Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Faith Without Works is Meaningless

I've been wrapped up in other projects for awhile, and I return here after a protracted absence to see that my good friend Shubber is once again igniting flames of controversy and derision both here and on the Anousheh Ansari space blog. (BTW, I find the flame responses as "educational" as the uncritical adulation.)

I have a different view from Shubber in that if I had $20M +$1, I would NOT spend the $20M on a joyride to the ISS. (In the first place, my wife would divorce me before I could do such a reckless thing with our finances, and her lawyer would demand half, in settlement, at any rate - so much for space fantasies!)

As for me - I got into this whole "space thing" with the goal of helping empower the rest of us, of perhaps more modest means, but with nonetheless a similar, overriding vision that we happen to share with the wealthy and fortunate few, to also one day be able to make that trip. So I'd be better off investing my $20 million helping develop the core frontier-enabling technologies, and building long-term market demand that will sustain them. That way, ultimately, the price of a joy ride goes WAAAAYYY down, and I can pay for a ticket from my long-term capital gains.

Do I find Anousheh's flight "inspirational"? Not really. As some have stated, others have done it, and more will in the future. She was wealthy, healthy, and could afford an expensive joyride - that, in and of itself, does little if anything to create either a mass social movement, OR lower launch costs for the rest of us. Simple fact.

Having said that, I was far more inspired by the Ansari family's willingness to accept the risk in underwriting the original X-Prize to begin with, along with their continued support in helping us all do the hard work that will need doing to create a truly viable space commerce sector - a task that will take years, perhaps an entire generation. I applaud the Ansari's commitment each day, in that regard, and I wish we could clone more of them. (Is that the inspiration for the genome XPrize?? LOL)

I've often - perhaps cynically - felt that if astronauts were more like rock stars, perhaps both public and private space efforts would get more attention - and the more deserving of the "privateers" would benefit from increased VC funding and ultimately lots and lots of paying customers with cash in hand. But NASA has spent too many decades reinforcing an image of boring irrelevance to remake it overnight.

What remains to be seen from all this hoopla is the aftermath of the Ansari flight, both in terms of whether she retains a certain celeb status, and whether or not there will be any "halo effect". As history teaches us, the "Lindbergh effect" from Charles Lindbergh's 1927 trans-atlantic flight, was a 50% increase in pilots licenses granted and a 300% increase in airmail demand over the next two years. There was no similar "Tito effect", however. Perhaps an "Ansari effect" will ensue - my mind is certainly open to the possibility - but it is yet to be seen how that would manifest itself.

As the old saying goes: "Faith without works is dead." It is claimed that millions of people have read Ansari's space blog and have been almost universally inspired by it. (With a few exceptions, naturally...).

But for the sake of argument I'll grant the supposition. OK, now what are you all inspired to DO, as a result of Ansari's good works? What concrete actions will you, who claim to have been so "inspired", engage in to better your world, right now, and on into the future, evermore?

Will all of you join and participate in the activities of a space advocacy organization, such as the NSS, Mars Society, or Space Frontier Foundation (to name only a few)? Will you donate money and time to these causes? It seems to me, if you are seriously inspired, I would expect the ranks of these groups to swell to bursting with new bodies and renewed energy, which, frankly, all of them desperately need. I always felt it telling that one can commonly find anywhere from 20-100 times more bodies at a Star Trek convention than at an average space conference, where people actually want to do "the real thing".

Will you commit to putting your own money at risk by investing a portion of your portfolios in promising space or space-related companies? Will you reeducate yourself, if need be, in engineering, business management, or economics, so you can participate professionally in such endeavors?

Will Iranian women, both in the US and in Iran, organize and demand serious social and political reforms in their native country, freeing it from the one-sided domination of the mullahs, so all women and girls in that nation can have the same freedom to dream and act on those dreams that Anousheh did?

Will Americans rededicate themselves to improving economic and political conditions in this country? For I have concluded that only a free, prosperous, peaceful and forward-thinking people will summon the resources, ingenuity and the collective will to reach for the heavens and claim them (not to mention profit). A fearful, insecure, vengeful and "captive" people, however, who imagine they see terrorists under every Bush, will not. Simple as that. "Space tragics" all too often often neglect the hard realities of the world around them, somehow imagining themselves immune to such mundane political issues, or falsely believing said issues are irrelevant to The Dream. (But that's a separate topic for future posts, which we WILL get to - that's a promise!)

