A Long Wait for Space: 30 Years Since Mission 51B (Part 1)

Challenger roars into orbit on 29 April 1985. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Challenger roars into orbit on 29 April 1985. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Thirty years ago, this week, Challenger was circling the Earth on the first dedicated Spacelab science flight of the shuttle era. For seven days, the crew of Mission 51B—Commander Bob Overmyer, Pilot Fred Gregory, Mission Specialists Don Lind, Norm Thagard, and Bill Thornton, and Payload Specialists Lodewijk van den Berg and Taylor Wang—worked around the clock in two shifts to support 15 life and microgravity science experiments from U.S., European, and Indian researchers in the pressurized Spacelab-3 module. Launching on 29 April 1985, the flight made history by establishing a record of just 10 days between shuttle missions, yet as circumstances transpired it would come within milliseconds of disaster.

Spacelab-3 was actually the second voyage of the joint U.S./European research facility, following the inaugural mission of the pressurized module aboard STS-9 in the fall of 1983. Spacelab-2 was intended to be a Verification Flight Test (VFT) of the unpressurized pallet and igloo combination, but had encountered technical difficulties with the Instrument Pointing System (IPS) and ended up being slipped until after Spacelab-3. Consequently, the module and a Multi-Purpose Experiment Support Structure (MPESS) were loaded into Challenger’s payload bay on 10 April, and the shuttle stack was transferred to Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) just five days later. (In fact, only three days had elapsed since the launch of Mission 51D.)

During Mission 51B, Challenger would operate in a “gravity gradient” orbit, with her vertical stabilizer directed Earthward and her starboard wing pointing in the direction of travel, in order to ensure a stable microgravity environment and limit the amount of disruptive thruster firings. This would aid Spacelab-3’s vibration-sensitive materials science and fluid physics investigations. In readiness for the mission, the roof-mounted Scientific Window Adapter Assembly (SWAA) was removed and replaced by an aluminum panel, whereas the Scientific Airlock (SAL) was retained to house a French-built very-wide-field camera. Outside, the MPESS would accommodate the Atmospheric Trace Molecule Spectroscopy (ATMOS) and the Studies of the Ionization of Solar and Galactic Cosmic Ray Heavy Nuclei (“Ions”) experiments.

The patch for Mission 51B, emblazoned with the surnames of the seven-man crew. Image Credit: NASA

The patch for Mission 51B, emblazoned with the surnames of the seven-man crew. Image Credit: NASA

Twenty hours before launch, on 28 April 1985, a pair of male squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus)—described by Don Lind as “cute”—and 24 “not so cute” male albino rats (Rattus norvegicus) were loaded aboard the Spacelab module. Animal welfare concerns, coupled with the requirement to move the primates and rodents during their “awake” time in order to avoid causing them undue stress, made it important to wait until the latter phase of the countdown before loading them into their cages. It proved an interesting event, since Challenger was oriented vertically on Pad 39A. Working from the shuttle’s middeck, two technicians were gently lowered, one at a time, in sling-like seats down the tunnel into the module. One stayed in the joggle section, while the other entered the Spacelab to await the cages, which were lowered on separate slings. The two-hour process ran smoothly and the cages were installed into dual Research Animal Holding Facilities (RAHFs) on the module’s port side wall.

Spacelab-3’s primary focus was on microgravity research, specifically fluid physics and crystal growth, but an additional life sciences aspect evaluated how well the RAHF could support animals in an environment comparable to a ground-based vivarium. It had long been recognized that effective studies of primate or rodent behavior in space was impossible if their health and well-being were improperly maintained. In addition to water and food—rice-based bars for the rats, banana pellets for the monkeys—the RAHF supplied lighting, temperature, and humidity control functions. During the course of Mission 51B, Challenger’s crew were to work in two 12-hour shifts, with physicians Thagard and Thornton assigned to separate teams to keep watch the animals around-the-clock. NASA hoped to use the RAHF again for several rodent experiments on the Spacelab-4 life sciences mission, planned for launch in the spring of 1987.

Also under test was a Dynamic Environment Measuring System (DEMS) to record the acceleration, vibration, and noise in the cages during ascent and re-entry, and a Biotelemetry System (BTS) to transmit physiological data to the ground from a series of implanted sensors. “The squirrel monkeys adapted very quickly,” Lind told the NASA Oral History Project. “They had been on centrifuges and vibration tables, so they knew what the feeling of space was going to be like. Squirrel monkeys have a very long tail and if they get excited, they wrap the tail around themselves and hang onto the tip. If they get really excited, they chew on the end of their own tail. By the time we got into the laboratory, about three hours after liftoff, they were adjusted. They had, during liftoff, apparently chewed off a quarter of an inch of the end of their tails!” Both monkeys were free of various specified pathogens, and it was mandated that six months before launch they must also be free of antibodies to the Herpes saimiri virus. Although the virus was not known to cause disease in either squirrel monkey or human carriers, problems had been documented in other species and a global search found five Herpes saimiri-free primates. Due to time limitations, NASA only had the opportunity to prepare two of them for microgravity exposure and properly train them to reach the food pellets and activate the water taps in their cages.

