Quotulatiousness

July 21, 2014

NASA’s “random mode”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, History, Space, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:55

Robert Zubrin identifies two different modes of operation practiced by NASA since 1961:

Over the course of its life, NASA has employed two distinct modes of operation. The first prevailed during the period from 1961 to 1973, and may therefore be called the Apollo Mode. The second, prevailing since 1974, may usefully be called the Random Mode.

In the Apollo Mode, business is conducted as follows. First, a destination for human space flight is chosen. Then a plan is developed to achieve the objective. Following this, technologies and designs are developed to implement the plan. These designs are then built, after which the mission is flown.

The Random Mode operates entirely differently. In this mode, technologies and hardware elements are developed in accord with the wishes of various technical communities. These projects are then justified by arguments that they might prove useful at some time in the future when grand flight projects are once again initiated.

Contrasting these two approaches, we see that the Apollo Mode is destination-driven, while the Random Mode pretends to be technology-driven but is actually constituency-driven. In the Apollo Mode, technology development is done for mission-directed reasons. In the Random Mode, projects are undertaken on behalf of various internal and external technical-community pressure groups and then defended using rationales (not reasons). In the Apollo Mode, the space agency’s efforts are focused and directed. In the Random Mode, NASA’s efforts are scatterbrained and entropic.

Imagine two couples, each planning to build their own house. The first couple decides what kind of house they want, hires an architect to design it in detail, then acquires the appropriate materials to build it. That is the Apollo Mode. The second couple canvasses their neighbors each month for different spare house-parts they would like to sell, and buys them all, hoping to eventually accumulate enough stuff to build a house. When their relatives inquire as to why they are accumulating so much junk, they hire an architect to compose a house design that employs all the miscellaneous items they have purchased. The house is never built, but an adequate excuse is generated to justify each purchase, thereby avoiding embarrassment. That is the Random Mode.

NASA had an overriding mission from 1961 to 1974: the moon program. Almost all of its resources were devoted to that goal, and it was achieved. Then bureausclerosis set in, politics took over, and we left the moon (so far, for good). If the future of mankind is in space, it’s unlikely that NASA will be a significant part of that future (unless you count its role in working to hold back private enterprise from getting involved on NASA’s “turf” (can I call it “astroturf” in this context?)).

July 20, 2014

Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary

Filed under: History, Space, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:42

The first men walked on the moon on this day in 1969:

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, stands on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module, Eagle, during the Apollo 11 moonwalk. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, mission commander, took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the lunar module to explore the Sea of Tranquility, astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained in lunar orbit with the Command and Service Module, Columbia. *This is the actual photograph as exposed on the moon by Armstrong. He held the camera slightly rotated so that the camera frame did not include the top of Aldrin's portable life support system ("backpack"). A communications antenna mounted on top of the backpack is also cut off in this picture. When the image was released to the public, it was rotated clockwise to restore the astronaut to vertical for a more harmonious composition, and a black area was added above his head to recreate the missing black lunar "sky". The edited version is the one most commonly reproduced and known to the public, but the original version, above, is the authentic exposure.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, stands on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module, Eagle, during the Apollo 11 moonwalk. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, mission commander, took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the lunar module to explore the Sea of Tranquility, astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained in lunar orbit with the Command and Service Module, Columbia. *This is the actual photograph as exposed on the moon by Armstrong. He held the camera slightly rotated so that the camera frame did not include the top of Aldrin’s portable life support system (“backpack”). A communications antenna mounted on top of the backpack is also cut off in this picture. When the image was released to the public, it was rotated clockwise to restore the astronaut to vertical for a more harmonious composition, and a black area was added above his head to recreate the missing black lunar “sky”. The edited version is the one most commonly reproduced and known to the public, but the original version, above, is the authentic exposure.

I didn’t realize that almost all the Apollo 11 photographs of astronauts are of Buzz Aldrin. For some reason, Neil Armstrong appears in only a few of them, and The Atlantic‘s Rebecca Rosen wonders why:

Bootprint in lunar dust created and photographed by Buzz Aldrin for the boot penetration (soil mechanics) task during the Apollo 11 moon walk.

Bootprint in lunar dust created and photographed by Buzz Aldrin for the boot penetration (soil mechanics) task during the Apollo 11 moon walk.

If there is one thing everybody knows about Neil Armstrong, it is this: “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” This quotation, in my mind at least, appears illustrated, conjuring the image above of an imprint left by a human boot upon the dusty lunar surface.

