Monday, July 20, 2009

Small Step to Nowhere..?

I'm not immune to popular enthusiasms, and with that I note the 40th anniversary for the "small step for a man" that capped NASA's manned space program in 1969.I was not a particularly bright kid at the age of 12, and I remember the summer of '69 more for my mother's frenzied ranting at the Chicago Cubs on their way to their traditional September swoon in the year of the Miracle Mets than for the lunar landing.

And, really, after forty years, you have to look back - at least, some of us look back - and wonder; what the fuck?

Riley over at Bats Left/Throws Right pretty much nails it. The space program was born, grew, and died like a mayfly, in 1969, It didn't die because somehow we jacked the money to bomb Vietnam or give food stamps to Negroes.
"It died because it's damned near at the edge of what we might accomplish provided we threw everything we've got into it (and if we haven't learned from doing that several times over that the main thing it accomplishes is bankruptcy, then we've been paying even less attention than we appear to be), and means fucking nothing whatsoever to anyone above the mental age of eleven..."

The reality is that Einstein's Wall makes interstellar travel impractical unless you're willing to construct monstrous argosies that will carry, in effect, little Earths, voyaging for countless generations through the empty voids between the stars. Even assuming the idea was practical - and the ill-fated "Biosphere" experiments suggest that we are, at best, generations away from a workable model, no nation could afford it. Mars and Venus, the closest planetary objects to us, cannot support life, and the remaining planets are even worse.

Nope. We're stuck on this planet save for in the imagination of sci-fi fans, books and movies. The "moon shots" were a one-off, a vastly expensive, mildly entertaining bit of government pork thrown at the military, useful for collecting some rather valuable geologic data but otherwise sterile. The fact that there are mental ten-year-olds presently in elective office that seem to think that sending a human being to Mars is a good idea says more about our electoral process than it does about the value of the idea.

So I guess I understand why the "celebration" of the anniversary of Apollo 11's landing was so muted.

Who celebrates the puberty of a eunuch?

Update 7/21 pm: I want to hammer this home - I'm not saying this stuff just to be curmudgeonly. The IDEAL of space exploration, of humanity finding a way to the stars, is a terrific one. Not only for the pure knowledge and adventure of it - being confined to a single planet is begging for extinction. But here's my deal; why are we celebrating our piddly little "dream" of flag-waving Yankee Doodle moon shots? Why not dream REALLY big? An "Ark in Space", the real chance to give the human race a shot at a future beyond the lifetime of our star?

National space progams like the Apollo missions, IMO, are the problem, not the solution. They divide the human race, forcing nation to compete against nation, militarizing the space programs and condemning us to farting around near the Earth's orbit for the next ten generations.

The real dream is up there. But the groundwork for the dream is here, on Earth, and it involves moving beyond the Apollo-type missions to real, global cooperation and exploration and, yes, commercialization, of space.The day we see the launch of the "Nostromo" from Kaiser's orbiting shipyard near Ceres, with a commercial crew and funding from Reynolds Metals, will be the true culmination of the dream of space exploration. At that point we will truly be reaching out into space, rather than simply using it as a void through which to swing a fist.


Ael said...

Actually, the space program did not die because of its inherent costs.
It died because it could never break free of the military industrial complex.

Access to space isn't that hard. It doesn't have to be all that expensive, either. Both Israel and Iran have launched satellites.

The trick for cheap access to space is to stop thinking of it as a ballistic missle program and start thinking of it as an airline program.

However, there are vested interests that want to keep space expensive and "on the edge".

sheerahkahn said...

"Who celebrates the puberty of a eunuch?"


Chief, that is so...sad!
Do you remember the moment your childhood died?

I want to point something out.
The space program...ready for this...from the moment Kennedy said "GOGOGO!" to the very first Shuttle ready for this????
The budget for that space program...with all the jobs it created, all the retirements that retired from it, all the paychecks that paid the groceries, the same time the same budget for a year of HUD.
Pennies on the dollar, and the returns in technology have been phenomonal.
Powered program.
All those cool, nifty medical program. program.
Materials...military applications.

Okay, so, 4 out 5 isn't bad, but look at all the good that came out of the space was well worth the money spent as far as what our society got out of it.

Ael has it right...

"The trick for cheap access to space is to stop thinking of it as a ballistic missle program and start thinking of it as an airline program."

FDChief said...