The crew of Mission 51B departs the Operations & Checkout (O&C) Building on the morning of 29 April 1985. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

The crew of Mission 51B departs the Operations & Checkout (O&C) Building on the morning of 29 April 1985. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

The possibility, however remote, of all seven men becoming infected by herpes was hungrily pounced upon by their peers at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, according to Mike Mullane in his 2006 memoir, Riding Rockets. Several Navy astronauts suggested that as long as the Marine Corps and Air Force members of the crew—a none-too-subtle jab at the respective military services of Overmyer and Gregory—did not “screw the monkeys,” they would be fine. Alongside Overmyer and Gregory were no less than five scientists: Thagard and Thornton were both physicians, whilst Lind was a physicist, Dutch-born van den Berg was a chemical engineer, and Shanghai-born Wang was a physicist. Three of these men were intimately involved in several Spacelab-3 experiments as co-investigators: Lind on an auroral imaging study, van den Berg on a vapor crystal growth system, and Wang on the Drop Dynamics Module (DDM).

In fact, van den Berg was internationally recognized as an authority on vapor-driven crystal growth. As the list of Spacelab-3 Payload Specialist candidates was drawn up, van den Berg and his chief at EG&G Corp., Dr. Harold Lamonds, could only come up with seven names, rather than the required eight. Lamonds told fifty-something van den Berg to volunteer, joking that his age, huge spectacles, and limited physical strength would probably cause him to be dropped in the first round of the selection process. It didn’t. Four candidates were eliminated by the initial screening for scientific competence. He was now down to the final four for a series of physical and mental tests, and he and metallurgical engineer Mary Helen Johnston passed with flying colors, whereas two others fell by the wayside due to possible heart issues. In June 1983, van den Berg and Johnston began training at JSC and in the fall of the following year, against all the odds, van den Berg was formally announced as the prime candidate.

If van den Berg’s ascent to a prime crew was rapid, then the opposite was the case for Don Lind, who had waited 19 years since his selection as an astronaut by NASA in April 1966. Having trained extensively for Skylab, he came within days of flying with Vance Brand on a daring rescue mission to America’s first space station in 1973, but wound up waiting longer than any other NASA-selected astronaut in history to reach actually space. It is a record that Lind still holds to this very day. When he was assigned to Spacelab-3 in February 1983, he expected to fly in September of the following year, but payload delays and shuttle manifest changes caused a slippage to November, then January 1985, and ultimately April, as well as switching orbiters from Challenger to Discovery, then back to Challenger again. With 54-year-old Lind, 53-year-old van den Berg, and 56-year-old Thornton aboard, this was the first U.S. piloted space mission to carry as many as three astronauts above the age of 50.

During the majority of the seven-day mission, Challenger operated in a gravity gradient orientation, with her vertical stabilizer directed Earthward and her starboard wing pointing in the direction of travel. Image Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

During the majority of the seven-day mission, Challenger operated in a gravity gradient orientation, with her vertical stabilizer directed Earthward and her starboard wing pointing in the direction of travel. Image Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

As a dual-shift flight, the seven-man crew adopted “sleep-shifting” during their final days on Earth. On the Gold Shift were Overmyer, Lind, Thornton, and Wang, whilst the Silver Shift comprised Gregory, Thagard, and van den Berg. “I was responsible for all the support systems that keep the orbiter functioning,” said Gregory of his role as shift leader. “Norm and I had respective jobs on board, but we, in essence, were the folks who supported the work of the Payload Specialists.” As the flight engineer, Thagard was technically part of the orbiter crew, but his work tended to cross over with that of the scientists working in the Spacelab module, and one of his responsibilities was caring for the rodents and primates on his shift. Lind, meanwhile, was in charge of the activation and deactivation of Spacelab-3 and for the bulk of its experiments, one of which had dictated Mission 51B’s launch time.

Challenger had scarcely an hour available in which to launch on 29 April 1985, with her “window” opening at noon EDT. This was calculated to provide the MPESS-mounted ATMOS instrument with the maximum number of viewing opportunities of the composition of the upper atmosphere during 72 orbital sunrises and sunsets. The ATMOS calibration and observations and a program for the French very-wide-field camera were “front-loaded” into the first day of the mission. Then, about 18 hours after liftoff, Overmyer and Gregory would reorient Challenger for almost six days in a gravity-gradient attitude to provide a suitably quiescent environment for the fluid physics and crystal growth investigations.

