Beyond the Cusp

February 18, 2019

Going Where no Man Has Been Before and NASA


Yes, we know that is the introduction to Star Trek, but it also defines what NASA was supposed to accomplish. We also note that it has been almost half a century, since December 7, 1972, that NASA was not even capable of sending a man into space beyond Earth orbit. The Space Shuttle was not space exploration and for almost a decade NASA could not even launch Space Shuttles. For the most part, the United States is reliant upon Russia just in order to place Americans onto the Space Station, the ISS. Further, the Space Station did not turn out to look anything like what was envisioned in movies such as “2001,” (see pictures below). We have come upon an unexpected blessing of a new director for NASA being a man of vision and the drive to accomplish. How, you may ask, did we come upon such a man. Well, it was due to the Congress finding that a man of integrity and one who despite being quite conservative and a Republican was willing to work with anybody with a good idea. He desired to work for the betterment of the people who elected him and the entire nation as well. He thought for himself and had an independent spirit. The Republicans attempted to defeat him in consecutive primary elections but the people knew a man of integrity and kept this marvel. They finally found something he would grab ahold of and they could get him out of the Congress, so Jim Bridenstine became the head of NASA. There were his detractors who claimed he had no backing or experience to hold such a post as he was not a bureaucrat and definitely not a paper shuffler who could produce reams of reports while doing nothing.


Actual International Space Station and The Space Station We All Expected

Actual International Space Station
The Space Station We All Expected


So, let’s see exactly how unqualified is Mr. Bridenstine. He is a graduate of Rice University with majors in Economics, Psychology, and Business, and has an MBA from Cornell University. He is a former executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium and was a Naval Aviator in both the active duty United States Navy and the United States Naval Reserve where he flew the E-2C Hawkeye aircraft (image below) as part of a carrier air wing. While the E-2C Hawkeye is not exactly a spacecraft or one of the more fancy aircraft, being part of a carrier group and taking-off and landing on an aircraft carrier does require quite a bit of skill even with a prop aircraft. Landing at night, the carrier is no more visible or appear any larger no matter what one is flying towards it to land. Further, he has the degrees which make him exceedingly qualified for any management position. He is already making progress and has shaken things up a bit which sometimes is the fastest means of shaking out the cobwebs and injecting a little excitement. Jim Bridenstine has taken ahold of the directive to return to the Moon and do so while remaining with an outpost firmly and stretched it to also include doing the same on Mars. Where in Congress his clear thinking and independent voice was pretty much quashed in the cacophonic din of egoistic partisan bickering, in NASA it is his voice which will determine their direction and the alacrity with which they accomplish their tasks and it will be his voice alone with no distractions.


E-2C Hawkeye

E-2C Hawkeye


The White House announced that Bridenstine was President Donald Trump’s preferred pick to head NASA. This choice was quickly criticized by both Republican and Democratic politicians, saying that NASA should be headed by a space professional, not a politician or a Trump ally. The first thing is Jim Bridenstine was not a Trump ally so much as a clear thinking person who was not tied to any rigid political fervency. But as Jim Bridenstine resembled a square peg in a house full of round holes, he was approved if for no other reason than this removed him from Congress. Those who rose against him could not point to any lack in his qualification beyond their distaste for him and that he had never been out in space. Neither had most previous administrators of NASA ever been in space nor finding somebody who would have met that qualification would have limited the field. Having an MBA as well as a bachelors degree in three areas, Economics, Psychology, and Business, would all assist Jim Bridenstine in heading NASA. Knowing economics might assist with cash distribution and minimizing costs; add business to this and these become probabilities which time will be borne out. The final degree in psychology will assist in the most difficult area of management, people skills and knowing how to motivate people to have them reach goals they initially may not have thought possible. Jim Bridenstine is an affable person who has a warmth about him which while assisting him to become a member of Congress, will also assist his efforts to get the most out of the people working in and with NASA. So, the United States may have struck it rich with a man with the credentials who is familiar with flight as a pilot and who works well with others and he is the take-charge kind of person who has great dedication to any task at hand. An aside, before making Aliyah, Jim Bridenstine was our Congressman and had our support in two elections, so we are also a bit partial and believe in the man.