Except that’s not the first step, nor was it left by Armstrong. It’s a footprint made by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon.

[...]

The explanation for this paucity is murky at best, prone to the uncharitable reading that Aldrin was getting “Armstrong back by taking no photographs of him on the Moon” in retribution for Armstrong getting the honor of first to set foot on the lunar surface.

But this is speculation at best. Aldrin, at least, has always said that the lapse was inadvertant, the result of Armstrong carrying the camera most of the time, a picture of Armstrong not appearing on the bucket list of things to do while on the moon, and Armstrong never stopping to ask for one. According to Aldrin, he was about to take a picture of Armstrong at the flag ceremony when President Nixon called, distracting them from the task.

[...]

Later, Aldrin expressed regret about the oversight. “When I got back and someone said, ‘There’s not any of Neil,’ I thought, ‘What in the hell can I do now?’ I felt so bad about that. And then to have somebody say that might have been intentional…. How do you come up with a nonconfrontational argument against that? I mean, that was just such a divisive observation, and Neil and I were never in the least divisive. We really were intimidated by the situation we found ourselves in on the Moon, hesitant and with an unclear idea of what to do next.”

Hansen’s book includes a handful of divergent opinions from different NASA administrators, theorizing as to how this, what Hansen calls “one of the minor tragedies of Apollo 11,” could have happened. Was it mere oversight or petty payback? Men sticking close to the plan or men sticking too close to the plan?

H/T to Colby Cosh:

January 23, 2013

How easy would it be to fake the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing?

Filed under: History, Media, Space — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:13

H/T to Kathy Shaidle, who writes:

Remember: Conspiracy theories are history for stupid people. They provide idiots with the thrilling sensation that they’re smarter than everyone else, and are a seductive distraction from real problems.

As the (liberal) filmmaker says:

“They lead you to sell your soul for the comfort of being a rebel.”

That’s what Satan did.

December 14, 2012

40 years ago today, man last walked on the moon

Filed under: History, Space, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:51

At sp!ked, Patrick West notes an under-observed anniversary:

It is a fine testament to NASA’s Apollo programme that of all the world-shaking events in living memory, men landing on the moon is the only one that doesn’t involve death. As Andrew Smith, author of Moon Dust (2006), notes, everyone remembers where they were when John F Kennedy was assassinated, Princess Diana died, or on 9/11. Most people, if they were alive at the time, also vividly recall when a man first walked on the moon on 20 July 1969.

Few, however, will remember what they were doing when the last man walked on the moon. That was 40 years ago today.

As he fired up the engines of Apollo 17‘s Lunar Module, Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, delivered a final message to the world: ‘America’s challenge has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And as we leave the moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return with peace and hope for all mankind.’ On this date, many of us lament that we haven’t gone back to the moon. Others won’t, citing the vast expense of this Cold War sideshow, equivalent to roughly $130 billion in today’s money.

We certainly aren’t likely to return to the moon in such cynical and pessimistic times, of Mayan prophecies, omens of economic stagnation and environmental catastrophe, Frankie Boyle misanthropy and books called Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit?. In other words, everything the Apollo programme didn’t represent. America’s race to the moon may have been partly a means of getting one over the Soviets, but it also embodied the spirit of adventure and progress, as encapsulated by Neil Armstrong’s first words from the moon.

August 27, 2012

Restarting the age of space

Filed under: Media, Space, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:24

sp!ked reposted an older article by James Woudhuysen on the long-term importance of space exploration and the stay-at-home attitudes that oppose further development of the “final frontier”:

One thing unites the critics of lunar exploration. Forty years after man first landed on the moon — on 20 July 1969 — they share a disdain for the grandeur of extra-terrestrial endeavour; for the scale of human ambition involved; for the very idea that human beings should climb into space, as up a mountain, ‘because it is there’.

I have no special preference for size, thrust during lift-off, or the traverse across vast distances. The development of the integrated circuit in the late 1950s, so important to the Apollo programme, was a tribute to miniaturisation rather than to high energy or physical scale. No, my admiration for both Saturn boosters and tiny electronics grows from a respect for open-ended curiosity, for human achievement, and for taking risks. With space travel, a lot of bravery was also at stake. And with both space and the development of semiconductors, there is much teamwork to celebrate — teamwork that, in the case of Apollo, involved not just three astronauts, but the efforts of hundreds of thousands of people.