With the exception of a hydrogen leak in loading the External Tank (ET) with propellants, the countdown proceeded smoothly until 11:56 a.m. EDT, when, at T-4 minutes, a front-end launch processor failed and prevented the liquid oxygen replenishment valve and vent hood from closing automatically. The clock was held as the valves were manually repositioned and Challenger’s thunderous ascent at 12:02 p.m. was described by NASA as “nominal.”

However, it was not entirely nominal, because during the Rogers Investigation into the loss of Mission 51L in 1986, Bob Overmyer would discover exactly how close his crew came to death that day.

 

 

The second part of this article will appear tomorrow.

 

 

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48 comments to A Long Wait for Space: 30 Years Since Mission 51B (Part 1)

  • Gary Church

    A shuttle launch every ten days would still not have fulfilled the over 50 mission-a-year requirement of the think tank study used to sell the shuttle as being able to “pay for itself.”

    I do not like to demonize the shuttle- may it rest in peace along with the two crews lost flying it- but I also am no fan. I believe if we, as a community of space flight advocates, understand the lessons of the shuttle it will have been worth the cost. In the present space exploration environment that is sadly not the case. Far from it. The present “flexible path” which entails taking lego blocks and a couple gallons of gas at a time into Low Earth Orbit on inferior lift rockets is a compounding of the same errors made with the shuttle. Worse.

    The triumph of the Moon landing was the result of a long chain of fortunate circumstances involving the military situation in a cold war, domestic political scheming, and a very rich nation with immense resources waiting to be tapped. The present situation is perceived as very different and for a second space age to happen only one factor matters- the willingness and support of the public to make it happen.

    Despite the shrill whining over “austere funding” the Department of Defense spends mind boggling amounts of money- more than the yearly NASA budget has disappeared into the the minor league expenditures of Afghan boy raping drug lords and Iraqi nation building contractors. The U.S. is the richest nation on planet Earth and complaining about NASA spending and religiously shouting from the mountaintops that spending will never increase is a trick. A deception maintained by NewSpace to further their limited agenda. Any Moon return program dumps the NewSpace business plan in the trashcan.

    The long chain of unfortunate circumstances that has led the nation onto the path of tourism and “entrepreneurship” must be undone. It is the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration. The changing of administrations that has always made Human Space Flight a political football and crippled any effort for a permanent presence Beyond Earth Orbit is the main obstacle.

    There are political schemes brewing right now that address this problem- but whether they will improve the situation or make it worse is not yet clear. What is clearly seen in recent developments is that abandoning the dead end of LEO and returning to the Moon is the key to any progress. The NewSpace business plan must be discarded and since it is corporate welfare (despite the Orwellian newspeak to the contrary) that is a simple matter of exposing this scam to the voters.

    The ice on the Moon is the enabling resource that should be the central focus of all space advocacy. As the U.S. heavy lift infrastructure deteriorates the approaching election presents a never-to-come-again opportunity to reverse the decline and return to space. As SLS/Orion progresses the concerns about space radiation and all it entails is exposing the NewSpace farce. Only a vast Panama canal scale public works project can begin a second space age by establishing the next base from which to expand humankind into the solar system.

    That next base is not the absurd endless circles of Low Earth Orbit tourist space stations- it located near the resources waiting to be exploited on the Moon.

    • John hare

      Keep up the pressure Gary. You’re the best tool New Space has on this site.

      • Gary Church

        Ad hominem is all you got you thug. Nothing you can do but mock me.

        • John hare

          Wasn’t mocking you. Was expressing admiration for your tenacity in promoting New Space via counterfactuals and hysteria. It’s a talent worthy of admiration to post such rediculous assertions with all evidence of seriousness. You suck them in, and then poison their perceptions of legacy space with rants. Far more effective promotion than the straightforward things I have posted.

          Is it Musk or Bezos signing your checks? I ask because no one is as far out of touch as you pretend to be.

          • Gary Church

            “-promoting New Space via counterfactuals and hysteria.”

            Your Ayn-Rand-in-Space bizarro cronies nod in agreement.

            • john hare

              Of course they nod. You’re doing a heck of a recruiting job for us. Do you have a tip jar?

              • Gary Church

                You are recruiting bullies and liars with your remarks. Everyone can see your ad hominem attempts to hound me off this forum and the arrogant curs who join the party are typical of what make up the NewSpace mob. You accuse me of being “counter-factual” but all you can do is insult me. Where are YOUR “facts”?

                The fact is you cannot argue with what I am exposing. So you try and make me go away like any schoolyard bully. You are disgusting.

                • Gary Church

                  Oops, getting dragged down again. I apologize for saying “you are disgusting.” Really. I should not talk so honestly and instead use veiled insults and corrosive blather.

