To Space By Trampoline

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Although I try to remain detached and aloof from the vulgarity of international politics, I couldn’t resist just this one time. Did you see this news item in which Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, torqued at U.S. sanctions against Russia for stealing Crimea, suggested that we use a trampoline to deliver our astronauts to the International Space Station.

Well, that’s gratitude for ya, Dmitry. For those not paying attention, it may sound like Rogozin meant to say Russia is doing the U.S. and the world a huge favor by offering launch services to the ISS, now that the Shuttle is mothballed. The reality is that without U.S. and third country payments to Russia, Star City would be more of rusting parking lot than it already is. And just to show how grateful Russia is for the business, it has tripled launch fees since the shuttle went offline in 2011. So much for a new era in international cooperation in space. I suppose you could say that's market economics at work, but there ought to limit somewhere and I'd guess we haven't seen it yet.

But this unseemly war of words does cause those of us who think about such things to wonder whether the silver lining could be a call to accelerate the U.S. return to manned spaceflight with our own launch vehicles. As it stands now, NASA is developing a new launch system called SLS that’s not scheduled to fly until 2017, but the new boosters are scalable to eventually have more lift than the Saturn V that launched Apollo to the moon. In parallel, the Orion crew capsule is supposed to fly on a smaller Delta 4 Heavy rocket this year. But NASA recently announced the Orion launch date has slipped from fall to winter and given how things go, it might be 2018 or later before all of this comes together.

Feeling vulnerable yet? It depends, I guess, on how you feel about the importance and relevance of the ISS, which is currently the only real reason to have manned capability. So one question is, given how tense things are with the Russians and that they’re liable to get worse, should the U.S. firewall it and throw money at Orion and SLS to fly sooner? It’s not an easy question to answer because even if you think ISS is hardly worth the money—and I’m one taxpayer in that camp—there may be other good reasons to return to manned space flight. NASA has already listed two: an asteroid mission and a trip to Mars. And, anyway, is there the will to throw money at NASA in a time of strained budgets?

Never one to miss an opportunity, space entrepreneur Elon Musk weighed in with his own opinion this week. After Rogozin’s crack, he tweeted this: “Sounds like this might be a good time to unveil the new Dragon Mk 2 spaceship that SpaceX has been working on with NASA. No trampoline needed.” Two days earlier, Musk raised a little stink in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims protesting a contract the Air Force awarded to United Launch Alliance for a series of Air Force launches that didn’t allow other bidders. SpaceX complained that ULA’s launches will cost the U.S. four times the price of SpaceX services, but here’s the real kicker. ULA will use its Atlas boosters for many of the planned launches, rockets that use a super-efficient engine called the RD-180. The RD-180 is made by, you guessed it, a Russian government-owned company headed by Dmitry Rogozin. Welcome to the global economy. It works great until...it doesn't.

Prior to the outbreak of World War I, the 100th anniversary of which we observe this summer, Britain and Germany had extensive trade and economic ties. It was assumed then that such commercial bonds would make war an unattractive option. Ways would be found to avoid hostilities. Obviously, the history didn’t play out that way. One can only hope that 100 years later, it will be different. But so far, it’s not looking too promising.

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Comments (34)

There could be a silver lining to all of this. The Space Race, expensive and almost comically competitive though it was, had the benefit of both advancing technology and getting people to admire scientists and engineers.

The former is obvious. Internal navigation, digital computers, metallurgy, human physiology, classical mechanics, god knows what else, all saw unforeseeable advancement due to the Space Race.

For the latter, despite the uncertainty of the time, with constant reminders of the threat of nuclear war, people spent a substantial amount of time looking to the heavens, thinking of exploration and the unknown.

We could use a dose of the latter again, for sure. And who knows what might come of the former this time around, if we're willing to spend the money.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | May 1, 2014 10:01 PM    Report this comment

D'oh, I think I got auto-corrected above. "Inertial navigation".

