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Mail 242 January 27 - February 2, 2003






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This week:


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Monday  January 27, 2003

Last week began a discussion of war gasses and nerve agents. There's more this week.

Hi Jerry.

What I just wrote to you, I have never told anyone before, except in my thesis that I wrote in 1967. I know that around WWII times we still were involved with mustard gas, and phosgene, but we apparently hadn't thought up the idea of a "nerve agent".

We "discovered" what the Germans had. "We" didn't create it. But, now the genie was out of the bottle, and we had to deal with it. And, for biologicals, we did as you said, in later years work on binary agents that weren't activated until two items were mixed. And of course, in old "military against military" confrontations, no one has really solved the problem of your own weapon being detrimental to your own troops. Smallpox will kill us too.

The general in the book stated that it was Eisenhower that was shocked at the discovery. If dumped on our troops by aircraft, especially in rear areas, we would have had mass casualties that we were unprepared to take care of, and I know of no WWII training or Chemical uniforms that would have protected us. That would have also screwed up our ability to keep our front lines supplied. Today, we are prepared for such warfare on the field.

The MAD construct of all those Cold War years also constrained the use of these weapons. But not the research. So for all these years, whenever I have heard a hue and cry over this terrible research, I have turned a deaf ear as I was sure that even if it was illegal to study, research and develop these kinds of things, sometime in the future our survival may depend on our knowledge of these. Our enemies, especially the Russians, did it. I think our government resolved to hopefully never be caught short again. At least, I hope so, as I consider their first responsibility to be our National Defense.

But, in this new assymetrical type of suicidal terrorism warfare, directly on innocents and non-combatants adds a new twist to the use of this type of weapon. I mean, who thought a 747 was a weapon? Aerosolizing this stuff (a la spray cans or spray bottles) and having it disseminated by one or more who don't care for their lives either by an ultralite aircraft (low radar and heat signature), from a tall building in a major city, or small innocuous items spread throughout a highly populated, enclosed structure is almost impossible to defend against. I can still see Saddams Kurd program. It could be done here.

Thus, the danger. I don't care if Saddam stays or goes. But he, and others like him, need to be defanged. Which means that not only do Sarin type items need to be found and destroyed, but on this planet we have to try to get people to not accept the use of such an item, ever. And this is one of the WMD's that we need to stop the proliferation of, if possible.

Thus, my reluctant support for doing "something" in Iraq.

Bill (you don't have to print this, this is for you. But, you can do as you will) I still think that the tools are different, but we are involved in a "Civilized Human" vs "Tribal Human" war here, and normal logic may not apply.

Vasyl Banduric 

Greg Cochran continues

About war gases: The Germans had a big advantage in nerve agents in WWII but never used them. They did suspect that we must be doing the same thing, but I doubt if this explains nonuse. Nor does the 'animal transport' angle explain why they didn't decide to wipe out London at some point well before D-Day, or why they didn't use nerve agents against the Normandy landings. Now if the Nazis had made a serious nerve gas attack on, say, Moscow, in the fall of 1941, they wouldn't have lost the war. They would have knocked out the Soviet Union, which was already staggering, and that would at least been good enough for a strategic draw. I say this because of the extreme importance of Moscow as the center of government, arms production center, and perhaps most of all the crucial railroad hub.

The reason that they did not do this is the same reason that Hitler declared war on the US after Pearl Harbor, the same reason that he attacked the Soviet Union when already at war with the British Empire: he was nuts. It may also have something to do with the fact that Hitler was gassed in WWI, was in the hospital a long time, and apparently dreaded the stuff.

Binary nerve gases consist of separated ingredients that when mixed create a nerve gas like VX. The British developed them and passed the work onto us: they're very effective. They're also easy to make last time I looked at it, any second-year chemistry student could make millions of lethal doses for a hundred bucks worth of ingredients. Of course, that assumes that everybody lines up to get their dose.

If you want to make sure that nobody, in any Arab country, has any Sarin or similar nerve agent, you'll have to kill all of them. It's simply too easy to make. While you're at it, presumably the same argument must apply to everybody else in the world that isn't wildly enthusiastic about the US, mostly likely including the US itself. If you choose not to kill everybody, you'll have to burn every chemistry text in the world, inspect every high school chemistry lab, blow up every chemicall plant, have an occupation army and dense net of informers.

Nuclear weapons are hard to make: VX isn't.

Gregory Cochran

Greg adds:

And one other point:

" THIS is the Weapon of Mass Destruction, which Saddam has shown absolutely no compunction against using"

Sure he has. He didn't use it in Desert Storm, because he was afraid of retaliation. Just because you're a murderous asshole doesn't mean you can't be deterred, aren't personally averse to getting scragged by retaliation. Stalin killed Jenghis-Khan numbers of people, but he didn't dare screw with the US, ' the most powerful state in the world' as he put it.

In fact, I would say that Saddam Hussein has shown himself to be far more deterrable than average. Not everyone would would sit idly and watch their main armed forces be destroyed.

This is obvious.

Gregory Cochran

That's pretty well my view: I believe we can make it abundantly clear to all concerned that attacking the United States gets you a regime change. But we need to make it clear that if you don't mess with us, we won't kill you: and given that Saddam seems to be working overtime to convince us that he hasn't got any mischief in mind, what's happening is puzzling.

Of course the Agency may know a lot more than I do about what is happening, and of course in intelligence circles a "threat" is what the other guy CAN do, not some estimate of what we think he WILL do; at least it was that way when I was in the threat estimate business.

If anyone can be deterred it's Saddam...

The question then becomes one of what we do in lieu of starting the war: if we don't follow through with heavy investments to assure employment here and lots of alternative energy supplies, we will be in trouble no matter who is in charge in Iraq (except, of course, if it's us, and we simply pump the oil we need; but the temptations on our proconsuls and propraetors in Iraq will be enormous).

On binary agents:

  you noted "How far they got with that soup I don't know.  "  indicates, pretty far.

This is a subject of personal interest, since every year I get invited to a disaster drill in Umatilla where the unitary predecessors will be incinerated (maybe). Have to dig up one of the calendars the Depot gives to nearby residents & send it to you.

-- John Bartley, K7AAY, telcom admin, USBC/DO, Portland OR - Views are mine. 503.326.2231...147 Wireless FAQ for PalmOS(r) Handheld Cellular Data FAQ

Yes, I knew they had gone a long way, but I had no unclassified source (my sources are long out of date but some are still classified; it's easier to pretend ignorance than to try to separate out what I know and how I know it...)

Continued below



On foreign troops and such:

Last week there was a brief comment on foreign troops in the US armed forces, and I noted that such service has been a traditional way to US citizenship: until we left Manilla for good, there was a special provision for Philippines in the US Navy in the Immigration law.

We continue:

Dear Dr Pournelle, 

Non-citizen soldiers are a long and on the whole honourable tradition indeed, but aren't they normally called mercenaries? Perhaps not. It's never been essential to be a British citizen to be in the armed forces. Ditto for the French. Partly because the very concept of citizen didn't exist till, I think, 1948 or in some respects 1962, in British law (one was a British subject). Also, what counted was the oath of service to the sovereign. An exception was made for Americans fighting for the realm in WWII; their oath of service did not involve personal loyalty to any institution which would compromise their US citizenship. I'm not surprised at all to find the US adopting a similar attitude. And then of course there were units like the Sikhs, the Senegalese (in France), or the Ghurkas. To call them mercenaries does not do justice to the intense ties of history and military culture framing their rôle in the army.

Regards, TC

-- Terry Cole BA/BSc/BE/BA(hons) ( System Administrator, Dept. of Maths. & Stats., Otago Uni. PO Box 56, Dunedin, NZ.

Actually the term "mercenary" is usually reserved for those who take on service for money without the possible reward of citizenship and permanent residence in the country served. Modern "mercenaries" such as those who write for and are written about in Soldier of Fortune and other authentic magazines (SOF is written by genuine people who have some knowledge of the business although the target readership aren't professionals) are not the classical "mercenaries" who would change sides if offered more money to do so: modern "mercs" in general pick their side, then fight for pay, or more likely, train troops for pay.

The Ghurkas are a special case, certainly mercenaries in that they fight for money to send home and retirement pay after service, but only for the governments of India and the United Kingdom. They are said to be the best soldiers in the world man for man, and there's considerable evidence to the truth of that, at least pre-Afghanistan and the US Special Forces and other such outfits. In Korea the Rangers much admired the Ghurka contingent brought in by the Brits.

Even in the day of the true mercenaries, Hawkwood and his company chose their sides...

And see below

On Safe Mode Startup


I found this on the Norton web site dealing with viruses (<
>). It is an easier method for starting in Safe Mode for Windows 98/ME and XP. It also includes Windows 95 and 2000

To restart the computer in Safe mode:

 Windows 95 
1. Exit all programs. 2. Click Start, and click Shut Down. The Shut Down Windows dialog box appears. 3. Click Shut Down, and then click OK. 4. Click Yes to confirm the shutdown. 5. Turn off the computer and wait 30 seconds.

NOTE: You must turn off the power to remove the virus from memory. Do not use the reset button.

6. Turn on the computer. 7. When you see "Starting Windows 95...," press F8. The Windows 95 Startup Menu appears. 8. Press the number that corresponds to Safe mode, and then press Enter. Windows will start in Safe mode.

Windows 98/Me 
1. Click Start, and click Run. 2. Type msconfig and then click OK. The System Configuration Utility dialog box appears. 3. Click the General tab, and click Advanced. 4. Check Enable Startup Menu, click OK, and then click OK again. When you see the following message:

"You must restart your computer....Do you want to restart your computer now."

click No. 5. Exit all programs. 6. Click Start, and click Shut Down. The Shut Down Windows dialog box appears. 7. Click Shut Down, and then click OK. 8. Click Yes to confirm the shutdown. 9. Turn off the computer and wait 30 seconds.

NOTE: You must turn off the power to remove the virus from memory. Do not use the reset button.

10. Turn on the computer, and wait for the Windows 98/MeStartup menu. 11. Press the number that corresponds to Safe mode, and then press Enter. Windows will start in Safe mode.

NOTE: (For Windows 98/Me users only) After you have completed the instructions in all sections of this document, you can disable the Startup menu. To do so, return to this section, and then follow these steps: 1. Click Start, and click Run. 2. Type msconfig and then click OK. The System Configuration Utility dialog box appears. 3. Click the General tab, and click Advanced. 4. Uncheck Enable Startup Menu, click OK, and then click OK again. 5. Restart the computer.

To start Windows 2000 in Safe mode:

1. Do one of the following: If Windows is running: A. Close all open programs. B. Click Restart and then click OK. If Windows is not running: A. If the computer is on, turn off the power. B. Turn on the computer. 2. Watch the screen while it is still black. When you see the black-and-white Starting Windows bar at the bottom of the screen, start tapping the F8 key on your keyboard. The Windows 2000 Advanced Options Menu appears. 3. Ensure that the Safe mode option is selected. In most cases, it is the first item in the list and is selected by default. (If it is not selected, use the arrow keys on you keyboard to select it.) 4. Press Enter. The computer will start in Safe mode. This can take a few minutes. 5. When you are finished with all troubleshooting, close all programs and restart the computer as you normally would.

Windows XP includes the System Configuration Utility. If you can start the computer normally into Windows, then this is the easiest--and the recommended--way to restart the computer in Safe mode.