                  • john hare

                    I’m trying to compliment you on your devious effectiveness. I realize you can’t acknowledge the admiration without breaking cover, but you should be publicly acclaimed for the work you are doing here. Your ineffectual attempts at turning the blame are obviously because you want it to be that way. If you were really trying, you could easily show us all up for fools. Instead you are willing to take several “for the team” in order to make New Space people look rational by comparison.

                    I have never seen the agent provocateur method applied to space advocacy before. You sir, are a master at the game. I’m glad you’re on our side.

                    • Gary Church

                      “You sir, are a master at the game. I’m glad you’re on our side.”

                      Oh, I AM on the side of space exploration. And on the side of the United States- born and bred here.

                      It is NewSpace that is the worst thing that has ever happened to the U.S. program- and with the abomination of NewSpace it’s condescending Ayn-Rand-in-Space bizarro creeps that have hijacked public opinion. Exactly what you are trying to do here. You sir, are a master of this jackassian mode of insult- right up there with Coastal Ron and Rand Simberg and the other expert cyberthugs that for years have suppressed any criticism of the Cult of Musk on space forums. The bed bugs of the internet.

    • Gary Church

      The long chain of unfortunate circumstances that has led the nation onto the path of tourism and “entrepreneurship” must be undone.

      -that has led the U.S. space program, not the nation as a whole, onto that path. I certainly don’t want to give the NewSpace mob any ammunition- I have been branded a bolshevik a dozen times when I am far from it. Unlike the radicals on the right and left I understand government run by industry is fascism and industry run by government is communism; the delicate balance of forces that run between these two totalitarian monsters is democracy.

      It is fine to push competition over cooperation is certain endeavors and not in others and vice versa. The trick of course is determining which projects require the state to direct and regulate and which are best left to the private sector. Space exploration requires the entire resources of the state- as evidenced by Apollo. Involving the profit motive too early in the game will result in failure- as evidenced by the Shuttle. Leaving it entirely to commercial interests is certain death for any progress in space exploration efforts. As evidenced by NewSpace and their dead-end-of-LEO-tourist-schemes.

      • I think it’s time to notch-down the anti-New Space rhetoric.

        Look, I’m on record as being vigorously opposed to gov’t seeding of a commercial rocket program in general and of SpaceX’s funding model in particular, especially in light of the progress made by the privately funded Blue Origin. But regardless of that, because NASA has proven that it can get companies over the Spaceflight endzone, e.g. SpaceX is flying successfully, commercial crew is going to get funded and will succeed at a minimum with Boring’s CST-100 flying in 3-4 years.

        It is not going away.

        Not wishing to mirror Don Quixote, I no longer tilt at my past windmills.

  • Gary Church

    It is really a drag not being able to correct typos in this comments section.

  • […] experiments from U.S., European and Indian researchers in the pressurized Spacelab-3 module. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, they became the first U.S. crew to include as many as three over-50s, including the then-oldest […]

  • Joe

    This is all rather sad.

    – First Ben Evans writes a nice apolitical history piece about 51B.

    – Then Gary Church writes a (for him) relatively mild (though off topic) treatise about lessons to be learned from the Shuttle. He even list a couple of points I doubt anyone could disagree with:
    – A shuttle launch every ten days would still not have fulfilled the over 50 mission-a-
    year requirement of the think tank study used to sell the shuttle as being able to pay
    for itself.”
    – The triumph of the Moon landing was the result of a long chain of fortunate circumstances involving the military situation in a cold war, domestic political scheming, and a very rich nation with immense resources waiting to be tapped.

    Then john hare, who has previously been attempting to engage Gary in productive conversation, jumps in and initiates a “conversation” on the level of the old kids game:
    – First party – Idiot!
    – Second Party – I know you are, but what am I!

    It appears that the internet has produced a transmittable mental condition.

    Gary often mentions a poster called Coastal Ron. I have encountered Coastal Ron myself and he is indeed a piece of work.

    Perhaps Gary’s (unproductive) style was caused by frustration with dealing with Coastal Ron.

    If so, he seems to be passing it on to john.

    In any case, it does no good for anyone interested in furthering the cause of space development.

    Now I assume both gentlemen will direct their ire at me.

    Gentlemen, have at it.

    • john hare

      Joe,
      I’ll back off as I respect you. I’ve had enough of Gary’s ranting and was trying to make a point. That point is not worth making at the expense of you, Andrew and other respectable residents here.

      Have a good evening.

      • Joe

        Thanks John,

        I understand the frustration, but there are few places on the internet where actually useful conversations can be held.

        I just did not want to have another one gone.

        You have a good (and happy) evening, as well.

        • Gary Church

          “I’ve had enough of Gary’s ranting-”

          Everything single thing I wrote in my comment to Ben Evans was the truth. And the NewSpace mob has “had enough” of that. They cannot seem to refute anything I say so all they have left is ad hominem.