Ael, Sheerah: The problem with thinking of it as an airline program is, like I said, the destination your flight has to reach is so far away that the trip takes generations. Who the hell would board PanAm Flight 101 knowing that they'd die en route and their children would grow, live and die and etc. etc.?

Manned flight in the solar system is pretty pointless; there's no there there, we got nothing from the lunar landings that we couldn't have done with an unmanned probe.

The only real point to manned space travel (other than pure tourism and some fairly arcane science) is to find new habitable planets to ensure that the human race can survive a planetary-level disaster.

But the U.S. space program was NEVER going to do that. Hell, the entire human race would have a hard time constructing the colonizing ships - and it'd have to BE ships, the chances of losing multiple ships and all the colonists is just too immense to ignore - and the technology for prolonged interstellar travel isn't there.

We (i.e. technologically advanced humanity) got some useful technology out of the space flight program - not that I'm convinced that an unmanned program wouldn't have yielded 95% of the same benefits (maybe 98% if you exclude "Tang") - but all the common benefits for "cheap access to space" were there prior to 1960.

Bottom line - living in the bottom of a gravity well makes it expensive to enter and leave. Extraatmospheric craft can be constructed to mush less demanding specifications. The shuttle program proves that - an evolutionary dead end.

There are LOTS of challenges right here on Earth, starting with constructing a truly long-term sustainable technologic civilization without the reliance on fossil fuels and unrestrained population growth. We don't need a "final" frontier. The frontier is still there: in human lives, in governance, in technology, in ecology.

IMO the manned space program is a shiny toy useful for distracting the groundlings. Fun, pretty, but not worth the candle.

Pluto said...

I've been reading the comments here and at MilPub and can't stand it any longer. All of these sad posts about our inability to go touristing on the moon right now misses a vital point. Actually a BUNCH of vital points.

I might be the biggest space nut here (I'll pass the crown to somebody else if they can one-up me but for now I'm wearing it) and I say "PPPPPHHHHHTTTTBBBBB!!!!" to those people who are doom and gloom on this topic.

I know you've been left speechless by the maturity and logic of my argument thus far so now I'll back it up with some facts and observations.

1. The true goal of the moon program was "flags and footprints," it was arguably the most expensive photo op in the history of the world. There wasn't any reason to continue the program once we got the pictures (and proved we could do it at least twice).

2. NASA's moon program was an amazingly expensive program that essentially provided NO direct benefits, especially to the politicians who funded it. Yes, there have been wonderful spin-offs from the Apollo program but relatively few directly benefited the people in charge of the money.

In 1969 NASA commanded 5+% of a bloated US government budget (remember that Vietnam was in full swing at that time) and it showed.

3. Pretty much every mechanical part used in the Apollo program was hand-crafted and triple-checked by expensive engineers before it went into the program. That kept the rocket from blowing up on the launch pad but drove costs WAY beyond what was sustainable in the long run. This was literally, no way to run an airline.

4. NASA's budget was slashed to less than 1% of US government budget after the moon shots and NASA has never recovered from the experience.

They still produce mechanical marvels that perform WAY beyond expectations (the Mars Rovers are still going strong 5 years into their 90 day mission) but they never found another plausible reason to continue existing.

Furthermore they got the idea that doing things the expensive way is the only way to do business.


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Pluto said...

The first thing that had to happen was a thorough exploration of what does and doesn't work 100+ miles over our heads. The Skylab and Mir space stations have given us an expensive but pretty good understanding of the problems.

The horrible boondoggle of the ISS is NASA's showcase of how they solved the problems and you can see that they've hit the limits of what they can do.


Ael USED to be right when he said that there are vested interested that want to keep space expensive and "on the edge." But those entrenched nuisances (mostly based in NASA, by the way) are being outflanked on several fronts.

Virgin Galactic is going to start shuttling people up to the outer edges of space (six at a time) next year. Yeah, the $200,000 price tags is a bit steep but they've got 600 people signed up already and the price WILL come down soon after the people with more money than common sense are done.

SpaceX ( just launched their second successful mission earlier this month. Their primary mission is to reduce the cost of getting up into space by at least 65% AND THEY ARE SUCCEEDING!!

They've already got a NASA contract to fly stuff up to the ISS worth billions and they've got LOTS of contracts with other organizations to fly stuff.

Say you want to check into an orbiting hotel with the wife to check out zero-G whatever. Bigelow Aerospace is launching their first hotel in 2011. They've had two demo units up in space for the last few years testing the technology and they're working great. You can bet the first few trips will be expensive but (assuming Paris Hilton doesn't have some sort of fatal accident) costs will again fall.

