Space: The Invisible Frontier

Commentary by Dale Skran
NSS Board of Directors

Over the last few years amazing progress has been made in space technology, but with a curious silence in the mainstream press. On November 23rd, Blue Origin flew their reusable New Shepard vehicle to the Karman line (100km), the official definition of the “edge of space” and back to the launch site for a soft landing on four legs. Previously, the DCX and SpaceX Grasshopper had flown vertically to various altitudes far lower than the Karman line, and landed for reuse. The venerable yet reusable X-15 rocket plane, launched by a B-52, crossed the Karman line on a couple of occasions, but did not land vertically. Viewed from this perspective, Blue Origin’s feat does not seem that remarkable.

And in some sense, like all engineering milestones, it is not that remarkable. It is one link in a long chain of tests. It needs to be followed by close investigation of wear and tear, multiple re-flights, and finally certification for use by sub-orbital tourists. This process will take several years. In parallel, Blue Origin is developing a much larger rocket, for which the New Shepard will be the 2nd stage. A methane/lox engine called the BE-4 is being constructed by Blue Origin both for usage in the first stage of their own “Big Rocket” and the United Launch Alliance Vulcan. The completion of this engine will take more years, and the testing of a reusable first stage based on the BE-4 still more years.

So what is different about Blue Origin’s achievement this time? First, although Blue has received a small amount of NASA funding as part of the COTS program, the great bulk of money was provided by Jeff Bezos himself. There is certainly no NASA line item, that, if cut, would cause Blue Origin to change direction or cancel New Shepard. Second, unlike NASA, Blue plans to start selling research slots on New Shepard right away – probably as early as next year. These commercial research flights will allow for extensive testing and certification of the BE-3 (the liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine used in New Shepard) and the technology surrounding reusability. Finally, when space tourists start flying on New Shepard, and it increasingly seems like this could happen as soon as 2017, it will be a world-changing event. No humans flew on the DCX or grasshopper. Only government test pilots could fly the X-15. Regular tourist flights, even flights with 4 or 5 minutes of zero gravity, will introduce a new generation to space, and whet appetites for future orbital flights. Perhaps more significantly, the BE-3 will become the first truly re-usable (as opposed to refurbishable, as were the Shuttle engines) liquid hydrogen/oxygen engine, no small feat in itself.

Hence, although only a link in chain, the November 23rd landing of the New Shepard booster after reaching the Karman line must be viewed as historic event. I could not help but notice that the Wall Street Journal, which normally covers business news very well, did not devote any space in the first section to the safe return of New Shepard. I thought there might be a front-page story in the “Business & Tech” section, but instead there was a small pointer in upper left hand corner to the story, which appeared on the “back front page” of the business section. Now this is not the worst possible coverage, but it seems quite disappointing for such an important event.

My local paper, the Asbury Park Press, simply had no coverage whatsoever. The APP has given up on covering national news, and instead relies on an insert from USA Today for this purpose, which also had no coverage whatsoever. Readers of the Wall Street Journal are a distinct minority on the national level. This admittedly narrow example suggests that one reason Americans think that space program has been “canceled” is that reporters and editors have decided that nothing happening in space is of great interest unless someone dies. At the rate space coverage is declining, by the time Elon Musk retires on Mars, it won’t be covered at all, since, after all, who really cares where some rich guy is going to live then he retires!

NASA Kicks Off Application Process For New Astronauts

WASHINGTON — News media representatives are invited to attend a public announcement of NASA’s process for selecting its next class of astronauts. The event starts at 1 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Nov. 15, in the Webb auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington. NASA Television and the agency’s website will broadcast the event live.

NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Assistant Administrator for Human Capital Jeri Buchholz, Flight Crew Operations Director Janet Kavandi and five members of the recently graduated 2009 astronaut class will participate in the announcement. They are Serena Aunon, Kjell Lindgren, Kathleen Rubins, Scott Tingle and Mark Vande Hei.

NASA will recruit its next astronaut class through the federal government’s website.

The class of 2009 was the first astronaut class to graduate in a new era of space flight following the final mission of the space shuttle.

A new fleet of human spacecraft is in development by commercial companies to deliver crews to the International Space Station. NASA also is developing spacecraft to send humans on missions of exploration far away from our planet.

These new astronauts will advance research aboard the space station to benefit life on Earth and develop the knowledge and skills needed for longer flights to explore the solar system.

For biographical information and other astronaut information, visit:

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

For more information about NASA’s next generation of spacecraft, visit:

For NASA TV streaming video, downlink and scheduling information, visit:

Nasa To Seek Applicants For Next Astronaut Candidate Class

HOUSTON — In early November, NASA will seek applicants for its next class of astronaut candidates who will support long-duration missions to the International Space Station and future deep space exploration activities.

