The Catch-22 of Space Development

Catch -22 is the title of a Joseph Heller novel, the title comes from a catch in the rules which creates an insolvable dilemma. Catch-22 is explained in the following quote from the book.

Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. “Is Orr crazy?”
“He sure is,” Doc Daneeka said.
“Can you ground him?”
“I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That’s part of the rule.”
“Then why doesn’t he ask you to?”
“Because he’s crazy,” Doc Daneeka said. “He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he’s had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to.”
“That’s all he has to do to be grounded?”
“That’s all. Let him ask me.”
“And then you can ground him?” Yossarian asked.
“No. Then I can’t ground him.”
“You mean there’s a catch?”
“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.”

In the space movement we have our own Catch -22.
• We can’t develop space without reducing launch costs.
• Most of the support of continued funding for space activities is derived from the jobs those space activities create.
• To reduce launch costs we must eliminate those jobs.

We are in a no win situation.  How do we get out of this dilemma?  

There are tens of thousands of jobs at risk as the shuttle is decommissioned (Bill would extend space shuttle life) and Constellation is having problems (Is Constellation A Bailout In Thin Disguise?).  Since money for salaries for jobs means higher launch costs.  If we oppose job cuts we guarantee high launch costs and eliminate the possibility of space development. If we support job cuts in pursuit of lowering launch costs, we also eliminate support for funding space activities, since congress supports space because of the jobs space activity creates in their districts.

Any thoughts or idea?

7 thoughts on “The Catch-22 of Space Development”

  1. There is no solution.

    And even if there was, the best case would be a few clowns bouncing around on the moon–again.

    I think ignoring NASA and working on a huge power satellite project (from the ground) is the best way to get people into space. True, a thousand construction workers in GEO putting a GW/day of power sats together with parts lifted from the ground at $100/kg isn’t a space colony.

    But it does cut the cost of transport so far that the US could get the lift for a moon and/or Mars mission practically for free.

    Keith Henson

  2. Henson’s right – the only way around this (and many other such “catch-22’s”) is to throw enough money at the problem in a competitive fashion to get over the economic barrier.

    But there’s some encouraging progress on this – SpaceX’s work in particular seems to be at the right level to (a) succeed and (b) provide the next step in economic scale for launch technology.

    NASA has taken steps to acknowledge this with the ISS resupply contracts to SpaceX and Orbital; now if we can boost that few billion dollars by a factor of 10 or so and allow a few other serious competitors to join in, we could have real progress relatively quickly.

  3. oh, sorry, on the jobs argument – the point is, costs will go down only as total scale increases; as long as that total scale increases faster than the reduction in costs, employment continues to rise, not drop.

    But treating the space program as a jobs program is wrong from the start – if people’s lives are being wasted when the work could be done cheaper, better, by fewer people, then you’re not “creating” jobs at all, you’re spending money to negative net effect. Maximize the usefulness of what people are doing, and there will be plenty of jobs for all.

  4. The solution, is what business has always known, “demand creation”. The jobs do not need to go away, if, using more efficient technologies and processes the same number of people can both produce a lot more and find a market for all that lift capacity and space hardware. Currently there is not a lot of investment in the space industry because the perceived demand is not there. But the perceived demand is not there because people don’t generally make demands for items or services that do not exist yet. The demand for iPods in 1985 was 0, because computers were not large or powerful enough to store MP3 files.and yet Apple sells tens of millions of them in the Oughts. In order to generate demand, we, the space enthusiast community, need to put on our marketing hats and create a massive PR campaign about how space solar power can both create significant numbers of well-paying jobs and solve the energy crisis and reduce air pollution which leads to health problems and climate change. The average American has no idea that electrical power can be transmitted wirelessly via microwaves. A successful PR campaign would generate significant public interest and political action, stoking demand and thus providing the incentive for space companies to operate more efficiently to capture these markets.

  5. I think some of the problem here is a failure to correctly apprehend reality. It's easy to think of space as a place where you go to do things, without attending to inconvenient detail. The inconvenient detail I have in mind is Terra's gravity well. It's a bottleneck between Terra surface here, and doing things in space. As long as we think of doing things Out There only through that bottleneck, we're going to have to face the costs.

    The solution to the bottleneck problem, is to limit the kinds of things shipped through it. Radio and laser are easy. So how about *settlements* and a human culture developing on the other side of that bottleneck, doing it the Zubrin way of using local materials? Then the bottleneck effect is greatly reduced since not so much is shipped through it.

    I think since that bottleneck is not going away, let's think how we can most effectively live with it. Namely, simply live on both sides of it and communicate through it without trying to ships people and tons of freight through it.

    Titeotwawki — Martha Adams [2009 Apr 25]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *