“Actually, they theoretically can separate the hydrogen from the oxygen and process that into providing fuel for man’s space flights. Ostensibly, turning Mars into a giant gas station. So it’s a . . . yeah. We live in an amazing time.” – Breaking Bad
The featured picture above the title is of the Saturn V. It’s longer than a Harry Potter novel. This picture shows the engines from the main stage of the Saturn V. About 275,000 horsepower for all five engines, you can totally tell by the lens flare! But it got over two miles per gallon of kerosene used (TRUE)!
This is the third and final part of Elon Musk Week® (sort of like Shark Week©, but with 100% less Discovery™ channel). An annual feature? Maybe!
I first read about Elon in (probably) 1977 or 1978. Oh, sure, you’re saying, that would have made him six or seven years old, and at least a continent and two hemispheres away from me. My only response is, “so what?”
When I was a kid, I lived fifteen miles from the town I went to school in. My house was the farthest away on the school bus line, so I was the first to get on in the morning (7:15, every morning) and the last to get off (4:30, so I missed F-Troop). I could stare out the big picture window and see the bus a mile away – Ma Wilder taught me it would be rude to keep the bus driver waiting – and out I would go to be there waiting when the big yellow bus pulled into my driveway.
For about two hours a day as the bus stopped to pick up and then let off children, I could either stare out at the mountain scenery, or I could drop with Johnny Rico and The Roughnecks into Klendathu. Or I could visit Trantor, first with Hari Seldon, and then later with The Mule. Or ride Sandworms on Arrakis with Paul Atreides. Or be shocked at the mysteries when we Rendezvoused with Rama. Or finish all the science fiction anthologies at the middle school library by the middle of my seventh grade year.
And reading wasn’t confined to just bus time. There were only three channels of television available (no one ever counted PBS, unless Monty Python was on) an half the time nothing interesting was on. So, if I had built all the model kits around (the usual condition – they didn’t last long) and it was too cold to go hiking or fishing, I always had a book ready to read. And Ma Wilder said I had to go to bed, but she never said I had to go to sleep . . . my parents bought me a reading lamp that clipped on my headboard for my tenth birthday.
But I remember reading the Hugo®-winning “The Man Who Sold the Moon,” by Robert A. Heinlein fairly clearly – it wasn’t on a bus, but on the couch by a crackling fire on a cold (-20˚F) winter’s day. And that’s when I met Elon Musk.
Delos David Harriman (better known as D.D. Harriman) is the billionaire who decides to go to the Moon. Why?
He envisions a new economy – an opening of the Moon is the first step to opening the Solar System to humanity. Rather than living in a world which with a fixed horizon, D.D. realizes that getting off this rock is the only possible positive future of humanity. But getting there is possible, and only takes will.
To quote Harriman:
“In fact, the real engineering problems of space travel have been solved since World War II. Conquering space has long been a matter of money and politics.”
Contrast with Musk:
“Boeing just took $20 billion and 10 years to improve the efficiency of their planes by 10 percent. That’s pretty lame.”
And how was Harriman going to do it?
“I’ll hire the proper brain boys, give them everything they want, see to it they have all the money they can use.”
Contrast this with Musk:
“The path to the CEO’s office should not be through the CFO’s office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design.”
And I could go on and on about the similarities but the one thing I know is this:
Musk read the same stuff I did when he grew up.
Musk knows D.D. Harriman. Just like I did, Musk admired D.D. Harriman. However, Musk has become D.D. Harriman.
And for that, my hat is off to him. D.D. Harriman is much more important than Tony Stark®.
And Harriman was willing to do absolutely anything to open space to humanity, convinced it was too important to leave to governments and bureaucrats. Harriman manipulated stock, forged fake space-diamonds, and extorted advertising dollars from soda companies.
Musk feels the same way. Musk formed SpaceX™. Musk got involved in Tesla®. One is his passion, one (even though he believes in the mission) is there to fund his passion. Make no mistake: Musk has created more applied rocket engineering faster than any person in history except maybe Von Braun (though Bezos is giving him a run for his money and has super-cool biceps for an old man).
Why not NASA? Isn’t it their job?
During the 1960’s, NASA had a mission. It was going to get three guys to the Moon, by the end of the decade. Lots of engineers worked lots of long hours and made it happen. In July of 1969, NASA dropped the mic after “One Small Step” and walked off the stage. Mission done!
Well, almost fifty years on from that date, and six of the twelve men who walked on the Moon are now dead. During the middle? NASA developed one (anemic) space launch system – The Space Shuttle, whose sole purpose appeared to be to construct the International Space Station. Why construct it? So the Shuttle had a place to go, silly.