But you still have a yearn to go to the Moon. Join the crazy folks over at the X Prize Foundation. They're going to pay millions of dollars to the first team to land a lunar rover and have it move 100 yards. It's expected that they will be paying out the prize sometime in the next 3-5 years. They're so confident that it will succeed that they're focusing all of their energies on figuring out what the next challenge should be.

Interested in landing on Mars? Check out the Mars Direct people. They believe that with some halfway decent funding they can be establish a permanent colony on Mars in 10-15 years at 1 percent of the cost of a short-term NASA mission. Personally I think they're nuts but they certainly are interesting to listen to.

Chief, you condemned us to live solely on the surface of this one planet. I disagree. You're right that this globe is going to be the primary life-support system for the foreseeable future but we're going out there and doing things that are opening the door to a much larger universe.

The proper way to view the Apollo program was that it was the equivalent of first ballon flight in France on June 4, 1783. This was the first tentative step towards today's (usually profitable) aerospace industry.

The space shuttle was more like the Wright brothers first successful efforts than it was a production model. But someday, hopefully soon, the DC-3 will arrive and we'll have all the tools we need to go out there and personally check out new real estate.

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Ael said...

There is lots of good stuff in the solar system.

In particular, there is a lot of easy (solar) energy and a fair amount of high quality nickel-iron.

Furthermore, in some ways, space is an easier environment to live in than northern Alberta.

Why do we need a mudball planet to live in when we have all this room out there? (the planets only gather a *fraction* of the sun's energy. What a waste!

I am sure with proper utilization of resources we could have trillions of people living in the solar system.

FDChief said...

Pluto: All of the projects you mention are nice things. They offer the sort of adventure that Europeans used to sign on to filibustering, whaling, exploration and colonizing ventures for. I have no issue with people wanting to explore the near solar system and spending their money doing the same.


I am gonna keep hammering on this: There. Is. No. Point.

"Colonies" the moon and Mars are not going to be self-sustaining short of a massive, global effort. And that's assuming a hell of a lot, like the ability to figure out a way to create a breathable atmosphere. Living in "dome cities" on an airless Mars is a scifi maguffin. The moon? C'mon, Pluto - WHY?

We got some useful geologic data from the Apollo missions, but the moon is a dead end. It's a salient in space, under fire from three sides and untenable even in teh short run without massive infusions of money and people.

The other solar system planets are even less practical.

So the only real possibility for space travel is between the stars. And the problem there is leaping Einstein's wall. It just takes too damn long, and the probability of catastrophic emergency on the way is too high.

I love science fiction. And I enjoy and enjoyed the "Right Stuff" astronaut hi-jinks involved in the space program. But at some point there's gotta be a payday. Where's the payoff here? When? The terrestrial voyages of discovery continued because they turned a profit. When does manned space exploration find us the New Indies?

FDChief said...

Nothing you've suggested - like mining Ceres or prospecting Mars - sounds impractical for unmanned landers, Pluto. But, again, the problem is - who's gonna pay for that?

sheerahkahn said...

What do you mean...

"Say you want to check into an orbiting hotel with the wife to check out zero-G whatever." ???

There ain't "whatever" with me and the wife, baby, we're so in there for getting our freak on in zero-g!

But aside from that, Chief, your argument about terra firma is as valid as Ceaser's lesser lieutenants all standing in the north sea, saying, "really, sir, why can't we just stay here, roust the natives once in awhile, and just have ourselves a jolly o'time here?"
The final frontier.
Imagine what this world was like if all the explorers were named:
Christopher Stuck On Shore!
LEIF Hey Norway's Just Fine!
Marco Nah!
Sir Francis England Suits Me Fine!
Hernando The Fish scaler
Amergio's All Things Italian Eatery!
Ferdinand The Goat Herder!

I mean seriously, imagine what is just waiting for us?!?
To break free the bonds of our limited imaginations, to loose the chains that bind us to our closeted lives, to sail on seas of unlimited space to lands untouched, unseen, and unknown by our kind.
Our knowledge is screaming for more, and the more we stay here, the more we end up like those rats in the experiments tearing at each other in an overpopulated cage with nothing to do but feed ourselves.
Give me Space!

FDChief said...

Sheerah: Like I said, I'm an unrepentant sci fi fan. To boldly go where no Man had gone before? Make it so, man...


