I guess we’re all supposed to be talking about how to build the middle class these days and look askance at the top 1 percent. But would you mind if I interrupted this cultural moment to point out that capitalism is an inherently elitist enterprise?
Prosperity is often driven by small enclaves of extraordinary individuals that build new industries and amass large fortunes. These driven, manic individuals are frequently unpleasant to be around. But, if your country is not attracting and nurturing them, you’re cooked.
For those who don’t read the financial press or the gossip blogs, Musk is a 41-year-old entrepreneur who grew up in South Africa. At 15, he migrated to Canada, worked on farms and at a lumber mill and then got into Queen’s University in Ontario.
After two years, he transferred to Penn, earning degrees in economics and physics. While there, as he recently told Jon Stewart, he concluded that the three areas that would most transform humanity were the Internet, sustainable energy and space exploration.
He dropped out of a graduate physics program at Stanford to help start an Internet map and directory company called Zip2, which was sold to Compaq for more than $300 million.
He took his share of that money and helped create PayPal, serving for a time as its chief executive. When that was sold, he poured his share of his money into SpaceX, a space exploration company; Tesla, an electric car company; SolarCity, a solar power company; and Everdream, a data-center software firm.
SpaceX is the first private company to send a rocket into space. Already profitable, it has a long line of orders to take things into space. Tesla is selling its second model for about $55,000 each. Musk decided to revolutionize three industries all at once and is sort of doing it. His net worth is estimated to be about $2 billion.
Musk also told Businessweek about two other project designs he is working on. The first is something called the Hyperloop, a tube capable of taking people from downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco in 30 minutes. The second is a vertical lift-off supersonic passenger jet that would surpass Boeing. He also hopes to open up a space colony on Mars within 10 or 15 years.
“Boldness of enterprise is the foremost cause of [America’s] rapid progress, its strength and its greatness,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote nearly a couple of centuries ago. Musk is a fountain of bold enterprises, though, of course, he also has the vices of his virtues.
Many employees love him, but there has been at least one blog set up to catalog his mistreatment of those he deems mediocre. He’s run through two marriages already, and his first ex-wi
Simple repost from Robert Christy, but worth noting.
Tiangong Orbit Change Signals Likely Date for Shenzhou 10 by Robert Christy FBIS Scarborough, UK (SPX) Sep 04, 2012
August 30, Tiangong 1's controllers raised its orbit by 11 kilometres, indicating that a target date for the Shenzhou 10 mission has probably been set. As August 30 dawned, Tiangong 1 was following a 344 x 356 kilometre orbit at 42.8 degrees inclination. Soon after noon UTC, a firing of its thrusters raised perigee to create a new apogee. The orbit became 355 x 366 kilometres at the same inclination as before.
It was back to the same height that had been produced by a similar manoeuvre after Shenzhou 9 departed. A history of Tiangong's orbital manoeuvres can be seen here.
Before this latest adustment, Tiangong's orbit decay would have brought it back to the 330 kilometer Shenzhou operating altitude before the end of 2012. Controllers had been experimenting for a few weeks with thruster firings to control Tiangong's rate of decay very precisely.
It seemed to be heading for a rendezvous with Shenzhou 10 around November 26 during one of two launch windows covering the last few days of November and the first couple of weeks in December.
It was probably a 'holding pattern' based on an estimate of how long it would take to review Shenzhou 9 and prepare a new vehicle for launch with a crew.
Plans may now have firmed up a little with an aim to fly the mission early in the new year. Tiangong 1's new orbit will decay to Shenzhou altitude early February, during the next pair of launch windows that extend through January to mid-February. A current estimate of the likely Shenzhou launch date can be found here.
Shenzhou 10's mission is unlikely exceed Shenzhou 9's by anything significant in duration.
Where Shenzhou 9 was used to test and develop the logistics and mechanics of getting a crew aboard a space station, the next flight has the aim of introducing operational routines and simulating space station life.
It is set to be the final mission to Tiangong 1 which will reach the end of its two year rated lifetime next October.
Its docking unit is rated for use on six occasions, and four of them have already passed with two dockings each by Shenzhou 8 and Shenzhou 9.
Tiangong 1 will then steer itself to a safe re-entry and China will turn its attention to Tiangong 2. The new laboratory will be used to build more experience of space station operation so China is ready for the challenge of operating the 20-tonne core module of a more-permanent outpost towards the end of the decade.
