.

    • Brian B says:

      Saying "We're not in the treaty anymore" is one thing, but claiming moon territory for his own country would likely be an act of war. (IANAL.)

      • TJIC says:

        > but claiming moon territory for his own country would likely be an act of war. (IANAL.)

        "The moon has 3.793 × 10^7 km^2 of surface ... we claim these 50 km^2, because we've got people sitting on it" doesn't seem like a reason anyone would start a war.

        • antabakayt says:

          You'd be surprised.

          • TJIC says:

            I would, actually, because pretty much all world leaders, including the "lunatics" act really really rationally, given the hands they hold.

            If the US claimed 50 km^2, who's going to launch a war? China? The EU? Hell, China'd just land ten times as many men and claim 10 times the surface.

  4. Alex says:

    Strangely, I keep hearing about US space activities. Obviously propaganda.

    Also, "abandoned KSC so scary and kewl" is JG Ballard's territory. It's guarded by ghosts. Ghosts of psychotic 60s hipster advertising executives, postwar British nuclear bomber crews, Japanese secret police, and Shanghai slumdog remittance men. KEEP OUT.

    Further, I have no idea why anyone in the grim meathook future would squat KSC. It's in the middle of a fucking swamp full of giant killer lizards and mosquitos and no fun, dependent on the Army Corps of Engineers to keep the water out (who do so because NASA and the 45th Space Wing are there), miles from anywhere except Orlando and there's no fucking reason for that pigsty to exist even now. Honestly. It's only a bit less stupid than squatting Amundsen-Scott. They put the artillery range and then the rocket range and then NASA there for a reason - you can let off a tactical nuke's worth of LH2 and LOX without anyone getting hurt and it's got a railway siding.

    • Lun Esex says:

      You left out "can launch over ocean so if something explodes mid-flight, or is blown up by the RSO, it won't fall on people/property" (with the added benefit of launching to the east to get a slight assist from the earth's rotation) and "can also haul stuff in on barges."

  5. zaba says:

    Also I want an orbital death ray.

    And a pony.

  6. You can see my tent in that drawing! The little orange two-man job near the feet of what's left of the observation tower...

    Are there any renaissance men allowed in those futures everyone seems so resigned to? I hope so, I won't be able to rely on my looks by then, and I suspect both pascal and C will be deprecated. In tent town, at least...

    I do like the fact that Virgin Galactic won't be taking any trips outside the "parking lot". Until some rich bastard wants to do a lap of the lunar slingshot orbit! Maybe that's what it'll take to get to Mars - not international cooperation, just a really rich prick.