          “Perhaps Gary’s (unproductive) style was caused by frustration with dealing with Coastal Ron.”

          Not just that brand of creep, but the two political poles that divide and conquer any united front to advance space exploration. The flaming liberals do not participate in space forums because they don’t have much to complain about- but the rabid conservatives manage to blame the left for supposed-connected-wrongs enough to make it worth their while. The blame game is the distraction that turns these forums into cesspools. Anyone who has set up camp on the right or left is not going to allow their side to be badmouthed with blame for bad policy decisions or supposed negative effects on space exploration.

          I voted for Obama and in all fairness the party-of-the-rich is not to my liking at all. I doubt whoever the Koch brothers select as the next presidential candidate with that billion dollar war chest is going to change my views. That does not make me a communist or flaming liberal- actually I am only slightly left of center and really dislike many liberal talking points. I find myself cheering on Republicans who are supporting SLS/Orion and other space exploration policies while becoming ever more disgusted with Obama administration space policy and NASA under his appointees. That Lori Garver could be Hillary’s choice for NASA director is….a profoundly disturbing possibility.

          But space policy has become very confusing and a distortion of reality whoever is pushing their agenda- left or right. Why can’t we just stick to the technology and the decisions made about using those means to the best end? When the end is already decided there is not much left but arguing about how to get there; the best example being the whole Mars-as-the-horizon-goal farce.

          The most frustrating of all tactics used by those looking to shut down criticism is the long, meaningless, fill-up-the-whole-page historical analogies or political essays used to obfuscate the issues and exhaust the reader. As someone recently did with a mini-drama on the colonization of North America in answer to my assertion that governmental programs and support are the prerequisite to developing any new frontier. This anti-thesis of the NewSpace libertarian fantasy always generates an endless parade of worthless and ever more arcane analogy.

          When I stick to citing technical issues and criticizing the bad ones- while promoting the good ones that are not being made- then the SpaceX fans go nuts and damn me for eternity. That is when I get dogpiled with insults and B.S. and eventually banned for responding in kind.

          So yes Joe, I am frustrated. I am always willing to stick to the issues but what inevitably happens is the half-truths, disinformation, and misdirection gets thrown in my face and when I throw the B.S. flag it is back to Ad Hominem. So my “style” might be “unproductive” but….to hell with it- there is no use talking to people who have already made up their minds anyway. I simply state what I have to say and return fire.

          I am perfectly willing to discuss the issues with anyone who can refrain from dragging their political baggage or various ideological bias’ into the conversation. But that never happens. Instead I am endlessly harassed with people blathering ridiculous B.S. like I am an agent provocateur for NewSpace. The Jackass hee-hawing of some of these fools is beyond tolerating. So sick of it.

          The central issue about which all the hate-speak and war-of-ideas concerning space policy revolve around is Moon return. Anything having to do with Moon return draws the lying scheming manipulators out in the open because it exposes the whole NewSpace tourist scam.

          • Gary Church

            “That is when I get dogpiled with insults and B.S. and eventually banned for responding in kind.”

            Yeah, I really hate not being able to edit these comments.

    • Matt McClanahan

      “The triumph of the Moon landing was the result of a long chain of fortunate circumstances involving the military situation in a cold war, domestic political scheming, and a very rich nation with immense resources waiting to be tapped.”

      “The present situation is perceived as very different and for a second space age to happen only one factor matters- the willingness and support of the public to make it happen.”

      I think these two observations have been at the root of the frustration that leads to most of the spats that have come up lately. We’d all love to see “more” happen in space, or we probably wouldn’t be commenting here. More unmanned missions, more manned missions, to more places. More R&D on propulsion, long term life support, radiation protection, and so on. Our differences lie in the how (Wet workshops? L-Point fuel depots? Nuclear propulsion? Cryo? Everyone’s got a favorite), and to a slightly lesser extent the where. Long term, the where is essentially “everywhere”.

      Much of the argument is over where to go next, not where to go ever. I think if everyone could get past the idea that one person’s “next” means the other person’s “next” mustn’t happen, we’d save ourselves a lot of redundant bickering. Similarly with the how.. No mode of transportation in existence today is conducted with one universal implementation. Why should spaceflight be any different?

      But at the end of the day, Congress decides what NASA gets to spend, and what they’re allowed to spend it on. And most of the time (theoretically), they decide based on what their constituents want. I don’t believe anyone can seriously point to a Congressional candidate who was elected or defeated based primarily on their views on NASA, because the public just doesn’t vote that way.

