Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Space is the Place

For starters, score one for Kurman's prediction registry. Ekso Bionics has developed an exoskeleton for the disabled. Though not quite ready for street use, Ekso is set to sell the suit to rehab clinics in America and Europe. Not much of a prediction, given that, as I observed in this essay, the real market for powered exoskeleton suits is in the limited mobility field. Still, nice to see a worthwhile application outside of the usual bonehead Republican crush/kill/destroy type of applications.

Speaking of bonehead Republicans, I detected a gassy little whine emanating from the too-real-to-be-a-parody-but-oh-how-they-try Investors' Business Daily, the media version of  exoskeleton for the limited thinking and intellectually impaired. Andrew Malcolm, who looks like he needs an Ekso Bionic suit to get around, and also is probably overdue for some radical surgical intervention of excess fecal buildup, laments that the Chinese are going to the Moon while the US has to rent seats on rickety old Russian spacecraft. And obviously, it's All Obama's Fault. Right? He canceled the aging white elephant shuttle fleet with nothing to replace it, like the Orion capsule and the Heavy Lift Launch System. Oops. Wait, Andrew. That's going to happen. Are you lying? Or just conveniently forgetful?

But hey, Andrew, twas Obama that gutted federal funding for the NASA, basic federal R&D funding, funding for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education programs, right? Right? Not the Teatards. It's all Obama's fault that science and education funding, the greatest economic engine in the nation, creating more than half of all new jobs, will be stifled. Andrew, you are a fucking asshole. But then, that's what you are paid for.

Let's ignore the federal subsidies to private aerospace companies like SpaceX and Orbital. Although, Andrew probably views federal subsidies as a bad thing, like, for example, the Defense Department's subsidizing the microchip industry to use in missiles. That boondoggle never panned out, did it, Andrew?

Let's ignore that SpaceX is sending a commercial flight to the ISS this Feb. 7th. Or that Orbital is set to launch in May. Or that Paul Allen is getting into the space business with a space plane.

And who was it that killed Apollo? Too expensive they said. $25 billion in one-time development cost, to develop an entirely new industry, and then just drop the whole thing after a few moon shots. Nixon. A Republican administration. Figures.

Hey, remember Skylab? That was put up with a modified Saturn 1B. That was built by, who built that? Oh that's right. Chrysler built that. Let that sink in for a minute. Here, this will help:


THAT was 195,000 pounds in low earth orbit, four times the Shuttle's cargo capacity. That launch set the US of A back 170 million smackers. And if we work that out, that's $870/lb. And the Shuttle was, what? $5000 - 10,000 / lb.

No School like Old Skool.
Had we continued a post Apollo program as planned, which was to not only keep Skylab in orbit, but greatly expand it's size and scope, we could have had not only a ISS station about ten times the size of the current one, amortized the cost of the space program with continued missions to a commerial level, brought launch costs within the $100/lb range, and probably have kept a lot of people in Detroit busy building space rockets.

What a fucking waste.

Well, it's not too late.  But, now what we really need (since we have so many people working on the Earth to LEO problem), is a really good nuclear engine, like NERVA.

Yeah, Okay, I'd take a fusion thruster also.
Yeah, what happened to that?

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