The great voyages of discovery didn't happen because someone wanted adventure or because of great idealism or because of an academic quest for knowledge.

They happened because Henry the Navigator wanted to kick Spain's ass, or because Ferdinand of Castile wanted cold cash, or because Good Queen Bess wanted to poke a finger in the eye of the goddam Dagoes.

If you ask me, I think the idea of putting Earth's resources behind launching one floating ark to the nearest stars every decade would be a hell of a great idea.

But dinking around the solar system? Using the launch technology we have now?


The reality here is this: space ships have to be built in space. Getting into and out of a gravity well is just to damn costly - it will never be profitable. So the FIRST order of business, whether exploring Mars or journeying to Alpha Centuri, is to commit to constructing ship construction facilities in space. With the massive financial and long-term strategic commitment that implies.

That's not gonna happen, or at least not until Nicolae Carpathia unifies the globe under the One World Government. Pluto points out the real issue: most of the national space flight programs are effectively run by the nation's respective militaries. They have no interest in space exploration. They just want the "strategic high ground".

So. My point is; the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo-Shuttle programs were fun and frills. But the real heavy lifting of exploration and discovery has been done by unmanned drones and will continue to be until the POLITICAL problems here are solved. Those are the REAL final frontier.

Get the human race pulling together and we may yet see human colonies on Alpha Centuri in a thousand years or so.

But IMO right now, right here, the U.S. manned space program is just more highly funded, flag-waving pork.

sheerahkahn said...

"discovery has been done by unmanned drones and will continue to be until the POLITICAL problems here are solved. Those are the REAL final frontier."


"But IMO right now, right here, the U.S. manned space program is just more highly funded, flag-waving pork."

You're killing my dreams...a'lp...there it goes, they're dead.

I hope you're happy.

Now excuse me, murderer of dreams, I have a funeral to attend too.

dono said...

I dunno Sheerakahn...any Old World explorer worth his salt had at least one eye on the big pay day. And Caesar wasn't exactly roaming around the known world out of any sense of virtue for he greater good of Man. If the human race ever achieves a permanent presence in space it'll probably owe more to greed than anything else. Someone's ass to kick would, of course, help as well. It's what we do best. Still, I'm betting the contractors bleed the project coffers dry before Cpt Kirk gets off the ground.

FDChief said...

Sheerah: Here's the deal; why are we celebrating our piddly little "dream" of flag-waving Yankee Doodle moon shots? Why not dream REALLY big? An "Ark in Space", the real chance to give the human race a shot at a future beyond the lifetime of our star?

National space progams, IMO, are the PROBLEM, not the solution. They divide the human race, forcing nation to compete against nation, militarizing the space programs and condemning us to farting around near the Earth's orbit for the next ten generations.

The real dream is there. But the groundwork for the dream is here on Earth, and it involves moving beyond the Apollo-type missions to real, global cooperation and exploration and, yes, commercialization, of space.

The day we see the launch of the "Nostromo" from Kaiser's orbiting shipyard near Ceres, with a commercial crew and funding from Reynolds Metals, will be the true culmination of the dream of space exploration. At that point we will truly be reaching out into space, rather than simply using it as a void through which to swing a fist.

Pluto said...

Okay, time to pull out the big guns. Hope I don't bore anybody with the details.

First, the Chief is absolutely right as far as he's going (except the end, where I think he's wrong). There's got to be some sort of incentive, preferably monetary, for investing in space.

And the Chief has been historically right that space exploration and exploitation can't even come close to directly paying for itself. Indirect earnings through technology transfer is another matter, but beyond the scope of this post.

BUT, and I'll stick to this point, things are changing in ways to put the Chief and I on the same side of the argument.

My best example is SpaceX, a private company that has been profitable for at least the year which is drastically lowering the cost of sending stuff into orbit. They are doing this by strictly avoiding all of the technological pitfalls that NASA keeps falling into. For example, instead of using liquid hydrogen (great stuff as rocket fuel but incredibly hard make and handle safely) they are using kerosene, cheap and easy to handle.

Instead of setting up their business model so they only make rockets one at a time they are setting up assembly lines so they can buy materials in bulk.

And the roll of innovation keeps going on. The entire company is funded by one guy who made a bundle on the internet (Elon Musk) and his total investment is around $120 million.

You couldn't buy an airlock for the ISS with that kind of money and SpaceX is building the next generation of space capsule (and the delivery system to get it to the ISS) while making money.