And now we have no space launch systems available to us except through the Soviets, er, Russians, and . . . Elon’s SpaceX™, which currently plans to have a manned launch of its Dragon/Falcon taking place in early 2018. The first manned Orion flight? Maybe 2023. Maybe.
Why is NASA so sick?
The original group they hired were engineers. Their job? Get into space, get onto the moon. Then they fired most of them, but kept enough to send out a fairly constant stream of unmanned probes as well as lame manned space missions. But during the 1970’s they also hired a lot of administrators. And people who had no connection in any respect to a spacecraft, or science, or aeronautics.
Except for brief bursts of public interest when something worked really well (Viking and Voyager) or when something worked really poorly (Challenger and Columbia), NASA has reached an irrelevance in national policy. NASA appears to only be important when it comes to funding large amounts of money to projects that take place in certain Congressional Districts in certain strategically important states. In Houston they love NASA, or at least NASA dollars. Efficiency? Progress? Why would you need those things? Heck, we can have astronauts but not have spaceships!
These are the depths that NASA has fallen to showcase its technical bankruptcy: it has a division called the “Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute.” This division produced 5,000 braille books about the eclipse for the blind.
These are the official shot glasses of the Manned Spaceflight Center. At least it’s one way to blast off?
I am not opposed to a company doing this – I’m not even opposed to a government agency producing books in braille, especially those that aren’t available on audio. But I am opposed to NASA doing it. Why?
NASA’s mission is:
To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.
Nothing at all in there about getting blind people books about an eclipse. Nothing close, so this is a symptom of a system that has gone beyond dysfunctional to trivial. A dysfunctional system (or in this case, organization) just can’t get anything done. A trivial organization works on everything. It invents steps where none need be, make-work (like the books), bureaucracy (credentials for everyone!), and hurdles (did you file the right form?) until Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy is achieved:
From Jerry Pournelle himself:
Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:
First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.
Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers’ union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.
The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.
I think that in NASA they actively look for jobs that they can do that are:
NASA could spend time and effort designing a new hypervelocity spaceplane, but that’s hard! And someone could get hurt, and that would be bad publicity. And we know that we as a society will only allow people to be put upon the equivalent of 2,000 tons of TNT (Saturn V) if it’s totally safe! Otherwise, it’s an outrage!
So, faced between making a new launch system that might help get people into space OR putting together a braille book? Let’s go with the book. It’s A. Easy and B. Safe.
These are the official flip flops of the Manned Spaceflight Center. They look Safe, unless you blow out your flip flop and step on a pop top and cut your heel and have to cruise back home. It’s okay, because there’s booze in the blender and you have the Official Manned Spaceflight Center shot glasses.
The only way to avoid the Iron Law and the A. Easy and B. Safe people is to have a personality that keeps focus on the goal.
And since NASA administrators don’t go in and fire everyone in NASA not involved in the mission, you can be certain that they’re fine with . . . whatever the heck it is that NASA is doing.
How is SpaceX® Different?
Elon Musk is a laser of focus on getting spacecraft into the air. People at SpaceX® want to work long hours, and if you look at jobs on their website, it notes that long hours, working evenings and weekends are probably going to be a thing for you. And, want to get fired? Talk about part of your “mission” at SpaceX® being producing coloring books on planetary nebulae.
Sounds like old Harriman himself, “. . . sweet talk them into long hours – then stand back and watch them produce.”
Some Libertarians HATE Musk because of the government subsidies that have driven money to Tesla® and even SpaceX©. I can understand that, especially if their goal is less government. Heck, I’d like less government. But even though Musk has to go through roundabout ways to get only a portion of NASA’s funding, he’s running circles around them on talent recruitment, technology development, and actual results. We have a choice if want to really get into space. Elon appears to be the only winning answer (unless Bezos is holding back on a few aces).
Musk could fly people in space tomorrow, if they’d let him. NASA is six years out. Six years out.
What does Musk plan to do in the next three? Send a capsule (unmanned) to Mars.
I’d be surprised if Orion ever actually flies people. NASA seems incapable of spaceflight, and, really incapable of anything more complicated than Twitter. But if Orion ever flies, I imagine that in orbit the Orion astronauts will get to see Elon’s butt pressed firmly against the window of his Mars Transfer Ship (Red Dragon 11) as he gives them a full moon (pardon) as a parting gift as he heads to Mars.
It’s a long trip to Mars. I imagine that Elon might take a book or two along with him for the trip. Probably not “The Man Who Sold the Moon.” But maybe Dune, or Starship Troopers.
What would D.D. Harriman read?
I’d like to think he’d bring my blog . . .
Hey, everyone (including you, Elon) you can subscribe, and it gets sent out directly when I hit the publish button.