“For scientists, engineers and other professionals who have always dreamed of experiencing spaceflight, this is an exciting time to join the astronaut corps,” said Janet Kavandi, director of flight crew operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “This next class will support missions to the station and will arrive via transportation systems now in development. They also will have the opportunity to participate in NASA’s continuing exploration programs that will include missions beyond low Earth orbit.”

A bachelor’s degree in engineering, science or math and three years of relevant professional experience are required in order to be considered. Typically, successful applicants have significant qualifications in engineering or science, or extensive experience flying high-performance jet-aircraft.

After applicant interviews and evaluations, NASA expects to announce the final selections in 2013, and training to begin that August.

Additional information about the Astronaut Candidate Program is available by calling the Astronaut Selection Office at 281-483-5907 or by visiting

Posts on Space Settlement Blog Day

I want to thank everyone who particapated in Space Settlement Blog Day. It was very successful.  There were several very interesting essays written for the occasion.

Space Settlement Blog Day by Douglas Mallette on The Space Advocate

Settle the Final Frontier by Elizabeth Barrette on Gaiatribe

Can We Afford to Settle Space? by David Brandt-Erichsen on National Space Society Blog

Celebrate the First Steps By Marianne Dyson on Mission Blog

40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing! by
Shanksow on Aerospace, Technology, Paranormal and Ufos News

Exploration, Development and Settlement of Space by Karen Cramer Shea on The Space Movement

July the 20th: Space Exploration Day/Space Settlement Day on Day of X

Stumping for Space: Three Vignettes from a Layman by Jake Christensen CHILDE JAKE’S PILGRIMAGE

From Olduvai Gorge to the Sea of Tranquility by  Alex Michael Bonnic on The Discovery Enterprise

Space Settlement post by David Riseborough on Earth Space Continuum Earth Space Continuum

Space Settlement, Social Media and Blogging by Aron Sora on
Habitation Intention

Intentional Communities in Outer Space by Bob Steinke on  The Liber(al)tarian Network

More on Apollo 11 anniversary By Andy Janes on Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Catgirls

Moon Colonization: An American Historical Perspective Nick Azer on Luna C/I: Moon Colonization and Integration

Plasma Wind’s Contribution to the Space Settlement Blog DayPlasma Wind

How will it really happen? by Dale Amon on Samizdata

Space Settlement Blog Day by SpaceCrazed on SpaceCrazed

Opening The Way Out By Gregory Anderson on The Way Out

“Benevolent Science Fiction” on The Scattering

Step by step to space settlement and More about space settlement day Clark S. Lindsey Space Transport News

you can Reach the MOON NOW By Mark on Moonbounce by KB9RQZ

Moon-Mine News by Niklas Järvstråt

Moon Business (Twitter)

Happy Space Settlement Blog Day! By Charles Radley on The Moon Society Blog

Sponsored by the National Space Society, the Space Frontier Foundation, the Space Movement, the Moon Society, and Space Renaissance Initiative.

Happy Space Settlement Blog Day!

We have 34 blogs participating.  This is a great success. What a great way to honor the Apollo 11 landing.

Please let us know which of their blog posts you liked and found interesting.

Thanks to all the blogs which are participating.  Thanks to David Brandt-Erichsen and Brice Russ for all their technical work which has made Space Settlement Blog Day so successful.  Thanks to all the sponsors the National Space Society, the Space Frontier Foundation, the Space Movement, the Moon Society, and Space Renaissance Initiative.

Please Digg Space Settlemement Blog day.

Participating Blogs:

Space Settlement Day Progress Report

Space Settlement Blog Day is on July 20th.  Sign up now!

I want to thank David Brandt-Erichsen, Charles Radley and Brice Russ for making  Space Settlement Blog Day possible and launching it so well.

So far 18 blogs have signed up to participate.

Participating Blogs:

The Space Settlement Blog  Day is now listed on Bloggers Unite, thanks to Daniel Sims of Habitation Intention.

Blogger Unite has another interesting event International Civil Aviation Day

Focusing on those involved in civil aviation especially on those who’ve started and will become aviators of the future!

International Civil Aviation Day was established in 1994 by ICAO, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Organization, created on 7 December 1944. The purpose of the global celebration is to generate and reinforce worldwide awareness of the importance of international civil aviation in the social and economic development of the world.

And well, it is a day celebrating us!

Space Settlement Blog Day

Space Settlement Blog Day

Blog for and about space settlement on July 20th

July 20th 2009 is the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. July 20th is also Space Exploration Day. After 40 years of space exploration it is time to begin space settlement. In order to honor all who risked their lives for space exploration and all who are dedicated to opening the new era of space settlement, we ask everyone to blog about space settlement on July 20th. Feel free to write about any aspect of space settlement, and about settlement at any space location — orbital settlements, settlements on the Moon, Mars, asteroids, or any place else. If you want more information or need ideas about space settlement go to the NSS Space Settlement Nexus.

SIGN UP YOUR BLOG HERE so we know which blogs are participating and we can send traffic your way. See list of participating blogs.