What is wonderful to see is the United States finally returning to the original NASA goals and mission, space rather than low-Earth orbit literally Shuttling supplies and people to the ISS. NASA was to be about the Moon, Mars and beyond. NASA has plans to reach the moon and this time to build a permanent manned station on the Moon. The plan then is to reach out to Mars which could very easily be launched from the Moon base. This would make reaching orbital position and then launch outward far easier despite the fact that the modules would need to be taken largely from Earth to the Moon. One could hope that a permanent space station, which is in the same orbital position as the Moon being on the opposite side of the Earth orbiting at the same speed and path as the Moon, will come to pass. This could be equipped with a space dock where interplanetary craft, and hopefully interstellar craft could be assembled. Another station within the Asteroid Belt could be a location where spacecraft could be built using the Asteroids for the raw materials necessary. This would relieve the necessity of lifting materials from Earth. Granted, until specialized production facilities for such items as circuit boards, computers, cameras, lenses and other specialty materials and objects, they would remain Earth bound. These are concepts for the future and once there are bases and orbital stations, then commercial enterprise will kick in and accelerate space conquests.


We hear so many people claiming, and quite loudly, that NASA is not necessary and space exploration and exploitation should simply be handed over to private enterprise just as the New World was colonized and opened up by private enterprise. The problem with this presumed analogy is that it is quite inaccurate. Initially, the New World was explored by governments which set up colonial bases with ports, repair facilities and where ships could be refitted and stocked for a return trip. The governments had to initially provide the support facilities before private enterprise took the picture the rest of the way. The Spanish and Portuguese had ports of call in the Caribbean and South America while the French and English had ports in North America. These colonialists also built or took over ports in Asia as did the Dutch. These ports were a necessity along with the protection provided by the presence of national forces, militaries in these cases. In space there will be the need for the same things with nowhere near as much military as long as the nations of the world can find some means of cooperation. Were space exploration and exploitation left to private companies and individuals, then there would be a great deal of waste adding billions, if not trillion or more, of dollars as each enterprise would need to construct their own base. Think of air travel. Does each airport serve merely one airline or do multiple airlines use the international airports. If the airports were built by each carrier, there would be tens of airports around each major city and air traffic around cities would become excessively dangerous as circling airports could have the paths intersect making for very dangerous air space in and around cities. Instead, government builds the airports and they serve everyone equally according to the fee they pay. Private airlines build their own terminals onto major airports when they have a large service area there but the central hub and the lands are all governmental. Exploration of space will be no different. We do not need to have multiple Moon Bases with one built and used by SpaceX and Elon Musk, one built and used by Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos, one built and used by Sierra Nevada Corporation and Faith and Eren Ozmen, one built and used by The Spaceship Company run by Burt Rutan and Richard Branson, one built and used by United Launch Alliance and Tory Bruno as well as those by other nations and soon the Moon and its orbital path would get quite crowded. With one per nation which is going into deeper space, the Moon will appear to get smaller and smaller just as the Earth appears to have become with air travel placing the entire planet reachable in under a single day compared to taking months to simply cross the Atlantic Ocean a mere century ago.


One might hope that numerous nations could agree to build such stations for their use instead of each having their own platforms. This would actually simplify future space travel making it safer. Should numerous nations agree, or if even the entire planet could reach a standard docking system, then should one craft have complete failures of systems from propulsion to any other problem, with everyone using the same docking systems, any nation with a craft in the proximity could become a rescue craft and assist or take on as passengers the crew of the stricken craft. Were every nation simply continue, as it now appears will be, each designing their own docking systems with no regard to matching other spacecraft, which will make any rescue either impossible or additionally difficult requiring space walks outside the craft, always far more risky than if docking were possible, major problems will ensue. Cooperation and coordination when it comes to space and efforts by man to leave Earth and explore becomes essential and is completely logical as when one is in space they notice there actually are not lines demarking the borders of nations as we see on maps and globes. We are not fools and realize that the odds are greatly against the United States, China, Russia, the European Union and others including private companies are not going to have a very high level of cooperation initially. With time they will all reach the same conclusion, space ventures initially are going to be expensive and without at the least some universal system applications starting with docking systems, the cost in reputation and human lives will force cooperation. It will be similar to the origins of the phrase, “I’ll be home with my bells on,” which originated with early horse and mule drawn freight wagons. The drivers would decorate their harnesses with bells which would warn on passages, especially narrow mountain passages, that there was another wagon in the area and by the loudness, one could tell if they were approaching or moving away. When one got into an emergency or became stuck and required assistance, the custom was to give the other driver some of your bells. Thus, arriving with your bells on meant a trouble free trip and if you had more than your own bells on you were celebrated for your having provided needful assistance. Needless to point out, bells are not going to work as well in space as they do on Earth, something to do with lack of atmosphere and sound waves not working in a near vacuum.