To configure the System Configuration Utility to start the computer in Safe mode:

1. Close all open programs. 2. Click Start, and then click Run. The Run dialog box appears. 3. Type msconfig and then click OK. 4. The System Configuration Utility appears. Check the "/SAFEBOOT" option, and then click OK. 5. You then see the prompt to restart the computer. Click Restart.

The computer restarts in Safe mode. (This can take several minutes.)

NOTE: When you finish with all troubleshooting (in Safe mode) repeat these steps, but in step 4, uncheck "/SAFEBOOT" Then close all programs and restart the computer as you normally would.

Alternate method

NOTES: If your computer has more than one operating system loaded, then you must select Windows XP first. After you select Windows XP, proceed with the rest of this document. Due to the nature of Safe mode in Windows XP, it is not possible to install software while in Safe mode.

To start Windows XP in Safe mode, single operating system: Use this method if XP is the only operating system installed on your computer.

1. Start Windows, or if it is running, shut Windows down, and then turn off the computer. 2. Restart the computer. The computer begins processing a set of instructions known as the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). What is displayed depends on the BIOS manufacturer. Some computers display a progress bar that refers to the word BIOS, while others may not display any indication that this process is happening. 3. As soon as the BIOS has finished loading, begin tapping the F8 key on your keyboard. Continue to do so until the Windows Advanced Options menu appears.

NOTE: If you begin tapping the F8 key too soon, some computers will generate a "keyboard error" message. Please restart, and then try again.

4. Using the arrow keys on the keyboard, scroll to and select the Safe mode menu item, and then press Enter.

To start Windows in Safe mode, multiboot system: Use this method if XP is not the only operating system installed on your computer.

1. Start Windows, or if it is running, shut Windows down, and then turn off the computer. 2. Restart the computer. The computer begins processing a set of instructions known as the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). What is displayed depends on the BIOS manufacturer. Some computers display a progress bar that refers to the word BIOS, while others may not display any indication that this process is happening. 3. When the menu that displays the operating systems appears, use the arrow keys on the keyboard to select Windows XP. 4. Press Enter, and then immediately begin tapping the F8 key. The Windows Advanced Options menu appears. 5. Using the arrow keys on the keyboard, scroll to and select the Safe mode menu item, and then press Enter.

Hope this helps, Charles Butler


Dr. Pournelle,

RE: Charles Butler,

I used Windows 98 for a couple of years. You don't have to go through all that to start in Safe Mode. Just hit F8 as it starts, same as Win 95. Dunno abour ME but I suspect it's much the same.

Norton. Figures.

Ed Hannigan


Thanks! That should be sufficient for everyone!

And we have:


Bummer of a link, but a great story!

-- Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there. -- Will Rogers

Good grief!

Continuing from above


Greg Cochran makes some really interesting points. I agree that today, Saddam would be constrained in using Sarin militarily against the US because of Bush's stated concept of MAD. Assuming he is not insane, he might launch this at Israel causing mayhem, and then slip into exile, thereby becoming the latest hero to the fundamentalist world. But what I am really concerned about is the over 6000 tons of Sarin that is currently missing from the current report that Mr. Blix is looking for. If it has been dispersed to Al Quada elements, then lots of bad stuff may happen in the future.

Saddam is not constrained from use in the above case. Politically, we might not be able to go and get him if he gets away.

As to that nut, Hitler. What I was trying to say was that he made an incorrect evaluation of the CBR capabilities of America, which turned to our advantage. He thought we had the capability to retaliate in kind, so he refrained both against us, and Russia. As a corollary, if we knew that Hitler had the atomic bomb, would we have used it? I don't know. But since we were "sure" the enemy didn't have it, we used it.

And as to nerve agents being made by chemistry students, the genie is out of the bottle, and we can't undo knowledge. We can use kitchen knives to make dinner, or commit murder. You can use nerve agents in controlled situations as an insecticide to save your crops, or you can destroy people. The root here is the mind set of the people who have the utensils.

Your talk of possibly killing all the Arab Muslims to keep peace in the world is as nuts as them thinking they have to kill all of us. It is not an acceptable solution to me. But we are dealing here with a scientific standard where a chemist in a college has to say that when combining two parts hydrogen with one part oxygen it is Allah who suddenly gives you water. In other words, logic and science may not give us a solution. But some of them seem to be able to use "heretical" science to some really bad things.

To me, there is a whole range of "things gone wrong" in our current conflict scenario. This abrupt war with Iraq (possible) is only a symptom of the deeper problem. Grabbing all the Sarin we can find will only be a temporary stalling of their possible use of it in the future. And continued use of asymmetrical terror or disruption techniques against us by suicidal members of a "Tribe" that has managed to infiltrate us is only part of the ongoing conflict.

In the early nineties, Milton Friedman was interviewed for the Sunday Parade Magazine. In it, he was asked what he thought the future looked like. I am paraphrasing, but he said that he thought that there was two kinds of the people in the world. There were those who for whatever reason thought that they had the right to tell other people what to do. Then, there were those who refused to be told what to do in life. This is a conflict that has been going on for longer than recorded history, and has never been resolved. It always has resulted in blood shed. And He saw this conflict coming to a head in the near future. He was not optimistic that we would be successful in solving it.

To me, this is what the conflict is really about. It's what we need to be trying to solve. But first, we all (including Muslims, Communists, and any and all Tribal collectivists) must recognize it as a problem. But if history is any guide, one side or the other usually beats the other into submission. I opened this discussion to see if someone might not have any ideas as to "is there a better way? and if so, what needs to be done to make it come to pass?"

Collecting as much Sarin as possible and destroying it is only a stopgap.

Regards to all Vasyl Banduric

Discussion continues below.





This week:


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Tuesday,  January 28, 2003

The discussion of war gasses, the war, and the smoking gun continues.

Hi Y'all,

I've noticed that the analysis of this problem seems to come easy to most folks but the solution seems to always evade us. Not to minimize these observations....On the contrary, I agree with most of it....With the exception of historical parallels.

We depend on historical events to make assessments of present threats so it doesn't seem like we are looking at a crystal ball so much, as we give justification for our actions. After someone has finally stepped up, and presents a solution, the Monday morning quarterbacks come out in droves to criticize why the solution sucked.

Historical Analysis is a valid method of looking at a situation "of the time", looking at the solution "of the time", then analyze the results. But it is still impossible to predict what would have happened if another route had been taken. Even the Japanese Emperor said that the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the only way the war could end.... When in fact, it wasn't the only way, but the alternative solutions will remain a mystery for all time.

And....Present day problems are not parallel to historical problems because the background noise is that, technology is different, insight is different, public opinion is different, terrain, politics, money, space, religion, physics, maps, mail, and TV. Alexander the Great was "Great" because he knew his enemies would attack according to how things worked in the past....He then used innovations that were unheard of and defeated his enemies as they cried, "You can't do that!!!"

Saddam Hussein can not be compared to Adolph Hitler legitimately....Even though large numbers of pundits like to. In fact, I think I hear Hitler's name more than Osama Bin Who? The Palestinians say that Israel acts like a Nazi, the Liberal extremists say that Bush acts like a Nazi, Israelis say that Arafat is Hitler reborn... Geez... It seems the only way a group can make their point is to personify an event to World War II Germany.

Saddam Hussein is basically nothing. He's a small-time dictator thug with lots of money and with lots of friends in seedy places. His main threat is not that he intends to attack someone. His main threat is that he has access to thousands of terrorists buddies worldwide that would happily take a gallon of his Sarin Gas Elixer and pour it into the Air Handlers of a high school in Peoria Illinois. Then you can multiply that by 1000 or so. Hussein is probably most dangerous when he feels he has nothing to lose... But as long as he thinks he has a chance of survival, he will keep his weapons hidden for that rainy day. Our onus is hitting him while he still feels safe. Unfortunately, that makes us look like the pre-emptive, non-UN-supporting, bully.

Anything we do to limit the available toxic material on the planet and, at the same time, shackle the lunatics, is a step in the right direction....but will never be the end solution as long as people have their "cause". Our appearance as the "bully" will increase "the cause" and fester the problem...But the relaxation of our drive to annihilate terrorism, will make us a target. Sticky wicket mate.

I think that the destruction of noted tyrants, one at a time, may be valid. I think we will get better at it over time, and it will give potential future tyrants a moment of pause. We should put more emphasis on Intelligence gathering and say, "to hell with the Big Brother worry-worts". All the while, I think that we should start a global marketing campaign that steers world opinion to what is really happening......

The United States of America is NOT acting like a bully...It is acting like a Parent to some very bad people by saying, "You better stop're hurting everyone, and if you don't stop it, you're going to be punished"....... With the bad boys saying, "You can't tell me what to do....I have friends...we'll show you!"

Another mindless rant and rave by John Hart

I think you miss the point of the advocates of a republic. Certainly people have the capability of killing each other. I have a couple of pistols, and lots of butcher knives, and rocks and paving stones, and rusty but adequate training: none of my neighbors is safe from me if I decide I hate them enough to kill one or another of them. I might even be able to get away with it.

Since I live in a neighborhood of intelligent and competent people, that statement applies to many here: one of them could manage to do me in, and probably get away with it. Yet we don't live in fear, and I am certainly not in favor of sending the police into my neighbor's houses to seize all their weapons of domestic destruction. I don't say there couldn't be people move in whom I would want to watch closely, but it hasn't happened, and isn't likely to. I also don't say that quite different situations prevail in places only a couple of miles from here.

But in fact that's almost the point, isn't it? Not five miles from here are people in far more danger of being killed by fairly ordinary weapons than I am of being killed by anything Saddam Hussein possesses. 

The point of a republic is to act in ways that make other people unlikely to sacrifice their lives in order to do you an injury. At least that's what Adams had in mind. "We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but the guardians only of our own." And it remains true that Saddam can't take a drink from the Ohio River without our let and leave. He could cause some of our people to die; but he doesn't need atom bombs or even nerve gasses for that.

And he is hardly the Old Man of the Mountain, nor is bin Laden, who is very probably dead anyway. Pity we never found his body, but I doubt we ever will.

On War Gasses:

Jerry --  contains more information about nerve agents and suggests why Germany didn't employ them in World War II.

[Link omitted here at sender's request]  NOTE: do not publish link -- it includes photos of victims of the Tokyo subway sarin attack and possibly of Iranian victims of Iraq nerve agent from the '80's war.  General Reference  Paper on Soviet violations of proposed Chemical Weapons Convention in early '90s.  Paper on Soviet production facility for nerve agents _____ Next is three links pasted from my google search suggesting that Syria (and I would think, by implication, other former Soviet client states in the Middle East) had weaponized the Novichok agents:

PDF]NPR 7.1: Preventing the Proliferation of Chemical and Biological ... File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat Your browser may not have a PDF reader available. Google recommends visiting our text version of this document. ... based Arabic newspaper Al-Quds al- Arabi reported that Syrian missile warheads had been loaded with the nerve agent VX and a novel agent called novichok . ...  - Similar pages [ More results from ] [PDF]RB - CD File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML Your browser may not have a PDF reader available. Google recommends visiting our text version of this document. ... Still, there is cause for concern because Novichok agents are made of benign ... is far less need to produce and stockpile vast quantities of agent or controlled ... 12.RethinkingBiochemicalDangers.Sokolski.pdf - Similar pages Barnes & - Cassidy's Run: The Secret Spy War over Nerve ... ... of their chemical weapons, Wise reports that the Russians still possess Novichok. ... microdots left inside hollow artificial rocks; a Russian sleeper agent in the ... isbninquiry.asp?endeca=1&ean=9780783891446 - 54k - Cached - Similar pages

A Google search on "novichok agents" turns up dozens of pages, including some suggesting that there may be a conspiracy to keep them from consideration under the Chemical Weapons Convention because publication of the precursors on the Convention's Schedules of Chemicals would provide too much support to potential terrorist users.