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | May 1, 2014 10:08 PM    Report this comment

Eh, I think the ISS is still worth the money, at least for a few more years anyway. They did spend almost 20 years building station so I would guess they're trying to maximize the investment.

Plus, since the research they do up there can either only be done in sustained microgravity, or can achieve results faster without gravity. Because of this they will hopefully have a greater knowledge of how to support people (and keep them from going nuts) locked in a shoebox far away from home for months when the Orion shoots off to somewhere beyond Earth.

For example, the latest Dragon capsule sent an experimental space to ground laser communications system, a T-Cell experiment that studies how the immune system responds in space, a system that will grow plants with minimal resources for food/air purification (currently they only way they get vegetables is in small quantities from re-supply ships), and the rest of the first Robonaut which is going to be a big player in future deep-space exploration. In addition to helping deep space activities in the coming years these things will eventually help life back here on Earth, so on and so forth.

http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/SpaceX3cargo_Apr7_508.pdf

NASA wants go to an asteroid and beyond by 2021. Also around that time, in 2020, the ISS will reach the end of its life under the current plan. So I would think NASA is trying to get as much research in long duration spaceflight as possible before the next step arrives.

I doing so, spending more money on deep space vehicles doesn't make a lot of sense to me when NASA isn't completely finished working out how they are going to sustain people way out in space. In addition to, not even being able to get astronauts into LEO from US soil. Which I think will happen soon with SpaceX, SNC, and Boeing. We will see what the future holds.

I live on the Space Coast, and go to a tech school so this subject comes up frequently around the house.

As far as the SpaceX suit goes, it seems that they seem to dislike not being invited to the party to begin with. And they bring up a good point. Why should the USAF put all their eggs in one basket with one launch provider (with Russian engines) when they have a less expensive, more efficient option proving itself right up the road.

Posted by: Joshua Waters | May 1, 2014 10:12 PM    Report this comment

Gen. Patton 1945: "I have never seen in any army at any time, including the German Imperial Army of 1912, as severe discipline as exists in the Russian army. The officers, with few exceptions, give the appearance of recently civilized Mongolian bandits."

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 2, 2014 2:08 AM    Report this comment

If there was a need, I am sure the large Arian rockets could be adapted for a "quick and easy" route into space for a manned capsule. They lift 6 tonnes to GTO, and were designed to be "human safe" from the start for the ill-fates Hermes mini shuttle. The astronauts would probably have to wear full pressure suits all the way and it will not be the most comfortable ride but could be done -- for less than the Ruskies. Though perhaps with as much, albeit different, aggravation...

Posted by: John Patson | May 2, 2014 5:42 AM    Report this comment

For a long time I've thought the ISS was a waste of money. Color me cynical, but it seemed the main reason for the Space Station was to give the Shuttle something to do, and that the main reason to keep the Shuttle around was that it was needed to build the Space Station. A circular argument in which one expensive program is used to justify the other.

Posted by: Eric Gudorf | May 2, 2014 7:08 AM    Report this comment

At this stage of development, money and manpower won't accelerate the Orion/SLS program. In engineering, we have an expression: "you can go out and get nine girls pregnant, but that still won't get you a baby in one month."

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | May 2, 2014 7:41 AM    Report this comment

This "trampoline" threat nears the influence of the Sputnik to get the NASA cross space programs going. This is another attention getter coming from the Russians - Putin is as aggressive as Khrushchev was, all he needs is a shoe and a podium and off we go.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 2, 2014 9:32 AM    Report this comment

I didnt know about the increased fees for transport to the ISS from mother Russia. But I support the space station and Moon colonization for research and recreation by humans, but find advaced robotics the answer for Mars, asteroids or beyond.

And Europe can deal with Russia in their front yard instead of relying on the US again for help. Let's watch this play from the balcony.

Posted by: Dave Miller | May 2, 2014 10:49 AM    Report this comment

If I remember correctly, the first space tourist paid about $20 million to ride the Soyuz to the ISS and back (Dennis Tito?) some years back. Since then, the fee has gone to 40,50, maybe as much as 80 mil per seat. They've been stiffing folks for quite some time, but it went up aggressively after the Shuttles all became museum pieces.