But, the good news is NASA is back into the space business and is done with being simply the highest-flying earthbound aircraft, which is all the shuttles actually amounted to, very high-flying gliders. Jim Bridenstine was a good choice for the job of heading up NASA and will pay dividends until some political change ends up removing him from his post which will likely be to the detriment of NASA. It would be really nice if the politicians, as far as NASA is concerned, take up being as nonpartisan as was Jim Bridenstine and like he, simply judge if things are working well and if so, don’t try to fix it. This has been part of the problem with NASA over the years as when the White House changes hands, not even necessarily parties, just a new President, the person heading NASA is all too often used as a political appointment to repay some donor by appointing them or somebody they chose for the President. Whenever a business or operation changes the leadership, there is a disruption which more often than not sets things back six months or more as everyone learns the new rules and expectations coming from the leadership as when the leaders are changed, all too often they reorganize the departments and change many things just for the sake of presumably showing that they are accomplishing things the former leader was not. Unfortunately, just because you are now doing something the former leader was not doing does not necessarily mean that you are actually accomplishing your job, it just means you have altered the focus and did so potentially away from completing the tasks at hand.


Jim Bridenstine has talked about working to integrate with other nations on establishing the Moon Base as well as Mars exploration with humans going and returning from the Red Planet. Jim Bridenstine recently was speaking before some NASA employees about the future probably just so it could be posted online, so we thought it might be nice to share with you Jim Bridenstine’s future of NASA. We just hope that his excitement is contagious and that NASA once again will lead the world going forward and farther until we all start to think of the Star Trek lead for the show, “To go where no man has been before.” Of course, that meant no normal man and obviously did not apply to Harcourt Fenton Mudd.



Needless to add, we are not expecting to find Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, Andorians, Horta, Gorn or any of the other many races from Star Trek. As for finding other life, that appears to be inevitable. As for intelligent life, well, let us just say that is highly unlikely until we find some means of efficiently within a reasonable time of traveling the great distances. With any amount of luck, there will be an inventor who will accomplish what Zefram Cochrane did for the Earth by inventing the first warp-drive. Be the means a warp-drive, a hyperspace dimensional driver or any of the other various proposed star-drives which would propel and decelerate man across the galaxy and perhaps some day beyond; for now, we think that the Moon and Mars are great steppingstones to the Asteroid Belt and from there the outer planets and their cornucopia of moons and moonletes then to the Kuiper Belt and the Ort Cloud (assuming it exists as theorized as we have yet to detect it beyond it being the theoretical origin of long-term comets). What is out there beyond the new horizon, a horizon which expands by distance cubed, (distance)3? So, the only advice I would give NASA director Jim Bridenstine would be to the stars and do not let anything hold you back.


Beyond the Cusp


January 3, 2015

Losing Bets on an Aging Strong Horse


The idea was a noble and decent idea but the execution is proving the old adage of not putting all your eggs in one basket are proving true once again. The NATO allies and others who are dependent on the United States to build the gold standard weapons systems are starting to question that wisdom. The center of this controversy is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the latest stealthy fifth generation jet fighter which is being built largely by the United States and is supposed to use a single frame with different variants to cover all functions for fighter jets from carrier landing to straight forward air superiority fighter jet. Covering all of the faults which have become known and may require returning to step one would take more than one article so we will simply look at two specifics; the inability of the carrier model to catch the guide-wire, the problems with the 20mm cannon and the related software and other problems. Some of the other problems that have recently emerged are the latency of the helmet-mounted display, low reliability of the novel Integrated Power Package unit and fire hazards associated with emergency fuel-dumping system. This and the other difficulties have brought the design costs well beyond estimates and there will not be an operative all-encompassing software package until 2019 delaying delivery of a fully working aircraft on schedule impossible. Meanwhile, the cost of development is not the only problem and the concept of designing one fighter jet to master all the varying demands might have theoretically sounded like a great idea; however, the execution of that idea may be proving as daunting as the worst skeptics predicted it would be.