[. . .]

(more…)

August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong, RIP

Filed under: History, Space, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:37

From Buzz Aldrin, an official statement on the death of Neil Armstrong:

I am deeply saddened by the passing of my good friend, and space exploration companion, Neil Armstrong today. As Neil, Mike Collins and I trained together for our historic Apollo 11 Mission, we understood the many technical challenges we faced, as well as the importance and profound implications of this historic journey. We will now always be connected as the crew of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, yet for the many millions who witnessed that remarkable achievement for humankind, we were not alone.

Whenever I look at the moon I am reminded of that precious moment, over four decades ago, when Neil and I stood on the desolate, barren, yet beautiful, Sea of Tranquility, looking back at our brilliant blue planet Earth suspended in the darkness of space, I realized that even though we were farther away from earth than two humans had ever been, we were not alone. Virtually the entire world took that memorable journey with us. I know I am joined by many millions of others from around the world in mourning the passing of a true American hero and the best pilot I ever knew. My friend Neil took the small step but giant leap that changed the world and will forever be remembered as a historic moment in human history.

August 23, 2010

QotD: Peak Culture

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Quotations, Space, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:47

The height of their society peaked in 1969. They used militarism and socialism to put two guys on the Moon, they trotted out their public-private partnership (Concorde) to build exclusive supersonic transport for the rich. Max Faget and some other brilliant engineers designed a space shuttle fleet of ten vehicles capable of hundreds of flights a year to make access to low Earth orbit cheap and routine. And the Advanced Research Projects Agency had some geeks create an inter-networking protocol that could survive a nuclear war.

Obviously, they shot their wad, as it were, and no longer put guys on the Moon. They no longer fly supersonic transports. Their space shuttle is going to stop flying soon, if it hasn’t already. Those geeky guys went on to develop open source cryptography, open source software, and totally private economic transactions. The future we’re creating is going to be very, dramatically different. It is going to be decentralised to a fare thee well.

Right now, today, two people anywhere in the world *can* have a totally private economic exchange that cannot be detected by anyone else. And since it cannot be detected, it cannot be regulated, it cannot be prohibited, and it cannot be taxed. Even inflation cannot tax it, if the exchange is denominated in some money like silver or gold. Which means that those who dream of ruling the world sowed the seeds of their own damnation?

Jim Davidson, “Peak Culture”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2010-08-22

July 24, 2009

Photo tour of the USS Hornet

Filed under: History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:06

I’ve been onboard several retired battleships, but so far I’ve not managed to get onto an aircraft carrier. This will have to do for the time being:

The USS Hornet was on hand 40 years ago to pick up the Apollo 11 astronauts after their Columbia Command Module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969.

Today, the aircraft carrier is preserved as a museum in Alameda, California. Its main deck is littered with historic warplanes and space artifacts including an Apollo command module and Mobile Quarantine Facility from subsequent missions, pictured below. The first footsteps the Apollo 11 crew took on Earth after walking on the moon are traced on the deck.

USS Hornet CIC

USS Hornet CIC

Above: The USS Hornet’s Crisis Information Center is pictured. While engaged in active warfare, crewmembers would stand behind transparent, hanging boards and write information backwards to keep from getting in the way of the officers who needed to read it.

I think it was actually the “Combat” Information Center, but I could be mistaken. Lots of cool images, but I’d like to see more . . .

July 23, 2009

Realizing Heinlein’s “The Man Who Sold the Moon”

Filed under: Space — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:40

Unlike in the original story, this isn’t going to be just a ploy to get advertisers to help fund the first moon shot:

“If you’re interested, the logo of your choice could go lunar for as little as the minimum $46,000 bid. (Hurry! Bidding started two days ago.)”

Update, 24 July: For a very interesting discussion of the Apollo program, and the design choices taken, see Charles Stross’s blog post. Good stuff (even if I’m way late in linking to it).

July 21, 2009

QotD: ” . . . Apollo was a government boondoggle”

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:44

To keen spacenuts like yours truly, the moonshot was a brilliant climax. That was the problem, it was THE climax. Nothing since has some close in daring or accomplishment. The moon, the wisemen told us, was only the first step. Mars was next, by 1990 surely. 1990 came and went. Whatever the scientific merits of sending men rather than machines to the planets, the spacenuts wanted Captain Kirk to follow logically from Neil Armstrong. It was the future. It was progress. It was inevitable.