That's enough for now...

Indeed. Thanks


Now a flattering reference:

Dr Pournelle, The Tuesday Morning Quarterback (ESPN football columnist Greg Easterbrook )says, in his Superbowl column ( ):

"The sole sci-fi air shaft TMQ ever found believable was the one on the alien flagship of the aliens-invade-Earth novel "Footfall," which would make a much better Hollywood flick than most of what gets produced. The air shafts were believable because the aliens in this case were highly advanced pachyderms; everything aboard their ship was gigantic in human terms."

Kit Case


And it would make a great movie. Pity they took Fourth of July instead.  Showing the fault of using Evil Alien Operating System for taking over planets...

And a press release that might be useful:

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA, January 27, 2003 – iolo technologies, LLC today announced the release of their new DriveScrubber software, a powerful, yet easy-to-use utility that safely and securely eliminates all private and confidential information and provides military-strength data removal capabilities for any computer drive, regardless of format, brand, or operating system. DriveScrubber is intended to provide a fast and easy way of wiping away data left on drives before donating, reselling, recycling, or even battling persistent virus attacks ... <snip>

Fully functional, 30-day evaluation copies of DriveScrubber can be downloaded from the iolo web site ( ).

I'll get this and report in the column.

Francis Hamit replies (Electronic Rights Thread begins last week.)

I read Mr. Todd's reply with some head shaking. First of all, mine was about public libraries, not academic ones, although, as someone who logs a lot of research time in libraries, I can tell you there's not that much difference these days. Ziff's "Principle of Least Effort" is not a principle affecting research per se, but has to do with marketing and distribution...which is what the complaint is about. Copyright is divisible into many different rights, but an infringement case hinges on just two; copying and distribution.

If a library allows patrons to copy and to e-mail these articles to whomever they please, then that's pretty much the ball game right there. If the same article is available at every library on the country and thus to every patron, for free, as part of an enormous database of over 16 million articles, what other realistic chance does the author of same have to sell it elsewhere? By the way, publication on these databases often occurs simultaneously with print publication, which pretty much destroys the "second rights" market freelancers used to depend upon. Let me be crass here: This is about the money. If distribution is global and immediate then the initial price has to compensate for that. Either that, or there has to be a revenue sharing arrangement. Freelance writers are essential to any publication. They provide a wider range of material and voices for the readership and the publication saves big bucks on staff salaries and benefits which would otherwise have to be paid to get the same coverage. There is a price point where "all rights" can be acquired. Most publishers don't want to pay it. And everyone thinks that everything online is and should be free. You see the problem here? It does make it hard to make a living.

The Congress recognized that even free unlicensed distribution can be harmful to the owner of a copyright. Hence the NET Act, which was a direct result of the summary judgment for dismissal in the LaMaccia case.

The people who provide these library databases have managed to fly under the radar on this. The library patrons are engaged in "Fair Use" as long as they observe the "one copy for personal use" restriction. The library is protected by Chapter 108 of the Copyright Act. Even if you sue, the judgment can be remitted by the judge if the infringement was innocent...and I happen to believe it is. So we look at who is making the real money here. Let's say that only one percent of the databases are infringed...that's still tens of thousands of individual full-text articles. The most obvious infringers here are the publishers who provided the articles, without license, in the first place. They do get a continuing stream of revenue from the use of these articles, whether it comes from a paid database service or from the library market. Individually, these are fractional payments, but they add up. Thomson Learning made half a billion dollars from online databases last year. That's in their annual report.

I have another thought here. I don't think that these huge firms would put up or maintain material online for which there is no demand. Not if they want to make money. And, like I said, its all about the money. Until recently my main source of a living was writing magazine articles for pay. I was rather careful not to give away the store and it quite frankly galls me that anyone would just steal my stuff. Worse yet, they also claim to own copyrights that are my registered property. At that point it becomes about something other than money. It becomes something about respect for the author, or lack thereof.

I have a question: How can a distribution scheme that is already in over 100 countries and used by every major corporation in the world not be seen as a very big business? This has all happened in the last three years. Where will it be three years from now? And why shouldn't they pay for what they sell?

Sincerely Francis Hamit

I think you two are talking past each other, but it's interesting to listen in. Continued below.

On Domestic Animals:



Doug Lhotka 

alterius gratia numquam vive nec pete ut alius tui gratia viva


You wrote: >>Steve Sailer then noted that Hannibal seemed to have done well with African elephants, which are now said not to be fit for domestication.<<

Hannibal's elephants are believed to be a now-extinct species of forest elephant, smaller than the Indian or African species that we now see.

"Carthago Delenda Est"

Edmund Hack

Aha. I think I knew that, once...

There are almost certainly other species that could be domesticated, but there are a number of factors that need to be taken into account: 

1. The species has to be useful for something. We can probably domesticate some hedgehog or bat species, but what would be the payoff? The bat species Eptesicus fuscus (big brown bat) tolerates handling and human contact, but all it is good for is catching insects on the wing and participating in experiments in biosonar. 

2. The species has to be common enough that the investment into domesticating it has a payoff. Cheetahs have been domesticated in the past, but they're now endangered. 

3. The species has to be compatible with domestication. Zebras have an extremely nasty temper and are hard to handle. (The tranquilizer used for zebras in zoos is lethal to humans. Before she uses it, the vet makes a dose of the antidote so she can do something about needle sticks.) You might take a look at what species have been domesticated or kept as pets in the past. 

-- --- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. <>


I believe that Hannibal had mostly the extinct North African elephant, _Loxodonta africana pharaoensis_, a different subspecies -- perhaps even a different species -- from the African bush elephant, _L. africana africana_ (I believe that the forest elephant, _L. africana cyclotis_, is now considered a different species from the bush elephant, but which the North African elephant was related more closely to, I can't say.

It's questionable where the dividing line between "domesticated" and "tamable/trainable" lies. I would venture to say (and of course this is my own opinion), that "domesticated" implies a (human-)controlled breeding for desirable traits (and to eliminate undesirable ones) in the recent past. Razorbacks and mustangs are descended at close remove from feral, genuinely domesticated animals (which is why mustangs can be "broken", and tarpans couldn't be). Wolf cubs are both tamable and trainable, but no one will mistake their behavior for that huskies. Elephants, I think, fall into "tamable/trainable" category rather than the "domesticated" one.

> Are there species we might domesticate that haven't been?

Probably *every* species with or above the intelligence of a chicken can be domesticated -- *if* we are willing to apply the time and ruthlessness that people undoubtedly did when the dog, the horse, etc. were first domesticated. To take an oft-used example: the zebra is not domesticated, nor particularly amenable to being tamed and trained. No doubt, a selective breeding program could produce a strain of domesticated zebras in a thousand years or so -- but why do it? We already *have* horses.

There's probably a set of animals of which we can say, "These animals serve all our pre-industrial needs". Why, then, domesticate any more.

------- John W. Braue, III

I wouldn't think it would take a thousand years to breed domestic zebras. But as you say, why bother? And if you want a nasty companion, we have llamas and camels...


Which probably exhausts that subject.


And we always knew it:

Subject: Modern art as torture.

 Roland Dobbins








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Wednesday, January 29, 2003

A continuing discussion on electronic rights. The rest of Wednesday's mail begins below. This discussion continues one from above:

The most important difference between public libraries and academic libraries is that public libraries put a major share of their effort into providing children's libraries. The adult component of a typical public library branch is often only on the same scale as the better personal libraries, i.e.. several thousand volumes. Paradoxically, the book sales of public library branches are often worth attending. People donate books which the librarian considers much too esoteric to keep, and therefore unloads them at rock-bottom prices. With luck, and being in the right place at the right time, you can get a set of back issues of Byte for ten cents a copy. The librarian's first reaction will be that if the things are to be kept, they will have to be bound, at considerable expense, so they go on the sale table instead.

A relative handful of public library systems maintain large central libraries of a million volumes or more, with skilled research librarians. I grant you that the New York Public Library is the equal of Harvard and the University of Michigan, but there aren't very many like it. My rough-and-ready estimate is that there aren't more than ten or twenty central public libraries is the same class as the library of a typical state university library. I used to be at the University of Cincinnati, and I had the opportunity to compare the university library with the top-ten-ranked Cincinnati Public Library (*). My impression was that the libraries were comparable in scope, but different in emphasis. The public library carried fewer scholarly works, and more esoteric trade manuals, for example. But of course, the main business of the typical public library has to do with children. The characteristic children's' library information product is something like NetNanny. Court cases are arisen about the indiscriminate use of NetNanny on terminals used by adult patrons. NetNanny makes its money, not by providing content, but by "unproviding" it. (*) Parenthetically Cincinnati also has a disproportionally highly ranked art museum and zoo, relative to its size. It's the mentality of the 1848 revolution german immigrants, with their immensely highly developed sense of civic spirit, which simply isn't matched in places like Tulsa or Dallas. Probably the most common sort of research collection in a public library is a law library. Legal publishing is a notoriously lucrative niche. Among other reasons, paupers must be provided with legal materials at public expense, or they can claim discrimination. Again, on the same basis, Lexis is one of those "must-have" databases. The state must be seen to do justice. It cannot judge the common man on the basis of laws he is practically forbidden to read. The content of legal publishing is produced by public employees-- judges, legislators, etc.-- and is not even copyrighted in its original form. The legal publishers make their money by providing a system for collating and classifying judicial opinions.

When you isolate the public library expenditure on Lexis, NetNanny, etc., I'm inclined to think that the remaining public library expenditure on databases will not look so impressive. Of course Thompson Learning makes vast sums of money. And ditto for Reed-Elsevier. The point is that this money comes in very large part from things like organic chemists talking to organic chemists. One of the more notoriously expensive journals is something called "tetrahedron letters," something like ten thousand dollars for upwards of a hundred issues a year. And that's only for the paper version. The organic chemists needed something like a paper equivalent of slashdot, and as the American Chemical Society couldn't see its way to managing the complex logistics involved, the project got taken over by a commercial firm. However, in the age of the website, this consideration is no longer relevant, and the ACS is resuming control. The database publishers' money doesn't come from someone writing deathless prose. It comes from scientists who need to know what someone in another country did yesterday, so that they can adjust their own research. The problem is that this kind of research ages very rapidly. shelffulls of data are consolidated into general scientific laws which can be written down on a sheet of paper, or incorporated into a computer program.

Now of course, there is an added element that academic publishing shades off into subsidy publishing. Academics tend to view it as a personal insult if the local library does not carry their own writings, and they exert pressure. If a professor gets published in a journal, it is axiomatically an important journal, and any librarian protesting the price will be contending against his wounded vanity. By contrast, fifty or a hundred dollars of salary differential is not an "affair of honor." Bearing in mind the sheer number of academics, the economic scope of textbook requirements, etc. an amazingly large section of the publishing industry can be viewed as subsidy publishing. There are vastly more academics than there are professional editors and writers, and the latter category includes people who work for advertising agencies, or crank out the text in Sears catalogs. Some years ago, in his book on the business of science fiction writing, L. Sprague de Camp estimated that there weren't more than a couple of hundred gainfully employed science fiction writers. I don't think very much has changed. When you add up the other categories of literature, the total of bona fide professional writers would surely be less than ten thousand. Compare that with about 800,000 college and university teachers.