      Re-quoting “the willingness and support of the public to make it happen”.. That would be nice, but if we have to wait for widespread public support for NASA to get funding & a mandate to do the kinds of ambitious things we’d like, I’m afraid we’ll be waiting a very long time. Almost immediately after the climax of the space race, when we’d finished beating the Soviets, the public had largely lost interest. By the time Apollo 13 launched, nobody was watching until something went wrong; at which point they weren’t watching because exploration is cool, they were watching because it was dramatic.

      About the only “big” NASA mission that I’d credit to public support would be Hubble. After a very rocky funding process, facing cancellation by Congress at least twice, and then its flawed mirror, it’s a miracle that it ever achieved operational status. But once it did, it became NASA’s single biggest PR success since Apollo 11. Is this because the public appreciated all the amazing scientific discovery that was happening? Maybe, maybe not. My guess, perhaps cynically, is that it was mostly because of the pretty pictures. And that’s not a foundation upon which to build support for ambitious deep space exploration, manned or otherwise.

      • Gary Church

        “the willingness and support of the public to make it happen”.. That would be nice, but if we have to wait for widespread public support for NASA to get funding & a mandate to do the kinds of ambitious things we’d like, I’m afraid we’ll be waiting a very long time.
        -it was mostly because of the pretty pictures. And that’s not a foundation upon which to build support for ambitious deep space exploration, manned or otherwise.”

        For a second space age to happen only one factor matters- the willingness and support of the public to make it happen. So you are implying that my statement was not true- that public support is meaningless?

        And of course that only leaves one avenue that has meaning- NewSpace entrepreneurs.

        I have to condemn any hint of the NewSpace tourist scam as being relevant and viable as rotten to the core. It is a limited business plan to cash in on the dead end of LEO and has nothing to do with space exploration. It is Orwellian when even the name of the principle company pursuing this path is taken into account. Commercial for-profit satellites and tourist space stations are NOT “space exploration.” It’s a scam. Just like gunning for DOD dollars by lashing three hobby rockets together. Just like promising 80,000 colonists on Mars by 2030. Just like the dog and pony show of crashing on a barge; it will take years to “prove” reusability is a myth. Sooner or later the whole thing is going to collapse like a house of cards.

        The public will vote the way they are convinced to vote. The Republicans were voted out of the White House because there was not enough money on planet Earth to convince the voters they should stay there. Space can be a significant campaign issue and I believe there is also not enough money available to convince voters that stranding humankind in the dead end of LEO for another 40 years is the best path. Not if they know the truth. Right now they are being scammed.

        • Gary Church

          Good luck with those BA330’s Matt. You don’t think we need to spend billions.

          • Matt McClanahan

            Thanks for removing most of the words from one of my sentences until it fit your mold. Here’s the complete sentence:

            “We don’t need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars building stations anymore, and we certainly don’t need the Shuttle to do it.”

            And of course it was in the context of LEO, since the first sentence in that paragraph was:

            “Although personally, I’d hope the next LEO station (aside from the Tiangong series, of course) will be built around Bigelow modules.”

            I’m pretty sure you agree with me that hundreds of billions of dollars need not be spent on LEO stations, although obviously we disagree on if money should be spent on LEO at all.

            • Gary Church

              “I’m pretty sure you agree with me that hundreds of billions of dollars need not be spent on LEO stations-”

              Well, there you go Matt, what you are pretty sure of is then disqualified by what you should be sure of- I don’t think that hundreds of billions in LEO need not be spent (implying that some amount must be spent)- I think hundreds of billions should not (as in no amount) be spent in LEO.

              Thanks for trying to fit my words into your mold. Yes, obviously we disagree.

        • Matt McClanahan

          “So you are implying that my statement was not true- that public support is meaningless?”

          No, I think your premise here is a desirable goal:

          “For a second space age to happen only one factor matters- the willingness and support of the public to make it happen.”

          But as I said, I’m skeptical that sufficient public interest to trigger a second space age will materialize in the near future. I then laid out my reasons for that skepticisim. In short, the peak of public interest in space (Apollo 11) wasn’t sustainable because it was grounded in other interests (beating the Soviets, etc). The mission after that with the largest amount of public interest (Hubble) seemed to have that large amount of interest for a superficial reason (pretty pictures) instead of the reasons we’d need to build that second space age.

          “Space can be a significant campaign issue…”

          Maybe it will. I’d love to see it happen. It should be as important to people’s voting considerations as social security or gun rights, IMHO, but I just don’t see it happening in the current electoral climate. And I have no idea what series of events would lead to it being that important to the majority.

          • Gary Church

            one factor matters- the willingness and support of the public

            “-your premise here is a desirable goal-”

            “-I’m skeptical that-will materialize-”

            Space can be a significant campaign issue…

            “I’d love to see it happen.”

            “-I just don’t see it happening-”

            This is the technique known as “damning with faint praise.” It is all very polite and pleasant to read but the real content is disagreement. When this is used in a discussion it is most often a signature of contempt and condescension.