Once you get a few hundred miles out things start changing. The cost to go to the moon (or anywhere else in the solar system) from Earth orbit is a tiny fraction of what it costs to get up there in the first place.

For example, look up Deep Space 1 and read up on the Ion engine, it's not just a gimmick from Star Trek, it's a real functioning engine that has been accelerating a probe for five years now.

Another issue with the NASA way of doing things is that they insist on bringing everything with them. This massively explodes the cost of doing everything and makes you look stupid when you forget something basic.

A better way to do things is to use the local resources. Classic example, the moon's crust has lots of silicon, oxygen, and aluminum. Bring up some tools and you can make solar cells. Use the energy from the solar cells to melt the aluminum and break out the oxygen. Combine the oxygen with solar wind (hydrogen and hydrogen fragments) and you get water and electricity. Useful stuff that. Or don't combine them and let them sit out in the cold where they are useful as rocket fuel.

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Pluto said...

So we're a long way towards establishing how to do things lowering the cost enough to make it practical. Let's address the why, which is a much more important and harder question. I don't have any concrete answers but I DO have guidelines and suggestions.

There's been a lot of dreaming about mining the asteroids (don't think it will happen, much harder in real life than just improving our current recycling programs) and zero gravity pharmaceuticals (that WILL happen but its harder than it sounds so it's not going to fill the bill by itself) but no concrete plans.

The products that prospective colonists will have to sell will probably not be physical. Solar power satellites are now finally becoming practical. Lack of regulation will be attractive enough for corporations want to move out there quickly (although the relatively high cost of sending people into space will keep the number of people down).

Research and technological innovation will be good for quite a bit of revenue but that will take time. The Artemis project suggested charging for entertainment value of the daily adventures of the people trying to cope with clogged zero-g toilets and dusty space suits (the ultimate reality show?) as a source of funding until other revenue streams came up to full power.

It also occurs to me that the moon makes a cheap launch pad for exploring the rest of the solar system. You could build the probes on the moon and launch them to anywhere in the solar system.

Other motives that may start colonization efforts:
- Fleeing persecution (perceived or real)
- Tourism
- Retirement homes (1/6th gravity would probably feel good at age 70 or so)

One of the big factors in this discussion leads back to the how; how low can you drive the entry costs to space.

The entry costs for European exploration of the rest of the world was pretty low. Send three ships out with small crews and wait six months to find out what they bring back. If that fails send out a couple of more ships to see what happened to the first bunch.

But the entry costs of reaching America were so high as to essentially be impossible 100 years before Columbus' journey because the technology wouldn't predictably get the crews there and back again in one piece.

If we can get the costs low enough (I'm thinking $50 per pound to low Earth orbit) then a much larger set of options for why it would cost effective to go to space.

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Pluto said...

Oddly enough, the area where I disagree with the Chief is in "big idea" suggestion for sending space arks to other solar systems.

It's technically feasible but back-breaking expensive with no direct return on the investment other than helping to ensure the existence of the human race (a mixed blessing at best).

The Chief's been employing Einstein-level thinking on this topic but I say that it is only logical to go beyond Einstein. The guy (Einstein, but this could also apply the the Chief) was a brilliant thinker as far as he went but he seriously limited himself. While his formulas still hold up after 100 years, there were literally millions of different ways that he failed to apply them.

A few years back NASA brought a group of 24 hard-core physicists to Washington for a weekend. The sole goal was to have them brainstorm different ways to get to different solar systems in a reasonably short period of time without violating Einstein's laws. In two days the physicists came up with 37 different suggestions on how to do it without anti-matter or black holes or any other crap.

There's a universe out there and, for better or worse, if we don't kill ourselves off (big if) we're going out there some day.

FDChief said...

"if we can get the costs low enough (I'm thinking $50 per pound to low Earth orbit) then a much larger set of options for why it would cost effective to go to space."

That, Pluto, is the crux of the biscuit.

The whole near-Earth travel problem becomes exponentially easier if you DON'T have to start from Earth's surface.

But here's where I come back to the original point of my post.

The Apollo missions were the apogee of chemical rocket technology. You sat a relatively tiny payload on a monster roman candle and lit the fire. 95% of the vehicle was used up escaping Earth's gravity well. The immense cost translated directly to how difficult it was to escape Earth's gravitational field.

I'm not sure how the private entrepreneurs lick this. 9.8m/s2 is 9.8m/s2.