Sponsored by the National Space Society, the Space Frontier Foundation, the Space Movement, the Moon Society, and Space Renaissance Initiative.

For more information about this event contact Karen Cramer Shea.

A Commentary on the Future of the American Space Program: I Get Who, What, Where & When but Why?

A commentary on the future of the american space program

by Ian Murphy

I wasn’t around for Mercury or Gemini.  I wasn’t around to see the end of the Apollo.  I wasn’t around to see the first Shuttle flight.  I’ve never witnessed the “profound” emotional effect the American space program had on the people of this country.

I was born in 1978 and that makes me Generations X or Y, I’m not sure.  I’m still waiting for some egghead sociologist/intellectual to definitively pigeon hole me so a marketing company can properly apply me to a demographic group.  Like so many born in the 70’s or early 80’s, my first recollection space travel was when I was 7 years old and my 2nd grade class was ushered into a crowded elementary school gymnasium and placed in front of the schools only television, which lived a top one of those tall A/V carts so classes could share, to watch the first teacher launch towards space.  We all know what happened: She never got there and space travel became an unnerving childhood memory for what is now the most prolific generation to ever to walk the earth.

It’s been 40 years since the end of the Apollo and 23 years since that tragic event and once again we are all wondering where do we go from here.  The Bush administration mandated the Vision for Space Exploration in 2005, which stated that by 2020 we would go back to the Moon, then on to Mars and beyond.

Imagine you need to describe our progression in human spaceflight to a 2nd grader today:

“Well Junior, first we built a rocket and launched it into space.  Then we put an animal in the rocket and launched it into space.  Then we launched a rocket with a person in it into space and they went around the Earth once before coming home.  Then we put a few people in a rocket, launched them into space and they traveled around the world several times before coming home.  Then we launched a few people into space, they flew to the Moon, went around it a few times and then came home.  Then we launched a few people into space, they flew to the Moon, landed on the moon and then came home.  Then we built a new spaceship with wings so it could carry more people and do more things.  We used this new spaceship to build a house in space.  Then we made the house bigger and bigger until more people could live in it.  Now that the house is built, we are going to build a rocket just like the one we used to have that will launch a few people into space so they can fly to the Moon, land on the Moon and then come home.”

Notice the confused look on the face of the child when they say, “you already said that last part.”

I’m not a child but I get just as confused when I hear this same story told to me using bigger words and then justified with convoluted reasoning.  Maybe it’s because I come from the X PRIZE school of thought so eloquently framed by Dr. Peter H. Diamandis when he states “It is the purpose of NASA to push the limits of what humans can do in space and it is the duty of the private sector to industrialize in their wake.”

Is the current strategy pushing any limits?

I’m not a rocket scientist, NASA program manager or ‘big 3′ corporate executive.  I am not an accomplished professor of aerospace studies nor did I receive a degree in the field.  But I’m also no dummy and when I speak to Apollo astronauts I wonder why none of them has told me that going back to Earth’s Moon makes sense.  In the words of an Apollo astronaut I spoke to last week, “why are we bankrupting ourselves by building an extraneous lunar colony on the Moon for indulgent astronauts when we can instead go to Mars’ Moon, Phobos, with similar technology?”

I have high hopes for the Augustine Commission.  The Book of Laws is an amazing read and it would be difficult to find a more qualified person to head such a panel than Norm Augustine but after the members of the commission were announced, I have to wonder out loud why a “blue ribbon” panel put together to decide whether going back to the Moon is a good idea does not include one person that has either been to the Moon or worked on any previous lunar mission.

There is nothing wrong with changing our collective national mission in space.  The American people will not give up and neither Lockheed, Boeing, Aerojet nor ATK will go the way of GM.  I sincerely hope the members of the Augustine Commission put aside their preconceived notions and business relationships and try and think less like a know-it-all rocket scientist or politician and more like an insightful 2nd grader.

Ian Murphy was the head of communications for the X PRIZE Foundation from 2001-06 and is responsible for publicizing the winning Ansari X PRIZE flights of SpaceShipOne, as well as, the X PRIZE Cup and the Archon X PRIZE of Genomics.  He has consulted for SpaceX, Zero-G Corp, Personal Spaceflight Federation, Army Times Publishing Company, Lockheed Martin, Rocket Racing and Anousheh Ansari’s flight to the ISS.  He is a contributor to SpaceTaskForce, Chairman of the National Space Society’s public affairs committee and a public relations and marketing consultant based out of Cape Canaveral, FL.

Guidelines for the National Space Society Blog

All posts and comments are to be related to the creation of a spacefaring civilization and relevant technological developments, NSS, or respectful posts about prominent individuals related to NSS or the larger space development field.

Promoting unity within the space development field is a primary goal of this blog so all posts should avoid unnecessary controversy and dragging NSS as a whole into controversy.

Discussions and criticism should be about concepts of space development or NSS policies and their technical or political merits, not about individuals.

The Editor,
Karen Shea