            You do not agree with any of my points.

            “I think if everyone could get past the idea that one person’s “next” means the other person’s “next” mustn’t happen, we’d save ourselves a lot of redundant bickering.”

            Your “next”, as in LEO and Bigelow stations, must not happen in my view. So let’s not play any more redundant games and waste space on this forum dancing around the issues.

            LEO is a dead end: NewSpace is the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration. Abandoning LEO and Mars and redirecting funding to a Moon return with SLS is the only logical and right course for NASA to take. The ice on the Moon should be the central focus of all space flight advocacy. That is where I start- none of it is negotiable Matt.

          • Matt, kudos to you for being civil and polite as well as attempting to find some common ground.

    • Joe, I agree, “This is all rather sad.” This was once a nice place to read, present and discuss differing view points, but not any longer. Until current openly hostile situation is rectified, I’m inclined to avoid any commenting on this site and spend my time elsewhere.

      • Gary Church

        “This was once a nice place to read, present and discuss differing view points,-”

        It was a nice place for you to snipe at anyone who disagreed with anything you had to say with harassment and condescension. In one of my first comments you tried to show me who the boss was- and then it was nice for you no longer.

        John Hare also found out that obfuscating my comments by replying with meaningless analogies was not going to happen without me throwing the bullshit flag.

        Now Matt has found out that clever word games don’t work on me. If the three of you want to avoid replying to my comments that would be the solution. I am fine with that.

        You can post all you want here Andrew and I will not reply to any of your comments. But you cannot do that. You continue to try and have me banned from this site.

        You are a bully and a liar and I told you every time you played your sick game I would expose you for what you are.

        You and your NewSpace cronies just don’t get it- I am not here to gratify the conversational needs of your “community.” I just want to have my say and be left alone. All I am doing is refusing to let these replies to my comments go unanswered- if you people do not like what you get that is not on me.

        All I want you to do is LEAVE ME ALONE!

        • I didn’t know your name was “Joe”.

          • Gary Church

            I thought you were going to spend your time elsewhere.

            • Joe

              Careful Gary, by the rules you try to impose on others, that could be taken to be attempting to ban someone from the website.

              • Gary Church

                What rules Joe? Please explain what rules I am trying to impose by asking the NewSpace sycophants who squat here to stop the negative replies to my comments- simply make separate comments- and leave me alone.

                I just want to state my views and be left alone.

                Andrew is trying to get the editor to ban me with his complaints about me complaining about him by implying this is not a “nice place” to comment anymore and he is taking his toys somewhere else. He is actually just a bully that cannot stand someone standing up to him.

                Tell me how that is on me. Everybody is acting like they want me to “play nice” but what they really want is for me to not complain about all their B.S. replies and sadistic mocking so they can have their fun. No. The veiled insults, obfuscationg analogy, damning with faint praise- I will answer all of it by returning insults, rebuke, and condemnation of word games. They can make separate comments if they are not happy with with what I have to say in return.

                • Joe

                  “Please explain what rules I am trying to impose by asking the NewSpace sycophants who squat here to stop the negative replies to my comments- simply make separate comments- and leave me alone.”

                  We could be on the verge of a truce.

                  If they were to all do that, would you agree to never again reply to any of their comments; even if you strenuously disagree with them?

                  • Gary Church

                    Puh-leez. I already stated that several times. Instead of just doing that the NewSpace fans squatting on this forum have continued to make disparaging remarks about me. And they will continue to do so every time I criticize their ideology. I know from years of bitter experience that Musk worshipers just cannot stand someone blaspheming around them- it drives them nuts. Libertarian space crazies feel entitled to insult anyone that dares to throw the B.S. flag on them and no “truce” is going to stop them.

                    I think you know this also Joe. I can debate and discuss these issues if people can refrain from playing the usual games I have described and not insult me. Eventually I come into conflict with everyone- over politics (because I am a democrat) or ideology (I despise NewSpace) or technical issues (I expose misinformation) or B.S. responses like Andrew playing the long meaningless reply game. It is just the nature of the beast these forums have become over the years.

                    Space advocates are hopelessly divided.

                    • Joe

                      OK.

                      To John, Andrew and everyone else who may be listening, here is a proposal:

                      – What Mr. Church seems to be proposing is that he will only originally post in response to an article (however much you – and in some cases I – may think it to be off topic).
                      – No one else will directly respond to these posts (however incendiary).
                      – You can start a discussion that contradicts Mr. Church’s beliefs as long as you do not address him directly in any way (I know this is expecting you to limit your posting rights – but think about it, he is asking to be ignored).
                      – Mr. Church will then not respond to any of your posts (that is he will ignore you).

                      By far not a perfect solution, but perhaps a cease fire that will allow everyone else to continue discussions.