But (ahem) getting back to the original subject of the post:

1. I agree that space exploration, as a general concept, is a good idea.

2. I suspect that some combination of private enterprise and multinational cooperation will prove the most generative and productive approach.

3. I also believe that the national, military-based schemes, of which Apollo was one, are as much an exploratory dead end as the ornithopter.

That's all!

Pluto said...

Okay, Chief, I'm in agreement with two of your last three statements (I still hold out a silly hope for the ornithopter, it's such a cool idea).

Pluto said...

Chief- "I'm not sure how the private entrepreneurs lick this. 9.8m/s2 is 9.8m/s2."

Last thought, I hope.

They beat it the same way they beat all of their problems, through slow and steady refinement of their technologies combined with sharp-eyed searches for alternatives.

If you compare the horsepower of the average 1960's "muscle car" against the horsepower of the average 1990's "family car" you'll see that the family car has more muscle, better comfort, and will run longer and more reliably.

SpaceX, for example, is already on it's second generation engine and had one test flight go bad because they'd underestimated how much additional power they'd generated with the new engine.

They are going to launch their third generation engine next year and expect both a considerable boost in performance and lower costs to build and operate.

Ael said...

Actually, it is fairly easy to come up with cost estimates of access to space.

First, calculate how much (chemical) fuel you need to lift a kg of payload mass to low earth orbit.

I'm informed that fuel to payload ratios of 30 to 1 are possible.

If a kilo of kerosene goes for $1, then getting me into orbit should cost less than 30*100*$1 = $3000 in fuel.

Given that airlines typically run on with cost infrastructures which are 1/3 fuel, 1/3 capital, 1/3 salary, a return ticket to space should cost me less than $10,000.

Of course, we are nowhere near that today, but we don't need any new rules of physics to get to these prices.

FDChief said...

Mmmm...I dunno, guys. I'm willing to be convinced, but the fact that we're not seeing a whole bunch of folks queuing up to make money blasting people and objects into space makes me wonder.

Satellites? Sure. Still a money spinner. But the problem you've got convincing me that the whole manned space business will pencil out in the long run is the problem of making gravity well/atmosphere entry and exit safe and cost-effective. This "SpaceX" program may be different, but I've yet to see much on it.

When I see that one licked, I'll start to believe. But as far as I can see, we're still loading combustables into a tube and lighting it off. And then coming back we have to dead-stick glide. The whole process takes weeks or months per launch and return. Not a very efficient, safe or economic way of doing things.

Pluto said...

The reason you see the current manned space program situation, Chief, is those stick-in-the-muds that Ael mentioned earlier.

Six people have paid $20 million to go up to the ISS for a week. All six greatly enjoyed the experience and one wants to do it again.

The astronaut corps was up in arms about this as they felt that it should be illegal for anybody who is not an astronaut to get about 60,000 feet. Where do many astronauts go after they retire? Congress!

Yes, there was a brief moment a few years back where Congress briefly considered a Bill that would arrest any US citizen who left Earth's atmosphere and wasn't an official US government grade-A astronaut. It would also have banned the US from doing business with any countries that supported such an endevour and the US would have had to freeze the assets of anybody who got up there in spite of the other provisions.

Fortunately the Russians were totally pissed off about it and offered to "renegotiate" the US costs of riding their equipment to get to orbit. This was during the Columbia investigation and Russian hardware was the ONLY way at the time to get to the ISS, which is, coincidentally, currently the only excuse for the US astronaut corps.

Burt Rutan, the guy who did Spaceship One (first civilian sub-orbital flight to the boundaries of space) encountered the same problem. He was stuck for a couple of weeks until he figured out that FAA protocols applied up to the altitude he was flying. Then he casually mentioned to the FAA that NASA was infringing on their "airspace" and NASA wound up retreating.

Reagan actually tried to deal with the problem in the 1980's by creating an office to privatize space exploration but NASA stepped all over them and eventually they became nothing but a self-perpetuating meaningless bureacracy.

As for strapping yourself into a tube filled with explosives and making a dead-stick landing, you're basically right, but modern airlines aren't that much different these days.

Also, I'd say that we're stepping away from the Shuttle model and heading back for the Apollo-style crashing through the atmosphere without wings on a controlled ballistic landing. It's safer and more verstile than the Shuttle's need for two mile long runways.

We'll go back to something like the shuttle when we've got MUCH better materials and perhaps a new power source.