The point of this screed is that, after all the cheering, adulation and bowing on a prayer mat 5 times a day in the direction of the Ansari household dies down, there remains a lot of serious work to do to enable the rest of us to make that same journey. Will the truly "inspired" commit to a personal course of action, including, but by no means limited to, the options mentioned above? Will you continue to do it, when it drags on, or gets too expensive, or seems boring, or even becomes dangerous?

Faith and cheerleading don't pay the bills - and will certainly not get the rest of us to the stars anytime soon. Yes, Anousheh is a goddess for today. Fine. I'm good with that. Now go back and do your homework.


Blogger Shubber Ali said...

Every major, and many minor or wanna be, aerospace companies have proposed launchers that could cut cost to orbit by a order or two – or more – of magnitude IF THEY HAD A MARKET TO KEEP THEM BUSY.

you're kidding, right? Boeing can manufacture the Delta II for $650,000?


Wednesday, October 11, 2006 11:56:00 PM  
Blogger murphydyne said...

Contrary to what the Cynics think, I'd argue that what Ms. Ansari has done is wonderful, and contributes significantly to advancing space markets. Her check went to paying for engineer salaries, salaries of the folks at Space Adventures, purchase of hardware, sundry taxes, and so on. Her work has also immeasurably contributed intangibly by drawing global attention to this aspect of our space endeavors. More people will begin thinking of the space industry as a place to put money for investment. Suddenly investment bankers will be making the rounds with pitch books for something other than the usual comm. sat. This is a global market, and the money may come from surprising places, smart enough to know where to get in.

Who's to say Carly Fiorina didn't think, for a fleeting moment...maybe? The more customers who get in line for orbital flights the better. If I could spare 10% or less of my worth for such a trip I would get in line too (I'm nooooooowhere close). I think Ms. Ansari's fundamental motivations are immune to your cynicism.

Monday, October 23, 2006 4:51:00 PM  
Blogger Shubber Ali said...

Yeah the feds would buy Deltas for that cost, but flat refused DC-X reusables, or venture stars, or ... name your favorite off a long list.

Wow, so Boeing could offer to sell the government Delta II launches at $650,000 apiece? I'm.... stunned. I don't know how to even respond to such a comment. Unless you are assuming that Boeing either (a) would choose to lose a huge sum of money on each rocket it sold at that price or (b) they have some secret manufacturing process that allows them to knock rockets out at such an extremely low price - and that the government hasn't figured out boeing has a 99% profit margin on existing Delta II sales.

As for choosing not to fund Venture Star - that was a decision made by Lockheed, in large part when they realised the government wasn't going to subsidise/protect their profit by providing loan guarantees (I remember sitting in on the senate hearings on loan guarantees at the time, and being asked to brief the Senator's (Breaux, from Louisiana) staff on why loan guarantees modeled on the ship-building industry did NOT work in the case of a vehicle like venture star. So when the Fed's said - "build it and we will buy rides if they are affordable" Lockheed pulled the plug.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 4:56:00 PM  
Blogger Shubber Ali said...

Previously I was interested in joining organisations such as these, but after watching all the name calling and lack of ANY actual commentary on what people would have done differently, it makes me think I may as well watch Question Time in Parliament.

Can any current members comment on whether this sort of behaviour is normal and acceptable?

Is it normal in the alt.space community for people to get into extremely heated discussions, name calling, and generally juvenile behaviour on a regular basis? Sadly, yes. The community is littered with the carcasses of bulletin boards which have fallen apart, been shut down, or just turned into flame battles by precisely such behaviour.

Is it acceptable? Apparently, yes as well. Efforts are made to clean up the boards, but the trolls and flame wars return until people give up and move on to another pasture, only to find that it happens again within months...

If you really want people to make changes, you really need to set an example.
Insulting "space tragics" is not constructive to anyone, especially your own cause.

What do you think our "cause" is, anyways?

Frankly, it makes you look like a bunch of nutters.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Think about the impression you give others of the industry, when you speak as a member of it.

The impression we give? That we don't fall for the same pipe-smoking dreams that keep getting bandied about, sucking in new dreamers every few years and then quietly cast aside when the next one is trotted out because the previous one didn't work? That we apply the rules of economics and the marketplace to the problems being seen in the alt.space world and find many of the solutions being thrown about simply fail to adhere to those rules as if denial of the law of suply and demand somehow shields one from the force of that law?

As I have asked repeatedly on this board (and on the Space Show), and have yet to receive a substantive answer: if everyone in the alt.space community thinks we're nutters and insulting to them, why do they care so much about our opinions and trying to convince us of "their" solution or approach being the right one?

Can it be that because deep down, in that place beyond the effects of the kool-aid, they are concerned that we might actually be right?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 5:04:00 PM  

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