We didn’t notice, until rather late, the problem with Apollo. The clever crew cut men, hard cold and objective, gazing at their computer screens — ancient to modern eyes, but so beautiful — using mind boggling math to do the amazing. Beneath the math, the engineering and the hard science was the dismal science. Apollo was a government boondoggle, a creature of politicians it died when its political masters saw that it was no longer a vote getter.

Publius, “Destination Moon”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2009-07-20

July 20, 2009

That’s one small miscue for a man, one giant leap for Mankind

Filed under: History, Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:44

It was 40 years ago:

Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin left the Apollo 11 command module (piloted by Michael Collins) in orbit and performed a landing in the lunar module Eagle. At 4:18 p.m. EDT, Armstrong announced to a watching and waiting world that “The Eagle has landed.”

Six-and-a-half hours later, he stepped onto the powdery surface with the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin soon followed Armstrong down the ladder to become the second man to stand on the moon.

One_Small_Step

The mission was by no means a slam dunk. There was real fear that once on the lunar surface the astronauts might end up marooned and beyond rescue. In fact, President Nixon had a condolence speech ready to go in the event things turned out badly.

Nostalgia is an interesting phenomenon . . . the very term “President Nixon” is pried out of deep archaeological layers of memory, yet the first moon landing still seems fresh and no-longer-new but still somehow “recent”.

If you’re still eager for more, Wired has a convenient round-up of Apollo 11-related sites and events.

July 18, 2009

Photos from Lunar orbit show Apollo 14 landing site

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:20

BBC News has an article today on some recent photos taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), showing the site of the Apollo 14 landing:

Science instruments (circled left) and the lunar module lower stage (circled right) are connected by a footprint trail

Science instruments (circled left) and the lunar module lower stage (circled right) are connected by a footprint trail

A US spacecraft has captured images of Apollo landing sites on the Moon, revealing hardware and a trail of footprints left on the lunar surface.

The release of the images coincides with the 40th anniversary of the first manned mission to land on the Moon.

The descent stages from the lunar modules which carried astronauts to and from the Moon can clearly be seen.

The image of the Apollo 14 landing site shows scientific instruments and an astronaut footpath in the lunar dust.

It is the first time hardware left on the Moon by the Apollo missions has been seen from lunar orbit.

July 15, 2009

It’s been 40 years . . . why haven’t we gone back?

Filed under: History, Space, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:55

On July 20th, it will have been 40 years since many of us clustered around our tiny black-and-white televisions, watching the first moon landing (or for those of you of conspiracist leanings, a really convincing sound stage in Area 51). Why, after all this time, haven’t we gone further? Why, for that matter, have we not been back to the moon for over a generation? Ronald Bailey explains the real reason:

The Apollo moon landings have often been compared to the explorations of Christopher Columbus and the Lewis and Clark expedition to Oregon. For example, on the 20th anniversary of the first moon landing, President George H.W. Bush declared, “From the voyages of Columbus to the Oregon Trail to the journey to the Moon itself: history proves that we have never lost by pressing the limits of our frontiers.”

But what boosters of the moon expeditions overlook is that the motive for pressing the limits of our frontiers in those cases was chiefly profit. In his report from his first voyage, Columbus predicted that his explorations would result in “vast commerce and great profit.” The extension of commerce was also the chief justification that President Thomas Jefferson gave in his secret message to Congress requesting $2,500 to fund what would become the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Forty years later, as we bask in the waning prestige that the Apollo missions earned our country, we must keep in mind that humanity will some day colonize the moon and other parts of the solar system, but only when it becomes profitable to do so.

Back in 1969, my friend Alan Fairfield and I sat in fascination (at least in the golden memory, they do . . . we were nine: I doubt that we paid as much attention to the broadcast as his mother thought we should). Mrs. Fairfield told us that we’d be able to go to the moon ourselves by the time we were grown up. It didn’t turn out that way, and at the current rate of progress, it may not turn out that way for my grandkids.

But I still hope, one day . . .

(Cross-posted to the old blog, http://bolditalic.com/quotulatiousness_archive/005583.html.)

July 14, 2009

Random links of possible interest

Filed under: Randomness, Space — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:26

Just a few links to provide you with click-therapy:

(Cross-posted to the old blog, http://bolditalic.com/quotulatiousness_archive/005579.html.)

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