Sunday, February 11, 2018

An Apology And A Bit of a Rant

First, the bit of a rant.

And this has a high likelihood of aggravating some of those I admire and consider to be friends. Well, don't worry. I will continue to review your books based on their own merit.

I just want to draw your attention to the topic of:


People who are barking about how the private sector always innovates, and about wicked and incompetent government agencies (wink wink nudge nudge let's bash NASA some more) are just frappen missing the point: no bucks, no Buck Rogers.

SpaceX did wonderful things, because it had: money.
NASA did wonderful things, too, when it had: money.

Those who yarp and scrank about a supposed failure of NASA to innovate are essentially like the farmer who daily reduced the feed to his horse as an economy measure, and then complained that just as soon as he got his horse to get by on no feed at all, the horse died.

Of COURSE NASA had limits shortly after The Eagle landed at Tranquility Base. Their FUNDING was cut. No bucks, no Buck Rogers. It's THAT frappen simple. There was no institutional conspiracy on the part of evil NASA people to keep us on the ground. Instead, there was a sustained choice by a government, freely elected by the citizens of the United States, to do something else with that money.

Edison is quoted as saying that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, and that's true, but that only accounts for the THEORY.

Listen, because this is important:

The ENGINEERING part requires both of those components, plus a gigantic stack of Benjamins.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky had some pretty brilliant ideas, and designed this spacecraft:
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's first spacecraft design

Alas, Tsiolkovsky's spacecraft was never built or launched. It was, by the way, designed about half-way between the Moon novel of Jules Verne (1865) and that of H G Wells (1900). You could look it up.

The fact that he lived in a log cabin way out in the sticks in pre-revolutionary Russia at the time, may also be considered a factor, but once again, it comes down to this: no bucks, no Buck Rogers.

In America, Robert Goddard did some AMAZING stuff on his own hook, because he had a whole lot of genius and poured out a whole lot of perspiration. However, he got stuck building stuff, until he was able to persuade the Smithsonian to give him a grant. You could look that up, too.

When he GOT money, Goddard did some even MORE amazing things, in addition to the things school kids read about. The bazooka? That's Goddard's work. He built a JATO unit that could be turned off and re-started, and had an adjustable throttle. And there is pretty good evidence that the rocketry work he did, particularly with respect to his innovations with liquid fuels provided a significant head start to the German V2 program after German spies von Boetticher and Guellich were able to steal results from his research.

And after THAT, the reason the Germans got ahead of us in rocketry is because they devoted the bucks (and slave labor) to the effort, and the Americans essentially ignored it.

NOTE: Considering the time, the Nazi decision to launch rockets, and the US decision not to, worked in our favor. I've seen estimates that said the Nazis spent about a half billion dollars on the rocket program. I leave as an exercise for the reader the implications, had the rocket program funds gone to producing the Panther and Tiger tanks, which were superior to the American M4 Sherman.

Wow, it's easy to get off on a rabbit trail when talking about guns and butter. I'm like, WAY off. Since I wrote the last sentence, I've read articles on American tanks, German tanks, Lyndon Johnson's presidency, and economic policy, and THAT'S pretty bizarre. As far as I know, I currently hold the record for the lowest grade in economics ever awarded to a doctoral student in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Business. So, for me to read an article on econ shakes me up to the point that I need the spell checker to see how to spell the word 'article.'

Ummm, somewhere in there (and between trying to fight my fat black Manx cat SugarBelly for control of the keyboard) I sort of lost the steam to make a good rant. That's okay with me. It wasn't that much of a rant, anyway, since it wasn't my ox that was gored.

But, now, let me start with my apology. And this one is sincere, and from the heart.

I am 64 years old, born in 1953. I DO remember those early days of the space race, when we couldn't get into orbit. My step-father was a pilot, and he wanted to become an astronaut so bad he could taste it. He had no college, though, and he hadn't been a fighter pilot, and was long out of the military, go.

He had the Right Stuff, though. His personal flight log, which I have seen and held in my hands, show in excess of 20,000 hours when he died, most of it as command pilot.And if you aren't a pilot: that's a LOT of flying hours.

I remember when we finally got the chimp in space.

I remember watching, at home or in school, the Mercury astronauts lift-off on live television: Shepard and Grissom and Glenn, and all the rest. I remember how we all were practically holding our breath until the capsule and astronauts were safely aboard the aircraft carriers.

I also remember going to see a Disney movie about a beautiful space alien who persuades an astronaut to cover his capsule with a special paint to protect him from 'proton rays.' (Note: we never found any beautiful space aliens, but I wanted one. No proton rays, either.)

I remember seeing those ASTOUNDING pictures being sent back from the Moon by Ranger 7, and how everyone in the room gasped at the last picture before impact, and then broke into cheers.

I remember the walks in space, and Walter Cronkite's excitement.

I remember the day I found out that Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee had died in a launchpad fire during training.

I remember watching the fuzzy picture in the middle of the night, as Neil Armstrong descended from the LEM.

I remember, I remember...

...and so I am without excuse, when I admit to you that I, too, had ignorant thoughts, some time after we watched the immaculate, parallel touchdowns of the Falcon side cores, and saw the pictures of the Tesla in space.

"Why couldn't NASA have done that" wasn't the first thought, nor the second, nor the third; but SOMEWHERE in that fit of childlike geekiness that was driving this late-middle-age body, I had a moment in which I was aggravated. And, I said the wrong things. And I thought the wrong thoughts.

It wasn't NASA that failed me. In fact, I'm not even sure that I have been failed at all; and if I have been, it was by the constitutionally elected government of this country, not by one particular agency.

They made an easy target, though. Particularly as they were also (figuratively) standing there beside me, staring off into the sky, dreaming about what could have been, and what might yet be.

So, it was brutally unfair of me to entertain the thought, even for a second, that they had somehow failed me. They did more than dream; they made it happen. It's easy enough to identify the pioneers; they're the ones with all the arrows sticking out of their backs. And that seems to describe NASA at this point.

So, to my old buddy down in Randolph County, who was an engineer on the Apollo program, and to all of the others who put skull sweat and wrench turning to good use:

I apologize.

Please forgive me for what I (briefly) thought. You didn't take the stars away from me; you gave me the bit of the stars that I have. Thank you.

Peace be on your household.


  1. Le rêve des étoiles.
    The dream of stars.
    Like you, I watched Armstrong set first foot on the moon and heard his words. Like you I'm ready to go - NOW! - even as fat and fatigued as I am. Even if I never return.
    Because, brother, we both are still affected with the dream.
    I've been guilty of some NASA bashing as well. I know it was the bureaucratic mindset that set the progress back. As Lazarus Long put it, an elephant is a mouse built to government specifications.
    The benefit Spacex and Musk enjoyed was a lack of bean counters squenching every penny - how Lincoln must have screamed in pain.
    And my old, damaged heart was overjoyed with the boost and recovery.
    I still want to go; lacking the chance, I still want to go vicariously.
    Ad astra per aspera. Excelsior!

  2. Amen Pat.

    My memories only go back to seeing shadowy images and seeing one small step, but I have cheered every launch and landing I could see. (ah, but to have seen one in person)

    Yeah, I cheered (and cried a bit) when Falcon Heavy took off. And yes, part of it was because I have wanted to see private enterprise get in the race every since I read The Man Who Sold the Moon. I want the torch to be passed on; I want that light to be for All Mankind.

    Ad astra

  3. Yay, NASA! I even got the chance to try out for it. Right eye wasn't good enough, but I got the chance.