Just wait 'til we have a similar row with China. At least Russia doesn't make everything we use and hold most of our debt.

Posted by: A Richie | May 2, 2014 11:16 AM    Report this comment

It's time for the US to get back into space with a proper program. It'll be a damn sight easier and cheaper than straightening out the healthcare mess.

Posted by: Richard Montague | May 2, 2014 12:46 PM    Report this comment

the ISS has been a foreign-aid program ever since Slick Willard gutted it early in his occupation of the WH. If we want our people in space, then we need our own capability.

Posted by: robert peach | May 2, 2014 1:18 PM    Report this comment

Dave Miller, what is bad for the goose could be bad for the gander.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 2, 2014 3:18 PM    Report this comment

Let's read the Russian official's comments again, as reported by the news item cited in the opinion: "After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline." It mentions specifically sanctions on Russian space industry, not sanctions on Russia in general. Sanction from US against Russian space industry means NASA and other US space industry players will not be allowed to do business with Russian space industry. If taken to extreme, these specific sanctions will mean NASA will not be allowed by US government to send astronauts to space on Russian rockets. Where do you see a "threat" in the words of Russian official? It was a tongue-in-cheek statement of fact, nothing more, nothing less, but definitely not a threat. More like "Go ahead, hurt yourself by your own hand!" The figurative trampoline will need to be readied not because Russia is unwilling to sell seats on their rockets, but because NASA will not be allowed to buy them by US government. Hence the trampoline, and many US entrepreneurs would be eager to sell US taxpayer such a trampoline.

Russians like their tea hot and strong and their humor dark in any situation, use it liberally, and this was a good example of it. Unfortunately, many people do not read the source of the news and do not think about it for more than a split second, swallowing whole whatever the opinion-writers put in their articles, including this one, and some of the comments above are reflection of that. Most people here in the US do not realize that good old USA and good old Russia have much more in common than they have differences. However, it takes to have lived in both of those countries for a long time to even begin to understand it. Just reading news headlines is not enough.

As for US space programs - they will do just fine. Robotic exploration by NASA is very impressive on a shoestring budget, and funding for manned flights will come eventually. Sooner if US wakes up and abandons its hobby of regime changes all over the world and funds a Mars trip instead. Maybe...

Posted by: Andrei Volkov | May 2, 2014 6:58 PM    Report this comment

This comment form does not provide visual indication of submitted comment, nor does it provide an instrument procedure. If so - apologies for multiple postings.

Posted by: Andrei Volkov | May 2, 2014 7:02 PM    Report this comment

Coulda, woulda, shoulda?

Rafael - after Iraq, and Afghanistan, give me surely, definitely, or certainly.

No more regime changing, no more foreign policing, no more punishing the bullies of the world. No more precious lost treasure, broken minds, families and bodies without surely, definitely, or certainly.

Posted by: Dave Miller | May 2, 2014 7:26 PM    Report this comment

David, are you referring to historical military and political abuse of power? Remember Chamberlain and the 1938 Munich agreement? How much abuse must anyone or any nation must endure before getting of the balcony?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 2, 2014 10:05 PM    Report this comment

History (WW II) buffs; Wasn't the real "sell-out" at the spring 45' Yalta Conference? Or was it the "3 Stooges doing famous (Stalin?) leader impressions?

Posted by: Rod Beck | May 2, 2014 10:34 PM    Report this comment

...getting off the balcony.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 2, 2014 11:45 PM    Report this comment

How much abuse must anyone or any nation must endure before getting of the balcony?"

There appears to be a misunderstanding. The ones on the balcony are not directly involved, so they would not be suffering any abuse. If observing others fighting each other suddenly or endlessly, that would entail a host of factors like economics, military strength, national will, strategic importance, if asked for help or not, etc. Who can answer that without intense study of the situation? If you can, I would be very interested to read your answer.