Additionally, in academia, paper publishing tends to persist even after it is no longer needed because it is a form of currency. It's a bit like buying groceries with basketfuls of german reichsmarks during the hyperinflation, circa 1923. Eventually, there will some kind of scientific "rentenmark," to stabilize the currency, but this may take a while.

If Francis Hamit wants to buy large numbers of copies of his own articles, I suppose Thompson will deal with him on reasonable terms. However, I don't immediately see why, as a free-lance writer, he should want to do this. These giant firms he complains of are somewhere between blogs and vanity publishers. His mistake is to think they are dealing in content, when they are actually dealing in publication.

Andrew D. Todd 

Francis Hamit (sent before I posted Mr. Todd, above):

Dear Jerry:

You are right, as usual. Mr. Todd and I are talking past one another. I agree academics work by different rules than freelance writers. Could this be because they have salaries, benefits, pension plans, and all those committee meetings?

I've heard the litany about how putting your stuff out there for free is a good thing because it leads to intangible benefits such as reputation which leads to more work. I once had a very public argument with Esther Dyson and Graham Nash at a trade show over this. Given that my reputation is already of international scope and I've published somewhere around a thousand articles in my career, I'm not persuaded that giving away rights is a good thing or even a responsible thing when I have bills to pay.

This entire mess came about because some greedy publishers decided to grab all of the rights they can. Right now they are operating in open violation of the law. They depend on the following ideas: 1) Most writers are too scared or too lazy to confront them on these issues and if they can persuade everyone that the make is trivial and not worth bothering with, then they can continue to reap additional revenues, whether they hold the rights or not. 2). Most lawyers will not take such a case on contingency, especially if the actual damages are uncertain. Since the cases can only be pursued in Federal Court the damages have to be substantial and provable. In other words, no one should worry about being sued because he made an extra copy of something. The law does not consider trifles.

That makes determining the true size of the market very important. There is a big consolidated case about electronic rights brought by the ASJA and the Author's Guild. It is in court ordered mediation. Probably there will be a class action settlement which will get the big aggregators and database companies off the hook for a little money. It will be nowhere near the amount actually gained by the infringements. If the example of "Ryan vs. Carl" is any indicator, most of the victims will file claims and get a moderate amount. Very moderate in most cases.

The trend I see is a very disturbing one. Peer-to-peer sharing of music is a massive copyright infringement scheme and should be shut down. There is a lot of action on that issue. There seems to be very little action about freelance writers and artists getting infringed by the large corporations on a global scale. The difference is, of course, that the people pushing the case on Peer-to-peer are large corporations whereas with the freelancer infringement cases, it's the little guys against the big corporations.

There are ways this could be settled to everyone's satisfaction. Larger up-front fees or a 50-50 split on the ancillary revenues, or the aggregators could just contract with the freelancers directly. That last is not as hard as it sounds. Once ownership is firmly established through registration of the copyrights, then its a matter of issuing a license and having a share of the overall revenue sent to your bank account. Your bank account rather than the publisher's. Simple as that. In other words, the infrastructure to do this is already in place. Everyone is kowtowing to the publishers on this, but, by me, if they had no right to sell it in the first place then they have no right to prevent it from being sold or to remove it if its already there. The aggregators need to wake up. They are missing a tremendous opportunity to improve their offerings.

There's a lot of my stuff that's not available online that might be useful to researchers. I guess I'll have to put it up myself and see if there is a market. It's not that hard to do, is it? Like I said, this is about the money.

Sincerely, Francis Hamit



This is getting very long. I think we have covered the subject well, and thanks to both. 

When I was president of SFWA we estimated that 20 people made their living at it, or (as in the cases of Niven and Cliff Simak) could have if they didn't have other income. The Author's Guild did a survey a few years ago and estimated that the average income from writing of their 6,000 or so members (who pay significant dues to remain members) was $2,000 a year; given that a thousand or so freelance writers make a living at writing and the $2,000 is average, you can estimate how much some of those members got.

Writing is a boom or bust profession for free lancers. Mr. Heinlein once told me "We're all professional gamblers," and he ran scared all his life, paying cash to build his house (and buy his last one) and cash for his car, with significant reserves to pay utilities and food bills at need. Of course he started in the middle of the Great Depression.

I doubt my past columns are worth very much, but I did get a book out of my old Galaxy Columns. A Step Farther Out stayed in print for 20 years or so. I suppose it can be found on line on some pirate site or another.

But Francis is certainly correct, what's important is the money. There is more of it involved in this than I thought. And in the case of non-fiction writers on enduring subjects, there might be quite a lot of money at stake.

Also understand, my own view is that the current copyright law is wrong. I'd be perfectly willing to go back to the 26 years renewable for 26 more that I grew up with; What was wrong with that?


Joanne Dow on Microsoft and the Slammer:

Microsoft failed to protect itself against Internet worm Source: nando times Date Written: January 27, 2003 Date Collected: January 28, 2003

Microsoft was hit by the Slammer/Sapphire worm, having failed to install security patches on its own MS SQL servers, according to internal emails obtained by the Associated Press. Bruce Schneier of Counterpane Internet Security stated that network administrators deal with several patches each week, making it difficult to keep up with security. Some blame the way Microsoft handles security patches, which are often difficult to install and cause the program to fail.
  Also -

from the Dartmouth IRIA site 

Somehow I find this too delicious for words....



On Non-Citizen Soldiers

 Subj: Non-citizen soldiers

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

Military service as a path to citizenship does indeed have a long history in the country. One example is a ROTC Command Sergeant Major. He was a Ranger advisor who came with one of the college contingents when I attended ROTC advanced camp at Fort Riley, Kansas in the late '70s. He was Polish. He started out in the Polish army in '39. He fled to France and the French army after the Polish collapse. He fled to Britain and the British army in '40, where he stayed until coming here. Under the terms of the Lodge Act, he then joined the U.S. Army, becoming a Special Forces operator.

He's hardly unique. When I was in highschool in Chicago, there were a father and son in the local SF reserve group. The dad had jumped into Crete as a fallschirmjaeger.

It's also not well known these days that non-citizens are subject to the draft. Our supply sergeant in ROTC had been a Canadian citizen living in the U.S. during the Vietnam War. He enlisted rather than get drafted, and stayed in. Contrast this with one of the drill sergeants in my company at Ft. Knox. He was married to a Canadian and visited his inlaws on a regular basis. He was offered a healthy pay raise to become an instructor in the Canadian army. He turned them down.

 Chris Morton 

As you say, a long and honorable route, beginning I believe with some of Lafayette's men who stayed in the US, and for that matter, some of the Hessians changed sides after the war having married local girls.

And now on the State of the Union

FYI, your "State of the Union" remarks were posted under Monday rather than Tuesday... [Fixed, thanks]

As to your comments -- I had them firmly in mind while listening to the end section of the speech (in particular). I still see wiggle room -- the ability to reach the precipice of Empire and then "return to our homes and shops," if I recall the old quote correctly. Do I think that will happen? Probably not -- because we are no longer a nation where the real political clout resides in small homes and shops.

I'm suddenly reminded of the comments of the Klingon captain in my favorite Star Trek novel, John M. Ford's "The Final Reflection." In speaking to the leader of an isolationist fashion, he responded with a speech of "Komerex or Khesterex." Translated as "The structure which grows, or the structure which dies," within Ford's pre-Worf rendition of Klingon, a more literal translation (the Klingon's concluding comment): "There are only Empires -- and Slaves." Of course, the Federation is an "Empire" of free men, with a surprisingly familiar socialist-republic feel (on the liberal US model rather than the communist model, but still.....)

In any event, we are going after Saddam. Not on the belief that he is a clear and present danger (or, if so, that point has not been substantiated) but on the belief that he's "crazy as a june bug" and willing to obtain and use WMD to intimidate the US in the future, or threaten US citizens on US soil in cooperation with terrorists. (Not mentioned is the more realistic threat a Saddam-with-WMD lead Arab coalition poses to Israel and to the disruption of Western oil supplies.) A Pax America, enforced by the strongest arms. God bless the US.

Jim Woosley 

God bless us all, indeed.







This week:


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Returning from San Diego








This week:


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Friday, January 31, 2003

I don't use the DirecPC Satellite much; I never noticed anything like this:


I just discovered something that you, as a DirecPC user, may be interested in. Here at work we have a dedicated win95 machine running only DirecPC and WinRoute Pro (and a little app to dial the modem remotely called monitor). It is used for nothing else, and is usually off.

While debugging a network problem (getting a Linux laptop running on the office wireless LAN) I had WinRoute's admin page open viewing some logs. I turned my back for a few minutes and when I returned there was an Internet Explorer window open, requesting a VRL download and displaying an ad for Direc-Duo.

Something, buried somewhere in this machine, stored that ad to the local harddrive and opened that window (it wasn't open when I turned on the monitor this morning). I didn't do it (I can't remember the last time I ran explorer on that machine), and no one else uses that PC. The files were written to the directory of a program that usually the only foreground program on the machine (monitor), on 1/24/2003 at 1:58 and 3:03pm (PST approx).

On the surface it looks like DirecPC has built something into their code to push ads to its users. It disturbs me that it did this without any kind of prompting or notice. I wonder if it could have overwritten similarly named files if they had existed in that directory?

It wrote index.htm, headers.htm, filelist.xml, image001.png and image002.jpg to the directory.

You may want to post this to your mail section to see if anyone else has seen this happen.


Ugh. But I never saw anything like that.

This is a link to a column in National Review dissing hydrogen wells. I'm sure you have access to better engineers than this guy does. So why don't you propose a rebuttal?


Steve Nelson

There's nothing to disagree with except for the tone. Using hydrogen as a distribution system for electricity generated by fossil fuels makes no sense. It's when you use nuclear power, or space solar power, that you want hydrogen fuel cells: they're better than batteries. 

There are no hydrogen wells and never have been; but a nuclear power plant is a kind of hydrogen well, as is a large space solar array.



Maxtor is apparently rejecting warranty claim requests from users who have used their drive in a third-party external FireWire or USB enclosure.

MacFixIt reader Jack Finnigan writes:

"I called Maxtor today about the warranty on one of my 120 GB drives. In short they told me because I mounted their drive in a firewire case it voided their warrenty. Their drive are made to only be put inside computers, unless you buy the firewire or USB cases they sell. They make no mention of that major stipulation/limitation in their warranty."

Finnigan used the Maxtor drive a standard multi-drive external set-up for network access that includes all-purpose Oxford 911 bridge boards - a configuration used by many small Mac networks.


What was wrong with the drive? It's not entirely an unreasonable position for Maxtor although it is not one I would advise them to take.






This week:


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Saturday, February 1, 2oo3

This got posted pretty much immediately on FreeRepublic, and wouldn't be a bad thing to consider on your site.

God rest their souls.

Jim Riticher

The Green Hills Of Earth, Thread for The Shuttle.: 

The Green Hills of Earth
Let the sweet fresh breezes heal me
As they rove around the girth
Of our lovely mother planet
Of the cool, green hills of Earth.

We rot in the moulds of Venus,
We retch at her tainted breath.
Foul are her flooded jungles,
Crawling with unclean death.

[ --- the harsh bright soil of Luna ---
--- Saturn's rainbow rings ---
--- the frozen night of Titan --- ]
We've tried each spinning space mote
And reckoned its true worth:

Take us back again to the homes of men
On the cool, green hills of Earth.
The arching sky is calling
Spacemen back to their trade.

