Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Saturday, January 21, 2006

  January in space

Biggest news of last week was New Horizons got launched. I awaited the launch with decidedly mixed emotions. (I didn't watch the launch, I watched the first two scrubs while I thought about them. The metaphysical relationship between me watching launches and their actual launch rate is getting to me. I'm not going to watch the Feb 8th Falcon 1 launch for this reason)

Pluses: great test of the Atlas V, nice spacecraft, well done mission.

Minuses: Billions spent. Very low data rate. 10 years of planning, years of development, 9 years of mission before the first result comes in, years and years of analysis - of Pluto!! - a rock so distant that we'll not do anything more useful with it for a hundred years - a body that I consider to be just a wayward, very cold asteroid...

While waiting through the launch delays I kept thinking what I could do with an Atlas V and the same amount of fuel - notably - launch 16 identical Near Earth Asteroid explorers - have preliminary results at high data rates back inside of 12 months for each explorer - then go onto another asteroid, and another, and another...

With that one launch, and in less than 5 years, we could do a complete survey of EVERY known asteroid spectral class in our local neighborhood, of asteroids rich in the materials of life (carbon/water) and of commerce and construction (nickel and iron) Instead, we twiddle our thumbs spending 9 years going to asteroid Pluto.

At least NASA didn't have the gall to keep calling the probe "Pluto Express". That piece of marketing claptrap really stuck in my craw. Wake me up in 9 years, I look forward to seeing the pictures of the icy thing.

I note that I'd settle for a couple secondary payloads on cheaper rockets of near earth asteroid explorers. Less risk and cost and more targets that way. But, man, am I jealous of that Atlas V.

Grabbag:

Over at Chair Force Engineer: The Crew Launch Vehicle has run into some problems... Yep. My principal criticism of "the Stick" is simply that we could buy manned launches from the Russians forever without even touching the principal for what it's going to cost to develop a new manned launcher.

Elsewhere - The Europeans are apparently buying into kliper. I don't know what to think about that.

NASA IS doing a lot of things right, COTS for example. I especially love how basic and non-glossy the COTS web site is. To me - that means business.

Lastly, Stardust landed, making the fastest re-entry ever. Another kudo for NASA.

I really, really wish that the parts of NASA I like could be separated from the parts of NASA I don't.

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David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


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