Robert Christy has been analysing and documenting space events since the early 1960s and currently provides information via his web site.
While a big honking rocket would be just about the coolest thing in 40 years, and although it would be cheaper per launch than the Shuttle... is this really the best and most cost-effective launch architecture strategy going forward?
NASA's huge new rocket may cost $500 million per launch
By Mike Wall Space.com, 9/13/2012 12:08:52 PM ET
The giant rocket NASA is building to carry astronauts to Mars and other destinations in deep space may cost $500 million per launch when it's flying regularly, space agency officials said Tuesday.
NASA is eyeing $500 million as a target right now for the Space Launch System (SLS) when it begins making roughly one flight per year, which could begin happening after 2023. But things could change as the SLS program — which was just announced in September 2011 — matures, officials said.
"We've estimated somewhere around the $500 million number is what an average cost per flight is," SLS deputy project manager Jody Singer of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said Tuesday during a presentation at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ SPACE 2012 conference in Pasadena, Calif.
"But again, I'd caution you, because we still are working on our contracts and where we're going," Singer added. "Plus we're in the development phase, and you really have to have a little bit more of a steady-state flight launch to be able to get the more efficient launch rate. But that's the number we're using right now."
NASA's next big rocket NASA unveiled the SLS just two months after the last flight of its venerable space shuttle program, which was grounded in July 2011 after 30 years of orbital service.
But the giant rocket and the capsule it will loft — known as the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle — are not a replacement for the space shuttle. That space-taxi role will be filled by private American spaceships, which NASA is grooming to be ready to carry astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit by 2017.
The SLS-Orion combo, on the other hand, is a deep space transportation system. In 2010, President Barack Obama charged NASA with getting astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025 and then on to the vicinity of Mars by the mid-2030s, and SLS-Orion is how NASA will try to make that happen.
The first test flight of the SLS is slated for 2017, and NASA hopes the rocket will begin lofting astronauts in 2021.
If the SLS is able to meet the $500 million target, it would end up being cheaper to fly than the space shuttle. The shuttle program cost about $209 billion (in 2010 dollars) over its lifetime and made a total of 135 flights, yielding an average cost per launch of more than $1.5 billion.
Two or three flights per year In its initial incarnation, the SLS will be capable of lifting 70 metric tons of payload. But NASA eventually plans to build several variants of the rocket, allowing it to carry 105 tons in one configuration and 130 tons in another.
"We can move from one configuration to the other configuration with not a lot of cost," Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said Tuesday at the SPACE 2012 conference.
"It's clear for the Mars missions that we talk about, we're going to need the 130 metric ton capability," Gerstenmaier added. "For a lot of other missions — from the science missions, et cetera — they can really be supported well with the 105 metric ton capability rocket."
NASA is also aiming to launch the SLS-Orion combo two or three times per year eventually, Gerstenmaier said. That rate should be sufficient to take care of the agency's human spaceflight business beyond Earth orbit, and it will help keep costs down.
"We don't want to build a huge infrastructure that supports a very high flight rate — then it'd cost us a lot if we're at substantially less than that flight rate," Gerstenmaier said.
A short snippet from the Kickstarter page is below, but you should check out the whole thing. We're a long way from being able to build an Earth-based space elevator. The carbon nanotube fiber materials don't exist yet, but there's no physical reason why those can't be developed or that the concept is not feasible from an engineering standpoint.
A lunar version is another story. According to Laine, existing materials would be sufficient to deploy a small lunar elevator (the width of dental floss). Given very low gravity on the moon, this would allow it to be functional for small thingamajigs, and presumably scalable for larger things.
So an Earth one is a ways off. Cost will be the big constraint. So I harbor no illusions that this is going to happen any time soon but I love hearing about dreamers passionately committed to a vision. However seemingly unrealistic it may be in the short-term, it's important to keep pushing the envelope. And hey, who the hell knows? It's so crazy....it just might work!
Contrary to rumor, LiftPort is A. NOT using helium balloons for the hoped-for lunar version - only the planned Earth-based testing prototype; or B. NOT going to destroy civilization.
From the Kickstarter page:
Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure
Feasibility Study - This is Where We're Going
Before we can build Earth’s Elevator, we’ll need to build one on the Moon. It is significantly easier, and much much cheaper. Importantly - we can build it with current technology – in about eight years.