And the lights below us fade.
Out ride the sons of Terra,
Far drives the thundering jet,
Up leaps a race of Earthmen,
Out, far, and onward yet ---

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the friendly skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.

Robert A. Heinlein

Thank you. That was the old solar system, and the explorers were more bold than we are today. Or perhaps we were past The Crazy Years, and understood why it is important to look beyond the next mountain.

I suppose you've heard by now about Columbia.

Jerry, I've been a NASA fan since I was two; seeing Apollo 11 sitting on the pad is my first memory. I worked on NASA projects like my father before me; he tracked Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo thru 13, and I was on UARS and helped with a couple others...

Tell them we have to go on. Make sure all of fandom pounds the hell out of their congresscritters to make sure a space program, be it public or private, is not only going to continue, but expand. No terrorist, no bureaucrat, no accident should get in the way. Sure, we should make it as safe as we can... but this stuff happens, and we learn from it... but we must go on. I don't think the seven who died this morning would have it any other way.

-- Glenn Stone who would like to make orbit just once... -- "History will remember the inhabitants of this century as the people who went from Kitty Hawk to the moon in 66 years, only to languish for the next 30 in low Earth orbit. At the core of the risk-free society is a self-indulgent failure of nerve." -- Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 astronaut

Of course we have to go on. And we will. The language spoken in space is not yet determined, but it is certain that mankind will be there. To the Moon, to the planets, and to the stars. That is our destiny, even if this generation doesn't know it.

Just heard Dan Rather on CBS saying how many of us had been hoping to see men on Mars in our lifetimes,and asked a Nasa suit if this would be a setback.

She said that Mars had never been a nasa project, and Mars may never happen in our lifetimes.

Dan Rather said, "well some of us will continue to dream."

 Robert A Pierce

It is hardly surprising. Dan Rather and the media people have more imagination than nearly all of NASA. Fortunately NASA is no longer thought infallible and there may be alternatives: although NASA relentlessly grinds down and destroys all rivals, and devotes more effort to that than to getting us to space. There remain a few people in NASA who are there to accomplish great things; but most of NASA now consists of the people who accomplished the extraordinary feat of making mankind's greatest achievements look dull, then making it impossible to repeat them.

Yet what man has done man can aspire to.



An open letter to the President:

Mr. President,

I am a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, class of 1994, and I am writing to you to urge you to continue to support our nation's manned space flight program. There will be pressures on you to slow down or stop funding for the obviously dangerous business of manned space flight, but you must not let this happen.

I am a fighter pilot for the USAF currently finishing up a tour of duty as a T-37 instructor, and I am fully aware of the hazards faced by people in flying and space related jobs. Those who died today also knew the risks, and they dared to fly despite them because the benefits to our nation and to all nations of the world outweigh the risks. We are a pioneering nation and must continue to lead the way in the ventures that are dangerous, because only those who dare greatly can ever hope to succeed in great things.

Please don't let the Columbia crew mark the end of our space program. Instead, let their sacrifices be a call to an even louder call to greatness. This nation owes much to the scientific discoveries produced by NASA and it's people, and we owe it to them and ourselves to fully fund the manned space flight program lest it die and the pace of scientific advances die with it.

An underfunded manned space flight program is a dangerous program. This should be clear at this point. Please do what is necessary to ensure that our country does not act the part of the cowards, afraid to grasp at the heights of human accomlishments.


Sean A. Long, Capt, USAF

Which pretty well says it all.


Dan Spisak has put this together:

Jan 27, 1967: Apollo 1 fire 

Jan 28, 1986: Challenger explosion 

Feb 1, 2003 Columbia breakup

If a heat shield tile indeed had been damaged on launch is there a contingency plan for having a heat shield tile replaced in orbit before deorbit?

I get the feeling that if a heat shield tile was damaged anyone in the shuttle would have to just "ride it out" and hope it wasn't serious enough damage. Am I right in this assumption?

-Dan S.

I don't know what might be done if we knew a shuttle tile was damaged. Go back and dock with the space station while new repair materials are assembled and sent up, I would suppose.

We have not developed much in the way of in-orbit assembly, largely because we insist on sending up tired old men and women rather than vigorous young riggers. You don't get to space until you're over 40 and have a Ph.D., and that isn't conducive to going out and working your tail off in tough conditions for 12 hour shifts. Pete Conrad went out and fixed Skylab, but that was a long time ago, and NASA carefully took a second operational Skylab and put it in the Smithsonian, and laid the most powerful machine mankind ever made down on its side as a lawn ornament: lest Shuttle be endangered, and some of the senior NASA people be laid off.

There are probably contingency plans for known tile damage but I don't know them.

Mr. Pournelle

It puzzles me to see you suggest that a damaged Columbia could have been sent to the ISS. The Columbia is the only shuttle not equipped for docking to the ISS. The other 3 have been modified for ISS missions by relocating the airlock into the cargo bay while the Columbia maintains the airlock in the crew compartment. Also, no docking mechanism was installed in the cargo bay of Columbia as in the other 3. Lastly, there is no way the shuttle could reach the orbital inclination of the ISS as it was launched in a completely different trajectory.

The only plausible solution would have been a rescue mission but logistics keep that option nearly impossible due the the 20 day timeframe required.

Chad Brink []

Why should you be puzzled? I haven't worked on those programs for twenty years and more, and I had forgotten. I don't pretend to infallibility.

 Space Station is still a convenient place to rendezvous and there are certainly automatic docking systems launched out of Russia: if repair materials were needed, I would think that it would be easier to get everyone near ISS than try to do the job in some other orbit. Clearly I haven't done an actual examination of the orbital inclinations. I am aware that changing orbit plane is a very delta-vee expensive operation.

I confess I have not been following these missions at all. Surely SOME shuttles get to ISS? Or have I just been imagining that the main job of Shuttle is support of ISS and the main demand of ISS is to absorb shuttle missions? I admit confusion: I presume you know more than I do on this, and I don't just now have time to look it up.

I do know that after Challenger a number of us tried to convince the Congress to let North American build a new shuttle on designs influenced by the problems of the old one, but NASA insisted we just copy the old systems, warts, defects, and all.

More on Fixing things in orbit: see below.

Dear Dr Pournelle "Dan Spisak has put this together:... If a heat shield tile indeed had been damaged on launch is there a contingency plan for having a heat shield tile replaced in orbit before deorbit?

I get the feeling that if a heat shield tile was damaged anyone in the shuttle would have to just "ride it out" and hope it wasn't serious enough damage. Am I right in this assumption?

On breaking news this morning the NASA spokesman was asked essentially this question and one other involving voice recorders I think... he was barely holding himself together - managed to answer the voice recorder question ('we do have them but not hardened') and remembered there was another but not what it was. He confirmed that there were no options. No EVA was possible; Colombia was not equipped with a robot arm on this mission; and there was no capability for reviewing the left wing; even had a distressed tile been evident, there was no 'capability' to repair it.

My deepest condolences, TC

-- Terry Cole BA/BSc/BE/BA(hons) ( System Administrator, Dept. of Maths. & Stats., Otago Uni. PO Box 56, Dunedin, NZ.



So: what must be done?

Dear Dr. Pournelle -

I just saw the news that the Shuttle Columbia is down in Texas - what am I saying? - that the Shuttle Columbia came apart during reentry. That the seven astronauts have died. May the Good Lord have Mercy on their souls, and that they will fly with the angels.

What must be done? Why do we put up with a system that makes compromises and

I'm sick and tired of NASA. I've been reading your site for a few years now whenever I get a chance, which is less that I'd like it to be. I'm sick and tired of bureaucracy and vested interests being in the way of doing things the right way, of vested interests and bureaucracy being in the way of reaching the dream. What will this terrible, terrible accident mean for manned space flight? It means that no shuttle will fly until everything' s been checked and rechecked and analysed to the ninth sigma; it means that the Shuttle has to be phased out and that we have to start doing things right!

I'm an economist and I don't understand the business of space. I've tried and tried and tried and it just doesn't make sense economically. It just makes no sense to create high valued equipment and then just throw it away (one-use rocket engines). It makes no sense to try for the very, very best when the adequate will do when dealing with non-human space flight, and it makes no sense not to have the very, very best when dealing with human space flight. It makes no sense to compromise on human safety in order to transport satellites into space, it makes no sense to rely on what essentially is a truck when what we need is an airplane.

Now, this doesn't mean that space flight can't be economical! But let's be completely honest: NASA can't do it. NASA is not equipped to run a space transportation service. NASA is caught in a web of its own weaving, a web of old technology, contradictory missions and too damn many people trying to have a part in manned space flight.

It doesn't mean that NASA never can run a space transportation service, it doesn't mean that NASA can't regain the priorities it should have.

Here are my thoughts on what needs to be done:

1. We have to reduce the cost per pound into space. Let's get the Russians back on board and have them restart their assembly line of those basic, simple rockets for getting bulk up there. I keep on reading about how western scientists are always amazed with what simple technology and methods the Russians place their payloads on time and on target: let's get the prices down by mass production, not a rocket a month, but rather 100 a year or 1000 a year. This is for basic launching and development. For national security launches you freeze the current booster technology for interim purposes.

2. We have to separate satellite and human transportation. Human space flight needs to be without compromises, without accepting that there is a residual risk due to the need to take up significant resources that don't need to be transported with the astronauts. Design a new spacecraft that deserves the name, with module designs that allows updates and modifications for efficiency and safety without having to completely rebuild the shuttle.

3. We can never, ever, ever place our eggs in one basket. There needs to be at least three designs: one for 3-5 people up to the space station and back down again within a few days; one for 3-5 people up into orbit and stay there for a while to service satellites and whatever; one for 50 people for space tourism and for national security reasons. The first two can be similiar, the last will be the first commercial space vehicle.

4. We have to take bulk space flight away from NASA and place it firmly in the commercial realm. No subsidies, no insurance, no tax breaks: the cold hard rules of commerce have to push the price of getting a pound in space down. If the Chinese or the Russians can do it cheaper, than they will be the launchers, just like the South Koreans build the world's shipping. I know that there are arguments against this, but we have to get the damned pork out of launch vehicle development and back into efficiency. We need to get the engineers back in charge of doing the job, but on a budget (Ariane is also a great example of what goes wrong

5. We have to turn around NASA and get it back in the business of technology development and providing for the infrastructure of doing science in space. Why should NASA do anything but work as a clearing house for technology, financing key developments that no one company can afford to do so (or where NASA doesn't want any one company to have a monopoly to drive prices up); NASA should be coordinating development, but with the goal of creating a space industry, of getting humanity into space.

I've said enough now. I'm going to put my thinking cap on and try to understand how we can honor those who have died today by making space transportation economical and feasible.

Best regards on this gloomy of days... - John F. Opie Senior Economist Feri Resarch GmbH

I can solve the space access problem with a few sentences.

Be it enacted by the Congress of the United States:

The Treasurer of the United States is directed to pay to the first American owned company (if corporate at least 60% of the shares must be held by American citizens) the following sums for the following accomplishments. No monies shall be paid until the goals specified are accomplished and certified by suitable experts from the National Science Foundation or the National Academy of Science:

1. The sum of $2 billion to be paid for construction of 3 operational spacecraft which have achieved low earth orbit, returned to earth, and flown to orbit again three times in a period of three weeks.

2. The sum of $5 billion to be paid for construction and maintenance of a space station which has been continuously in orbit with at least 5 Americans aboard for a period of not less than three years and one day. The crew need not be the same persons for the entire time, but at no time shall the station be unoccupied.