Posted by: Dave Miller | May 3, 2014 12:43 AM    Report this comment

I doubt that any society or anyone can have an intense study of a situation and come out with a single solution to any problem. My contention is that passivity is a form of unconditional surrender where the aggressor will determine the outcome. I, like you, abhor sending our youth into battle. I have been there as a combat infantryman in Viet Nam. It's has been a half a century since and I am still seeing young brave individuals die, be mutilated or mentally suffer. I don't like it any more than you. Historically, letting things play out has been misinterpreted as agreeing with letting arbitrary nations or individuals rule, thus, my inclination for strong military and effective political influence. Prevent the Russians from gaining and bring back the US space program now.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 3, 2014 7:51 AM    Report this comment

"Point -Counter Point" , with today's guest, Rafael Sierra and Dave Miller, will be right back after this message from AvWeb!

Posted by: Rod Beck | May 3, 2014 12:49 PM    Report this comment

Rafael & Dave - "I just wanted to tell you both, good luck! We're all counting on you!"

Posted by: Jason Baker | May 3, 2014 8:00 PM    Report this comment

Alright, alright. Ahem. ' I was going to correct Jason and say it should be Dave & Rafael, but then I remembered, age before beauty.

Posted by: Dave Miller | May 3, 2014 8:16 PM    Report this comment

Age??? I'll show you age...

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | May 3, 2014 11:35 PM    Report this comment

Rafy, Dave and other "AARP: folks: I'll be 71 on Jul 15th, white hair,(not bald yet,- or beer belly!) etc. Guys; at least (men?) our age don't have to worry about Botox or "after market boobs"- age gracefully!

Posted by: Rod Beck | May 4, 2014 4:06 PM    Report this comment

Now I am confused. Of the two named suspects, who's the one with the beer belly and which one has the aftermarket boobs?

Posted by: Jason Baker | May 4, 2014 4:29 PM    Report this comment

Jason; let me try that AGAIN! I'll be 71 on July 15th; (me) white hair - no beer belly-) me - REFERRING to MYSELF. Guys; Rafy, Dave, and ME (our age) assuming we're ALL in the "AARP" club, and being MEN (male gender) our age (50+) don't have to worry about Botox (associated with women (in general) or the the female gender or "after market boobs"; again associated with the female gender. One question Jason; curious - do you use check-lists?

Posted by: Rod Beck | May 4, 2014 5:04 PM    Report this comment

Rod, since I take it that Jason got the joke and just referred back to Raf and I in a continuing thought with your addition, he might not need no stinkin' checklists. Too limiting. ;)

Anyway, yea, I'll be mid-sixties in Dec., with old, worn out boobs and thankfully no beer belly. So it must be Rafael needing all the work.

Posted by: Dave Miller | May 4, 2014 5:53 PM    Report this comment

Dave; AND keep this in mind; MEN generally age "gracefully - agree? Now honestly, do any of you guys dye (grey IS ok!) your hair? OK Paul, you too can't be much behind US (late 50's?), right?

Posted by: Rod Beck | May 4, 2014 6:46 PM    Report this comment

Rod; I use checklists religiously but can't share the acronyms I use due to potential legal mortification's for AVweb. I am not a member of AARP for the next 20 years, but enjoy the company of you guys as well as long walks on the beach. I do not understand and try to limit exposure to women who use botox or men who die their hair.

Posted by: Jason Baker | May 5, 2014 5:19 AM    Report this comment

Late 50s? In my dreams.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 5, 2014 8:44 AM    Report this comment

Be careful, Jason, when exposing yourself to women. Everybody has a camera these days.

Posted by: Dave Miller | May 5, 2014 5:23 PM    Report this comment

Hey Dave; wonder if Allen Funt were still around; OK, Rafy, and you too, Paul, know WHO he was!

Posted by: Rod Beck | May 5, 2014 8:59 PM    Report this comment

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