The carrier model F-35 problem is simple to state but is likely far more impossible to repair. The main problem is the F-35C (C denotes the carrier variant) has problems with its hook and its ability to grasp the arresting wire and retract properly. Testing showed the hook was placed in designs to be closer to the wheels than in any previous aircraft. This problem and many of the other problems appear to be the result of an overly engineered craft which was given parameters which were too close to theoretical limits resulting in a design which though technically possible in meeting all designed functions but in reality had cut things too close for them to work in the real world. The engineering probably used limits which ignored one crucial fact; the aircraft was to be flown with something which was not designed to tight specifications, an actual human being. A good example is that a car can be capable of doing a quarter mile in exactly ten seconds according to its design specifications. On paper, or should we say according to a computer rendering, the vehicle if every gear change took exactly the same number of milliseconds and the reaction to the starting light tree was perfect and every other action was performed perfectly, the ten second run is possible in theory. The problem comes in when the vehicle is placed in an actual race and for the life of its crew, the car simply never produces that ten second run. Every time going down the track the car times out at around ten and a half seconds. The racer simply never can match the computer model which it used in attaining that ten second result. We very likely have the same situation here. In theory the plane can catch one of the wires and land on an actual carrier but the human pilot cannot get the expected results as his landings do not follow the perfect guidelines of what is possible and instead lands to parameters of what is likely.


The other really horrendous engineering problem concerning the 20mm canon is such a mess that it almost seems like they added the weapon after the majority of the design was complete and only then did some engineer notice the F-35 was supposed to have this weapon, so he added it in without concern for it ever actually being used. I know, what makes me make such an absurd claim, of course the engineers placed a cannon or main gun on a fighter jet which was to engage other fighters. Well, not exactly and it would not be the first time either. Way back in the 1960s the air force geniuses designed the F-4 Phantom jet fighters to rely on their missiles only and were never thought to need to have any guns as missiles were to replace guns and dogfighting was never supposed to be required. You probably think this is hyperbole and could not be the case, but let me tell you this; they actually built the first Phantoms without any guns and placed them into combat in Viet Nam. The actual use of the weapons and the training of the pilots actually revolved around firing their missiles from a safe distance and then, once a pilot had used all his missiles, they were trained to run back to their base. The plane was designed without a gun and the pilots were trained such that they would never need a gun. The theory was sound but the enemy did not comply and once they learned that the Phantoms had no guns, guess what the North Vietnamese did; they placed squadrons of fighters closer to the front lines and would send them up to intercept the Phantoms returning after expending their missiles and being unarmed. They very quickly redesigned the plane with forward guns and a sufficient amount of rounds. They then realized the pilots would need training in the theories and actualities of dogfights.


Well, the same design apparently was used for the F-35 initially and then somebody remembered the lesson from Viet Nam and the Phantoms not having a forward gun. So, somebody snuck a gun, a 20mm cannon into the aircraft and put as many rounds capability into the gun as room allowed. Why do I think this and what evidence do I have, you ask. Well, the finished F-35 fighter when tested was unable to fire the 20mm cannon. Then, when they went to rewrite the software they likely wanted to know how many rounds the weapon would have and their answer might explain why the weapon was not included in the program for use. The cannon they are using fires at a rate of 3,300 rounds per minute yet the Air Force’s F-35A version can carry just 180 rounds for the gun. This works out to just the slightest bit over three and a quarter seconds firing time before expending all the ammunition. When inquiries were made the response was the gun should be removed anyways as the F-35 was designed for the utilization and requirement on missiles and would never enter into a dogfight situation as they would disengage once their missiles were fired. The reliance on missiles even extended to the argument that guided missiles would be all the pilot needed for any mission including the use of bombs and even more so when deploying weapons for close air support. Their claim was the F-35 was designed to perform all its functions from high altitude and for that reason it would never require bombs or a forward mounted gun. Israel has already cancelled the majority of their purchases of the F-35 and will hopefully use the remainder of the savings and design their own fifth generation fighter and return to producing their own war fighting equipment even to the point of firearms and the ammunition needed.


I have mentioned the critical weakness being so dependent on foreign sources for the very items, namely weapons systems, which are vitally necessary for the very existence of the nation. These references can be found towards the end of our article of “Time for Israel to Diversify her Relations in the World.” That became an actual threat which may have figured into the situational awareness during this past summer during the war with Hamas when United States President Obama added an additional requirement for sending military aid and resupply to Israel which prevented any needed resupply of Hellfire missiles. The extra approval requiring State Department signing off on any resupply to Israel was basically a way of cutting off any resupply while claiming to have just added a simple additional step required for such resupply. The White House response to any criticisms and their answer given to the media was that this extra requirement was basically the same requirement for any other sale of military equipment and not anything new, they simply were requiring for any resupply of arms to Israel to receive the same requirement other arms sales required. The difference is that the Israeli resupply had already received all the vetting required and was arranged through a military channel almost equivalent to an actual treaty, but what is a little red tape which equaled an embargo between ‘friends’?


Beyond the Cusp


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