3. The sum of $12 billion to be paid for construction and maintenance of a Lunar base in which no fewer than 31 Americans have continuously resided for a period of not less than four years and one day. 

4. The sum of $10 billion to be paid for construction and maintenance of a solar power satellite system which delivers at least 800 megaWatts of electric power to a receiving station or stations in the United States for a period of at least two years and one day.

5. The payments made shall be exempt from all US taxes.

That would do it. Not one cent to be paid until the goals are accomplished. Not a bit of risk, and if it can't be done for those sums, well, no harm done to the treasury.

I had Newt Gingrich persuaded to do this before he found he couldn't keep the office of Speaker. I haven't had any audiences with his successors.

Henry Vanderbilt points out that having a prize, say $1 billion,  for the second firm to achieve point (1) above will get more into the competition, and produce better results. I agree. For more on Prizes see next week.

Mr. Pournelle:

What is wrong with NASA, what must be done to fix it, idle speculation on the cause, etc. will all have its day. Perhaps we could wait a day or two. I think today should be reserved for respect and honor of the dead. Bureaucracy will still be with us tomorrow and can be tackled then. Whether you wish to edit your "current mail" is your prerogative of course, but I would hope it is not how you would want today remembered.

Thank you for your courtesy,

Richard Micko

That is one view. But while people are thinking about the subject, perhaps a better way to honor heroes is to try to accomplish their work. It's what we did back in the days when we'd name a new street at the base and fly the next day. And we have waited far too long to fix the dream.





And we have this:

BTW, I do know the Columbia was refurbished with new, improved tiles. I was wondering if the cause of the disaster is new parts badly installed. Perhaps your more knowledgeable readers can comment. 


Dear Dr Pournelle:

Back in the '80s I worked for the Industrial Measurement Technology division of Carl Zeiss, Inc. The company made the highest end of high-end Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs). CMMs automatically measure three-dimensional parts and Zeiss' was the best at measuring complex three-dimensional contours such as those of aircraft wings and (aircraft and ship) propellers. You got what you paid for.

The skin of the space shuttle's orbiter is covered with refractory tiles. Since the surface of the orbiter is of a complex 3D contour, each tile has to be machined to match the specific place where it will be positioned.

One of our salesman complained that they (I don't recall now if he named NASA, the contractor or whether he used just the generic 'they') decided to go with an less expensive CMMs. According to him, the refractory tiles were measured at three points, and if those three point were within tolerance, it was assumed that the fit was was good.

I offer this for what it is worth. Caveat lector.

I know not one thing about this. I haven't looked at space operations in any detail since Reagan left the White House.

An eyewitness acoount:

I watched the reentry from Mojave, CA at about 0553 this morning. Although there was some light haze (clearly visible when viewing Venus and Jupiter with 10x50 binoculars while waiting for the event), I was able to see an orange dot leaving a glowing trail behind it. At about the time of closest approach [about 220 miles according to published data] the brightness flared for an instant and a small speck (possibly a tile?) came away from the main body, drifting backwards relative to it. Over about ten seconds, it dimmed and went out, then perhaps thirty seconds later the shuttle flared again but no debris was visible. It appeared intact until I lost sight of it in the dawn glow a minute later.

No commentary, just the facts (or speculation) as I saw them...

-- Doug Jones, Rocket Engineer XCOR Aerospace

Does anyone know (1) the cohesion strength of shuttle tile, and (2) the stagnation temperature about mach 25 which is about what they'd be doing when you saw that? Stony asteroids come in and when the front pressure exceeds their strength of cohesion they break up so that all the energy is released at one whack: often kilotons of energy as in Tunguska. 

If the shuttle tiles are strong enough -- they can't burn since they are a ceramic -- then there may be pieces strewn across the country from Marin County CA to Fort Worth.

It wouldn't take many pieces of tile breaking loose to cause severe control problems, which would get progressively worse. Clearly they had a lot of time to see this coming.

Hi Jerry-

The sample tiles that I've handled seem plenty strong enough to survive the mechanical stresses. Consider: they usually do well even when being dragged along by the mass of the shuttle itself, instead of being allowed to slow down quickly before the air density builds up. The compressive strength has to be at least ten psi, so a single tile could take hundreds of gees without crumbling. If what I saw this morning was a tile coming loose, it certainly landed intact. Also, some of the photos of the Texas debris on line appear to be tiles.

-- Doug Jones Rocket Plumber XCOR

So there will be tiles west of Texas, possibly nust north of Mojave.








And mail on other subjects...

Dear Dr. Pournelle: Thought you might be interested in this review: 

It's a review of a book on industrial policy - the short form is that manufacturing IS important. Nothing that you haven't said, but very neatly summarized.

V/r: Mike McDaniel

Thanks. Manufacturing is extremely important, and we're losing far too much of it.

On Going to Space

The debate on SSTO (Reusable space ships, or Single Stage to Orbit) continues. Note that despite the tone of some of these letters, SSTO is not absurd, and has the support of many experienced rocket engineers, including the late Max Hunter. For political reasons NASA has always said it was too silly to study -- else why hadn't they ever done anything as simple as the DC/X as a research vehicle?

The report of the Council which recommended X projects leading to an SSTO vehicle, go here. The basic rocket equation discussion of the concept is here. There's math in there, but not too much. The concept of X projects and their importance for getting to space, look here. I have repeated this short introduction below. Eventually I will collect all this material into a single debates or reports page.


Subject: SSTO, nice idea but impractical

Jerry: I like a lot of your ideas concerning the privatization of space flight. However, I think trying to build a single stage to orbit vehicle using chemical rocket engines is a futile task because the minimum, theoretical mass ratio of any rocket rises exponentially with the ratio of delta vee divided by exhaust velocity. Depending on the aerodynamic characteristics of your vehicle and the acceleration profile, the delta vee is about 10km/sex. The best hydrogen-oxygen rocket engines have an exhaust velocity of 460 which would require a minimum mass ratio of 8.8. Of course this calculation ignores the mass of rocket engines and structural mass such as fuel tanks. Given the extremely low density of liquid hydrogen, the tankage mass is going to be pretty high even if you are using balloon tank construction, much less the far more robust structure that would be needed for a fly back orbiter. Alternative fuels such as liquid methane or propane don't have a ISP as high as hydrogen, but they are a lot less bulky and easier to work with. These fuels would require a minimum mass ratio of about 20. 

While the SSTO vehicle concept is seductive, I believe that it simply isn't feasible unless we have major advances in propulsion technology such as a super sonic combustion ramjet which would have an ISP of a thousand or more because it uses the atmosphere as a a source of oxidizer. Rather than try to develop a revolutionary STS, lets try to make evolutionary improvements on the system we've got. The first, most profitable step would be to replace the SRBs with liquid fueled, flyback boosters which actually land on NASAs air strip rather than just falling into the ocean. These modular, fly back boosters would be designed to have dimensions comparable to the shuttle SRBs so that they could be used to upgrade the existing STS. Note that these modular, liquid fueled, flyback boosters could be used to build heavy lift assemblies with two, four, six or even eight boosters grouped around a payload capsule, liquid fuel tank, and a set of SSMEs packaged in a reentry vehicle. Alternatively, one of these fly back boosters could be used to launch a minishuttle. The next, more obvious step is to build a next generation orbiter that would also be only an evolutionary rather than revolutionary improvement over the exhisting orbiter, but would be compatable with the existing STS.

James Crawford []

Well, thank you for showing me that I (and Max Hunter before he died) have been wasting my time for decades. Will you forgive me if I point out that it may not be as clear cut as you seem to think?

Lockheed thought it possible enough to spend billions. Now the X-33, which was no X program, was a flawed concept. I knew that at the time, but the only power I had was to be able to kill it, and had I killed it, it would inevitably have been thought to be the right way and it would have worked if that S.O.B. Pournelle hadn't killed it. So I did nothing, and the money was wasted.

But it needn't have been.

Two stages, both recoverable, are one path. Operationally that is a far more complex route. But the USAF/SDIO Project Have Region, which was classified but the results were declassified, built cross sections of structures for a single stage to orbit vehicle and test their strength; and concluded that the mass ratio needed for an SSTO vehicle could be achieved with present structure.

As to the rocket equation, please credit me with knowing what it is. Indeed, my SSX paper is mostly a reflection on the rocket equation. What we don't know without further testing is the payload. Start with a 600,000 pound Gross Liftoff Weight (GLOX : a fully fueled vehicle ready to launch) Single Stage to Orbit ship. Of that, 90% is fuel and oxidant: it has to be or it won't achieve orbit. (This percentage may be higher: that's one of the things we have to learn by flying. It depends on a number of inter-related factors.) Of the 10% or 60,000 pounds left, about 90% will be structure, tankage, fairing, landing gear, crew life support, seats, controls, and enough fuel to get back down. That leaves 10% or 6,000 pounds for payload: useful stuff we wanted to put in orbit. But of course that is a third decimal place number, and we don't know any of this to three decimal places: which is why we have to fly some of these birds. Some believed and a few still believe that the actual payload will be zero, or even negative (the ship won't make orbit). But then before DC/X many experts said it couldn't be controlled at low speeds: there wasn't enough control authority in those flaps. That turned out not to be the case.

It's possible that SSTO can't be made to work; certainly that was the conventional wisdom until 1986 or so, when a bunch of us including the Aerospace Corp engineers who told the Air Force SSTO couldn't be done concluded that we had been wrong: it can be done. We don't know quite how much payload it may have. Gordon Woodcock played with the numbers for days, worrying particularly about the rings holding cylindrical tankage together as weighing too muck, before concluding that it could be done, and it would have a positive payload; and he signed the report. When then Vice President Quayle asked us why, if this was the right way to go, why we hadn't tried it before: "Do you have new engines?" -- Max Hunter said, "No sir, we weren't smart enough before. Now we are."

It may be that an SSTO would have to be too big to have a respectable payload (clearly the larger the ship the more likely it will be to have a payload at all). We won't know until we fly. The SSX was intended to let us fly: we could bore holes in the structure where it was overly strong, and, as Max put it, nickel and dime it into orbit.

At worst we'd know precisely how to design a two stage to orbit system with both stages recoverable -- which was what Boeing proposed for solar power satellites some 40 years ago. We knew that would work then: it will still work now.

One thing DC/X did convince us of was that hydrogen is an impractical rocket fuel. It's an operational nightmare. Fortunately, it's possible to use methane, and Max Hunter had converted to methane or propane before he died. Propane might need a "zero" stage, probably jet engine powered, to get it to 50,000 feet where the drag has essentially vanished. A "flying ring" zero stage is not difficult to design and build. It does add an operations step we'd rather do without, but it may be needed.

We won't know these things until we fly some more.

You will excuse me but the notion of trying to design a new system to use parts of present shuttle strikes me as, uh, well, highly undesirable, and the kind of thing I expect NASA bureaucrats to come up with.

The discussion continues below.

On fixing things in orbit, Peter Glaskowsky observes:

You wrote:

> I don't know what might be done if we knew a shuttle tile was damaged.

This has happened before. On Columbia's first launch for STS-1, it lost 16 tiles. At the time, they just went ahead and landed the thing, and of course it survived. The small tiles are meant to be individually expendable; losing one or maybe more won't cause the loss of the vehicle. The large black carbon tiles on the nose and wing leading edges are not expendable, but the routine inspection on orbit by our reconnaissance satellites would have detected this sort of problem.