To meet our target date, we need to complete a 1-year Feasibility Study, beginning next year. That will cost $3M. I don’t expect to raise that through this Kickstarter campaign. But I’m throwing it out there so you know what’s ahead for this program. (But if you’re feeling generous – surprise me! All kidding aside, if you think the rewards we’ve got for Kickstarter are good, you should talk to us about the ‘rewards’ if you fund our Study!)
This Lunar Elevator is a new effort. It is part of LiftPort's revival program. This system can be built now, while Earth’s Elevator requires several more breakthroughs. We think we should focus on building this Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure (LSEI or “Elsie”) as a prerequisite to the main goal.
The world faces looming food production problems, and - strange as it may sound off the bat - space settlement research may be one of the keys to addressing it.
Check out this short essay from David Frum, my favorite conservative thinker, on what he sees as likely agricultural crises next year. Food being rather important to people, Frum expects such crises to have serious political implications especially in the developing world. As you may remember, the Tahrir Square revolution in Egypt began with popular discontent over the high price of bread.
I don't know if Frum's prediction for 2013 will turn out to be accurate or not, but with climate change impacts, loss of agricultural land to urbanization, soil loss, resource constraints, and a global population increase of 40% or more in the next couple of decades (which will require global agricultural output to double), you can bet that it will be in coming years and decades. I would definitely bet on low-cost, high-output sustainable agriculture being one of the major growth industries of the future.
The impacts on agriculture from climate change driven droughts, floods, and heat stress are obvious. You're probably also aware of looming local and regional water shortages, soil loss, and soil salinization. But the biggest resource issue you've probably never heard of is the likely shortfall in phosphorus, one of the major elements of fertilizer.
And here's where space comes in. Space-derived technologies are one of the ways we're going to be able to address agriculture production issues. I'm not suggesting this will be sufficient - there are lots of tedious drought/flood-resistant crop R&D, new irrigation technologies, and a myriad of other disciplinary approaches that are as or more important. Funding in those areas should be top priority - yes, even above space funding. But my bet is that space agriculture will turn out to make important contributions to the bigger puzzle of how to feed 10 billion people.
Just to be clear, I'm not saying we'd grow food off-world and ship it to Earth. I am saying that the technologies needed to figure out how to grow stuff up there have critical applications to solve sustainability problems on Earth. If we can figure out how to feed a crew of 6 or 8 in a self-sufficient manner on the surface of the moon or Mars, using only (very limited!) local ISRU inputs, we'll have also made significant contribution to solving food production constraints on Earth. Mine is a spinoff argument, not a colonization one.
This will become a big issue of the future. If not in 2013...then soon enough.
Wait, the moon has an atmosphere, you ask? You thought it was a vacuum, right? Why, yes it does have an atmosphere - technically speaking. But for all practical purposes such as landing and habitation - no. In fact, the lunar atmosphere is so tenuous that it is really more properly known as an "exosphere", and it can only be measured with sensitive scientific instruments.
To illustrate how tenuous the lunar exosphere is, it's reported that the weight of a feather dropped on your hand would exert 1 trillion times more pressure than the lunar atmosphere. David Woods, in a recent podcast, mentioned that the total lunar atmosphere is about 10 tons. That's about the same amount as the weight of the propellant used during the lunar activities in each Apollo mission. So, essentially, each Apollo mission doubled the total weight of the lunar atmosphere (though these extra molecules very quickly dissipated due to the solar wind).
But back to helium. We knew from instruments deployed by the Apollo missions that the moon has a tiny atmosphere, composed mostly of argon and helium, with trace amounts of sodium, potassium, and hydrogen. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has recently confirmed the presence of helium in the lunar atmosphere. What's new in this announcement is that the helium concentrations fluctuate, and that in turn highlights the fact that we don't know where that helium comes from. Is it outgassing from lunar minerals?
Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., said in a statement
The question now becomes, does the helium originate from inside the moon — for example, due to radioactive decay in rocks — or from an exterior source, such as the solar wind? If we find the solar wind is responsible, that will teach us a lot about how the same process works in other airless bodies.
More info on the LRO finding after the jump. And check out David Wood's book "How Apollo Flew to the Moon" - essential reading for those interested in the Apollo missions and one of the best books ever written on the subject. The above-mentioned Omega Tau podcast(s) with Mr. Woods is similarly outstanding and highly recommended.