                      Comments.

                    • Gary Church

                      Actually, I will stop telling these space clown wannabe’s to leave me alone. And I will stop leaving them alone. Let’s see how they like someone replying negatively to all their comments. I might as well- they are going to keep trying to ban me anyway.

                    • Gary Church

                      Ooops. Jumped the gun. Okay Joe. Whatever you say. It is Andrew and John Hare who seem to be the two you are addressing so whatever they have to say I will go along with.

                    • Joe

                      Well, that certainly ends the old lets have a truce scenario.

                      Thanks Gary.

                      Sorry to have interrupted you.

                      Have a nice evening.

                    • Joe

                      OK.

                      Too fast posting is a risk.

                      Actually I was addressing everyone (including myself).

                      John and Andrew (and everyone else):

                      How about it?

                  • john hare

                    Joe,
                    Your proposal would have been quite acceptable to me. From the reply though, apparently not to him. Thank you for your efforts, and if you get an acceptable resolution, I will abide by it.

                    • Joe

                      The first reply was “overtaken by events”, so:

                      Andrew, what do you think?

                    • On principle I am against this compromise: the whole point of any web site’s comment section is to be an open forum for discussion. This compromise violates the underlying purpose of an open forum such as this. If you want a place where you can say whatever you want, have absolute control over the conversation as well as who can participate and how, go start your own web site.

                      And even if we were all to agree, what about all the other people on this open forum who are not part of this agreement? Isn’t it just a matter of time before this forum is back where we find ourselves today but with different players (save for one)? Is there going to be a patchwork of little treaties between people in this forum just to accommodate one poster? Should we be contacting the moderators to amend this site’s commenting policies to satisfy the desires of just one poster?

                      Then again, from a practical point of view, this has been one of my favorite web sites for quite some time and I have enjoyed the articles and discussions even with people with whom I disagree (didn’t someone once say you will learn more from someone you disagree with than from one with whom you agree?). With this in mind, I am willing to table the obvious practical and larger philosophical issues… I will support this proposed compromise and abide by any agreement made by all the parties involved for the sake of restoring some measure of civility to this web site’s comment section.

                    • Gary Church

                      Okay. Anybody else throws anything ad hominish at me I trust they will get what they asked for without any comments from the peanut gallery. Otherwise I will not say a bad thing about the three of you or reply to any of your comments. I expect the same.

                      If I feel any of the comments made are a sideways attempt to obfuscate mine- I will post a non-disparaging separate reply as a warning with this header:

                      WHY CAN’T WE JUST STICK TO THE TECHNOLOGY AND THE DECISIONS MADE ABOUT USING THOSE MEANS TO THE BEST END?

                      No reply will be necessary and we all can just go on without further retaliation.

                      That should serve to remind everyone to keep the peace. If that is all let’s get back to expressing our views on space exploration.

                    • Gary Church

                      “I will post a non-disparaging separate reply as a warning with this header:”

                      Sorry, my mistake, a separate comment, not a reply- I will not be replying to any of your comments and you will not be replying to mine.

  • Gary Church

    Finger waggers, troll branders, bullies complaining about not being able to bully….amazing how most of the comments are about somebody just wanting to state their views without being insulted and harassed. This is why space forums have become infomercials for SpaceX.

    Criticism of Musk, SpaceX, and NewSpace is not tolerated. Everyone who did not like what was happening just gave up saying anything years ago. The proof is in the replies to my comments- when I list all the technical deficiencies associated with the hobby rocket and toxic dragon I do not get anything back but insults. When I compare the dead end of LEO and Mars with the promise of a lunar return I get endless obfuscation by way of meaningless historical analogy or libertarian statements of faith. When I ask the sycophants to leave me alone they blatantly refuse and when I return fire inevitably the NewSpace mob tries to have me banned.

    “Why can’t we just stick to the technology and the decisions made about using those means to the best end? When the end is already decided there is not much left but arguing about how to get there; the best example being the whole Mars-as-the-horizon-goal farce.”

    Robert Zubrin is not happy about an opinion piece critical of Moon return. Not happy at all. But in his description of a hypothetical Mars mission he does not say a word about radiation. He concludes with cheaper-is-better endorsement of the Falcon Heavy.

    None of the dozen articles I have read in the news or on space forums has a single thing to say about either how dangerous loading up a small capsule with that much propellent is or why (boosting tourist stations) it is being done.

    That place-which-must-not-be-spoken-of is the invisible center of all these games. Returning to the Moon to stay and the beginning of a second space age. We should be discussing first of all why this is not happening. We should be discussing what happened in 2010 to keep it from happening.

    • Gary Church

      “Robert Zubrin is not happy about an opinion piece critical of Moon return.”

      Boy, that was a Freudian slip. He is not happy about a piece critical of MARS return.