They don't seem to have any good mechanism for repairing tiles. Going to the ISS probably wouldn't help much, and they probably don't have enough delta-V to get there on missions like STS-107 that didn't go to the station. I don't think there are enough consumables in orbit at any given time to support a large Shuttle crew for the time it would take to scramble a new launch with repair equipment.

. png


Notes from the NASA briefing at 12:30pm PST today.

Shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore said flatly, "We do not have the capability to perform a spacewalk and do tile repair."

That being said, I suppose the astronauts would put on a suit and tie on a rope and go out the airlock if they had no other hope. I don't think they could do anything about a missing tile, but if one was loose, there might be some theoretical opportunity for improvised repairs.

Later in the conference, Dittemore said they didn't request or receive imagery to evaluate the condition of the wing. In a previous case, on-orbit pictures they received from "other assets" weren't useful in analyzing the loss of the drag-chute door during launch.

. png

Apparently they didn't want to know if the tiles were damaged: there was nothing they could do anyway:

Seven brave souls were lost today as Columbia broke apart in the Texas dawn, and our hearts go out to the surviving families. Many Americans take STS operations for granted, and most assume that the program was "fixed" after the Challenger loss in 1986. NASA?s afternoon news conference made me realize that this is far from the truth.

Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore made some startling admissions during the news conference:

1) The shuttle managers were aware of possible damage to Columbia?s left wing from a piece of insulation shed by the external tank. Dittemore reviewed the launch tapes and described the impact as an "explosion" that caused the debris to "disintegrate into a cloud". Technical analyses were ordered, and the conclusion? There was no safety issue, only some manufacturing problems to be resolved.

2) There is no ability to repair missing tiles on orbit. A missing tile on the underside of the wing or fuselage is a single-point failure mechanism.

3) Shuttle managers made a decision NOT to image Columbia on orbit to see if any damage was apparent. The rational for not investigating or imaging potential damage was that "nothing could be done about it".

I was stunned by these admissions from high-level officials. Were they watching the reentry with their fingers crossed? They knew the left wing was impacted and possibly damaged, and yet they decided NOT to investigate any further before ordering the deorbit burn. Incredible.

I fear this is likely the end of our shuttle program because when politicians realize its reliability is a charade, the funding will dry up. NASA needs to replace the shuttle with a modern system. Unfortunately, it took a tragedy like this to make people pay attention.

James McSheehy Grand Junction, CO

I fought for better space suits for many years, but I could never get an Administrator to put better suits at high enough priority: Even the good ones fought the alligators rather than drain the swamp. Without decent EVA suits you can't do on orbit assembly; and without young and strong riggers going to space you won't get a hard day's work out of your crew. Forty year old PhD's are just not going to work that hard in horrible conditions. Depend on it.

If we routinely thought of doing EVA and worked with 10 to 12 pounds of air rather than 3 pounds of pure oxygen, we'd have ways to fix such problems.

They didn't want to look because they wouldn't be able to do anything about it??? That's the wrong perspective. The more information you collect, the more options you have. Or at least the fewer questions you have to answer after you fail. Engineering works that way. (See Henry Petroski's articles and books.)

I guess I've seen that attitude here in the UK. They often don't test for diseases they won't treat due to budgetary restrictions. It still seems dumb. -- --- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. <>





Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds...and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of...wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

'High Flight' by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Goodbye and Godspeed, crew of Columbia. We will never forget you.







This week:


read book now


Sunday, February 3, 2003

The debate on SSTO (Reusable space ships, or Single Stage to Orbit) continues. Note that despite the tone of some of these letters, SSTO is not absurd, and has the support of many experienced rocket engineers, including the late Max Hunter. For political reasons NASA has always said it was too silly to study -- else why hadn't they ever done anything as simple as the DC/X as a research vehicle?

The report of the Council which recommended X projects leading to an SSTO vehicle, go here. The basic rocket equation discussion of the concept is here. There's math in there, but not too much. The concept of X projects and their importance for getting to space, look here. I have repeated this short introduction below. Eventually I will collect all this material into a single debates or reports page. And for what to do next week, see here.

Dear Mr Pournelle: 

I've been a great admirer of your for more years than either of us would care to count and I credit you for teaching me as much about science as my college professors. However, I'm rather surprised by your enthusiasm for a Single Stage To Orbit launcher. 

If we were talking about using advanced propulsion technology such as supersonic combustion ramjets I'd share your opinion. However, most SSTO proposals envision using conventional rocket engines. The multistage rocket systems that are currently being used aren't a fashion statement, they are a reluctant adaptation to the performance limitations imposed by the basic physics of rocketry. 

As you are well aware, the mass of fuel required for a mission rises exponentially with the ratio of the delta-vee to the specific impulse. The minimum, theoretical mass ratio for a rocket to reach earth orbit is about nine-to-one using LOX and Hydrogen. Because the low density of liquid hydrogen would require enormous fuel tanks that would be either extremely massive or to fragile to survive reentry, other fuels such as liquid methane or liquid propane would be more feasible. 

However, the mass ratio required with these fuels would be around twenty-to-one. Rather than demand revolutionary advances in rocket technology, why not adopt an evolutionary approach. Since the loss of the Columbia will force NASA to at least consider building a replacement orbiter, we have the opportunity to redesign the vehicle to incorporate either Titanium or advanced, high temperature composites in its structure. We might even use an active cooling system that would make the thermal tiles unnecessary. 

Of course the highest priority would be to redesign the orbiter to include modular systems with a much longer service life that would minimize the maintenance required between launches. The next logical step is to replace the solid fuel rocket boosters with liquid fuel boosters that fly back to land on a runway rather than drop into the ocean. As you remember, the original design of the shuttle included a liquid fuel, fly back booster which was abandoned because it was so massive. 

Using twin, flyback boosters that are compatable with the existing STS configuration offer a number of tantalizing possibillities. Because the entire orbiter, fuel tank and boosters assembly is quite light until it is fueled on the launch pad, we could adopt the Russian practice of horizontal assembly. This approach is proving to be very cost effective for Boeing. Secondly, using twin, liquid fueled, flyback boosters for the Shuttle offers the possibility of using them as components for a modular, heavy lift vehicle. You could put 100 tons into orbit simply by replacing the orbiter with an expendable payload faring and propulsion-avionics module that is packaged in a reentry capsule. By adopting a more conventional configuration in which the payload is mounted on the nose of the external tank and the propulsion module at the aft end, you would have the flexibility of using two, four, six or even eight flyback boosters. The only "expendable" components in this STS would be the external fuel tanks which we should be taking all of the way to orbit anyway so that they can be used for station structures or recycled into reaction mass.

James Crawford []

It is one design possibility. I was long a fan of "wings" of some kind, and Max Hunter always liked to have some lift in  the reentry vehicle to get cross trajectory capabilities. The problem with wings is they cost like crazy going up, increasing the time of flight, which increases the time that drag operates on the ship, etc. In general the faster you go up the less fuel you need. We have considerable flight data on the Shuttle itself; we need some on entirely different designs now.

Do note that the "bonus" of putting fuel tanks in orbit is smaller than it appears. Fuel tanks in low earth orbit soon orient side-on (one end "down" or pointed at Earth), and the drag goes up, and the tank comes down fairly quickly -- and in an unpredictable place. It's is pretty big, and while 80% of the Earth is water and much of the rest not inhabited or not thickly inhabited, do that enough and you're sure to hit someone. The remedy to that is to put up two tanks and tether them so that they ride end-on to the direction of traffic, but this means (1) you have to put two tanks into every place you launch one, (2) you need to have someone attach the tethers, and you have the tether as a not negligible dead weight or structure penalty, and (3) at some point you have to go do something with the tanks, which probably aren't where you want them, because even tethered in pairs they will come down faster than you like. That is a pretty severe operations penalty.

Two stages to orbit, or one stage and a flyable zero which may well be a ring of jet engines, is another possibility: again the operations penalties are not insignificant. The operational penalties are not small: imagine if every time you wanted to fly across the Atlantic, you had to have a second airplane that did nothing but get your plane aloft. It may be required, but it's not desirable.

So: let me sum it up. We need to build more rocket ships. We need to fly more rocket ships. We need better data. These were conclusions we sent to the President in 1983, and repeated to a different President in 1989. They haven't changed. We need X programs. Real ones, not corporate welfare programs like the "X"-33. Continued next week.

Jerry, I have one quibble about your formulation of offering prizes to stimulate space capability: At least in the initial prize for reusable launchers, allow for multiple winners, to encourage more entrants. The investors' perception of risk will lower if the prize for being second by a month is still substantial. Multiple different systems is good; lack of alternatives is a significant (though far from the only) part of our current problems.

Henry Vanderbilt

Agreed. Have second prizes of half the size of the first. For all categories.

From Richard sent before the Columbia disaster:

The NASA Administrator sounds worse than a management consultant for Arthur Anderson:

"We've developed an integrated strategy for space across the Enterprises using a stepping stone approach which sets a foundation and builds on the next set of capabilities increasing our ability to conduct progressively more complex missions. "

Here's a long interview with O'Keefe: 

Sure sounds encouraging...

Dr. Phil Chapman has been a South Polar Explorer and a US Astronaut. Here is Phil on Columbia:

In 1911, in a tent in Antarctica, Robert Falcon Scott filled the time while waiting to die by writing in his journal. He said: “Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance & courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes & our dead bodies must tell the tale…We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint.”

I think Scott was an idiot (he took _ponies_ up on the polar plateau, for God’s sake), but he did understand what it means to be an explorer. So do astronauts.

Phil Chapman

We took risks, we knew we took them. A fitting epitaph. Does anyone know if there is an MP3 version of A Fire In The Sky? It would be fitting; if not there is The Phoenix.

On the broader implications:


1. Apart from the human tragedy, the loss of Columbia is a disaster for NASA. The agency was already in deep trouble, and this accident threatens not only the International Space Station (ISS) but the entire human spaceflight enterprise.

2. Although the ISS is already 60% over budget, funding shortages have forced cutbacks to the point where it is almost useless for science. The “core complete” station that is the current goal will have a crew of 3, instead of the original 7. Only one of them will be American, and housekeeping duties will leave him or her less than 20 hours/week for science.

3. In 2003, the NASA budget for human spaceflight is $6.1 billion. Of this, $4.2 billion is for ISS construction, ISS operations, and shuttle missions supporting the ISS – and that is only the marginal cost. The total lifecycle cost of the ISS is almost sure to exceed $10 billion/year.. The entire National Science Foundation budget for 2003 is $5.05 billion, and that supports thousands of researchers in many physical sciences. It is utterly impossible to convince scientists that it is a reasonable investment of resources to spend an amount equal to 83% to 200% of the NSF budget (depending on how you do the accounting) to buy 20 manhours/week of research in space

4. In 2001, an independent review board found that four shuttles were barely sufficient to support ISS maintenance, and could not carry equipment needed for even the most drastically reduced science program. Now NASA has three shuttles.

5. Unless NASA can get a multi-billion dollar bailout from the Congress, the costs of investigating the accident, making safety improvements to the three shuttles, and perhaps building a replacement shuttle will have to come from the ISS program.

6. After the Challenger accident in 1986, the shuttles were grounded for more than 2 years. The time taken and the costs incurred in the aftermath of Columbia are very likely to require mothballing the ISS. The crew of 3 now aboard the station have consumables that will last until June, and they have a Soyuz lifeboat in which they could return to Earth. Any long-term mothballing will require boosting the ISS to higher orbit, so that it will not re-enter.

7. Many people, including an influential faction within NASA, will see the Columbia accident as an opportunity to get rid of the ISS, which has become an intolerable and useless burden.

8. The extremists will suggest that it is now possible to abandon the station, so that it will reenter within a year or so. The many billions this would waste can be blamed on an act of God (if that is what the accident was). This approach is consistent with NASA’s motto, which is, of course, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you place the blame.”

9. Moderates will argue that the ISS should be mothballed indefinitely on orbit, so that NASA can use the money to build a new, allegedly cheaper launch vehicle, instead of rebuilding the 25-year-old shuttle. If the new vehicle does prove much cheaper, it will offer opportunities for ventures that NASA will like much more than the ISS, including such Giant Leaps for Mankind as a station at L1 in the Earth-Moon system, or even a flags-and-footprints Mars mission. Thus it could be a long time before the ISS was reactivated, and it might become a permanent, embarrassing derelict in space. If so, NASA will wish they had let it crash and burn, while they had Columbia as an excuse.

10. Either way, during the next year or two NASA will be more vulnerable to major reorganization of human spaceflight than at any time since Apollo. Space advocates need to start thinking about what we would like to see happen.

To get the ball rolling, let me toss out one suggestion: If I were George W, I would direct NASA to mothball the ISS after moving it to higher orbit, where the drag lifetime is of order 50 years. Then I would cut the NASA human spaceflight budget from $6 billion to $1 billion/year, and tell the agency it must be spent on technology development, not on operational vehicles or missions. Of the remainder, I would give $1 billion to the USAF to begin work on blue suits in orbit. (We will need them to deter the Chinese from using their incipient manned capability to interfere with our satellites, and a small military program would maintain a Federal human spaceflight capability). I would mothball the 3 shuttles, unless the USAF wants them. I would use the remaining $4 billion from the NASA budget to do what we should have done 30 years ago – i.e., develop a self-supporting commercial economy off Earth. Eventually, the ISS might be sold to some entrepreneur, to be made into something useful or cannibalized for parts.

To get the engines of free enterprise running, I would set up a commercial corporation (call it The Spacefarers’ League, Inc.), whose function would be to disburse the $4 billion and to formulate agreed principles and rules for private spaceflight. TSL would be subject to Congressional accounting oversight and would have representatives of the President on the Board, but it would be run by and for private enterprise in space. It could make a profit (e.g, from fees charged for services such as traffic control in space), but not from distributing the $4 billion government grant. It could however decide how to spend the money – e.g., on technology development, X-vehicles, incentives such as prizes or subsidies, etc.

Of course, this is a very crude first cut. Does anybody have a better idea?

Phil Chapman

Pretty much what I have been advocating for years, only I would add prizes.

If there is some doubt about the integrity of the tiles on a shuttle which is to dock with the ISS, somebody on the station could presumably use binoculars to look at the belly while the shuttle maneuvered in the vicinity. It might also be possible to do an EVA from the station to inspect a docked shuttle.

Unless there is a good reason for another inclination (such as rendezvous with the ISS), shuttle launches will generally be due east out of the Cape (28 degree inclination), because that takes the least propellant. Getting from there to the ISS involves a delta-vee of more than 4 km/s, which is totally impossible.

What is needed for free-flying shuttles is a video camera in a small battery-powered satellite, stabilized in attitude by a simple gyro. It would have a zoom lens controlled from the shuttle and small transmitter for the video. The whole thing might weigh less than 5 kg, and it could surely be built for $10K. On every mission, long before reentry, the crew would toss this little satellite overboard, and fly the shuttle around it so as to inspect the tiles. If a defect were found, there would at least be time to consider what to do, or to say goodbye .


And given the ingenuity of mankind -- look at Apollo 13 -- perhaps something could be done.

In fact if we had decent space suits -- something I have pushed for beginning 30 years ago -- we would think in terms of ways to use them. But because we have never developed the kind of suit that would let you go out and work on the hull -- even if Pete Conrad did use his to fis Skylab -- NASA has not thought in those ways.

Instead NASA officials said there was no point in inspecting for damage because there would have been nothing we could do about it. Two things come to mind: why is an idiot like that working at that level in the space program? And second, who is responsible for being able to do precisely nothing about a quite predictable situation of tiles damaged on liftoff?

We have no space suits courtesy largely of George Abbey and the Houston mafia who sabotaged the Ames development teams. Who did the operations analysis for contingency on tiles damaged on takeoff? 

Are there no walls left?

I'm sure someone has already pointed this out to you, but on Columbia, the airlock exit into the payload bay had a Spacehab bolted over it, and no other exit built onto the tunnel.

This can be seen on page 30 of the STS-107 press kit Acrobat file available here:

I'm not sure there was a way to to an EVA even if suits and repair equipment had been available. Certainly they couldn't evacuate the cabin and go out the main cabin door. I don't think NASA has made this as clear as they might have.

Tom Brosz

Without decent suits it's pointless to provide ways to go outside. Skylab wasn't supposed to need fixing but it did. But NASA didn't learn much from that.

After consulting with a friend at NASA, I found another photo showing a second short tunnel segment between the one I saw and the actual orbiter airlock, that does indeed contain a hatch that could be used for an EVA. My first impression that there was no such hatch on the Columbia was incorrect.

Tom Brosz

Hardly matters: without decent suits they don't think about things you can do to fix the ship.





On Fixing The Blame

According to the AP Science writer they'll blame it on the older tank. Every bureacracy has an instinct for self-preservation. NASA's ability for self-preservation is well-developed. Their Houdini act begins. Blame it on the tank. Don't use older ones, and we're off running again quickly.

It's a classic PR move, change the subject from the real issue. Rather than talk about the problem of the shuttle tiles and a single-point of failure TPS system, talk about what hit the shuttle tiles.

Round up the usual supects...

The manufacturer of the fuel tank disclosed Sunday that NASA used an older version of the tank, which the space agency began phasing out in 2000. NASA's preflight press information stated the shuttle was using one of the newer super-lightweight fuel tanks.

Harry Wadsworth, a spokesman for Lockheed, the tank maker, said most shuttle launches use the "super-lightweight" tank and the older version is no longer made. Wadsworth said he did not know if there was a difference in how insulation was installed on the two types of tanks.

Wadsworth said the tank used aboard the Columbia mission was manufactured in November 2000 and delivered to NASA the next month. Only one more of the older tanks is left, he said.

Dittemore said the tank, though no longer manufactured, had been used for many years and was between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds heavier than the newer version, but "we had no reason to doubt it capability."


Round up the usual suspects...

And Roland found this, which should not be surprising.

Subject: Heads, they win; tails, we lose.

Heads, they win; tails, we lose.

 Roland Dobbins

Why am I not surprised?



On Nerve Gasses:

Subject: Nerve gas

Dear Dr. Pournelle

I am one of the chemists. My attention was drawn to your current discussion on nerve agents because one of the pages I am responsible for was referenced. Some or all of the following may be of interest.

Nonuse of chemical weapons by the Germans during WWII

The Germans rarely encountered appropriate tactical conditions for the use of chemical weapons. At the beginning of the war, the use of chemical weapons would have been nonproductive where Blitzkrieg tactics were working - the German troops simply moved too rapidly to allow a chemical barrage to be set up. Where the Blitzkrieg tactics weren't working, the Germans faced protected enemies (e.g., the Maginot forts all had provisions for defense against gas attack).

The Germans appear to have considered seriously the use of chemicals only twice when they were on the attack. The first time was in December 1941, when a plan was drawn up to breach the Leningrad defenses by a chemical attack in the Detskoe Selo-Uritsk section of the line. The attack was to be conducted along a 20 km front using artillery. German planners got as far as calculating the material requirements for the attack and, when it was recognized that they would need 52 trains and about a month to move the needed munitions into place (and all the available artillery pieces plus a few extra to fire them), the plan was abandoned.

The second time was when they were trying to dig the partisans out of the Adzhim-Ushkay cave complex near Kerch. The plan in this case actually made it to Hitler, who said no. In the end, instead of chemical weapons, the Germans used acetylene to produce an explosive mixture with air (sort of like a modern fuel-air explosive) to close off the caves.

The Germans were also concerned about retaliation.

To begin with, the Germans didn't think that nerve agents were the trump card that they could have been, as they believed the Allies had similar weapons. The Western Allies had, of course, experimented with an organophosphate (diispropylfluorophosphate, aka PF-3), while in the East, V.M. Plets, one of the luminaries of Soviet chemical warfare, had been one of the editors of Organicheskie soedineniia fosfora, published in 1940.

Even discounting the possibility that the Allies would respond with their own organophosphate nerve agents, the Germans were worried about the more conventional chemical agents they might face. One major reason was the logistic problems that would arise if they fought in a chemical environment - the German Army used a great deal of horse-drawn transport up until the end of the war. But this was not the sole reason the Germans feared retaliation - they were also not sanguine about the prospects for protecting their forces.

For instance, the Soviets had been particularly inventive with hydrogen cyanide, which most countries had abandoned because it was believed to disperse too rapidly to produce an effective concentration. The Soviets had figured out that, if you used a big enough charge, you got evaporative cooling that would allow production of an effective concentration. They had also developed spray tanks that allowed dissemination of enough agent to produce an effective concentration at ground level (with low altitude spraying). The Germans captured some spray tanks and tested them at Munsterlager, and were considerably disturbed by what they found - both unprotected animals and animals inside tanks (the panzer kind) died after about 1 minutes exposure. The German gas mask was also poor protection against this particular agent, with the FE-41 filter failing in about an hour, and the FE-42 in about an hour and forty-five minutes.

Finally, as their fortunes worsened, the Germans moved away from considering the use of such weapons because they were, well, losing, and usually didn't have the resources to mount the attack - and also had to wonder about what happens if they did it, lost anyway, and then get caught by the victors.

In the early part of the war, chemical agents weren't considered for use against civilian populations for political reasons plus concern over retaliation (basically, the Germans were winning and didn't need to use them; so why open that can of worms). (The mustard bombs dropped on Warsaw on September 3, 1939 were an accident, and the Germans spent some effort convincing the world of this.) And as their fortunes turned, the political issue of what would the world think became even more urgent.

How long nerve agents can be kept

This depends on their purity and the storage conditions. Pure agents properly stored will last for decades. Impure agents can be useless militarily (although still dangerous) within a few weeks.

On the terrorist threat from nerve agents

Nerve agents can cause significant problems for unprotected populations, as Aum Shinrikyo demonstrated in Matsumoto (7 dead, >500 affected) and Tokyo (12 dead, >6000 affected) using sarin.

Nonuse against civilian targets

The Tokyo attack is of interest to those considering bad possibilities, since it was essentially a botched attack - the sarin used was very impure (<30 %), it was distributed among 13 bags that were to be punctured and left to drain (inefficient dissemination) in 5 train cars, and not all the bags were punctured, with one remaining completely intact and another apparently bursting when stepped on by passengers leaving the car. This botched attack essentially overwhelmed the response capabilities of a modern city. The lessons learned from it have been well distributed among both emergency responders (good) and (as we know from captured documents) those who might carry out such an attack (bad).

All of which means that, if it is indeed true that Iraq has passed VX on to Asbat al-Ansar (or any terrorist group), there could be a very bad day ahead. VX is more toxic than sarin and it is presumably in purer form, being state produced. The only bright side is that it is a little less easy to disseminate than sarin, being less volatile. (Aum Shinrikyo made some of this agent too, and used it to commit a murder - but they sprayed VX liquid directly onto the person they killed, rather than relying on the vapor.)

Stanley Roberts

Thank you. 






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