PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF HUMAN SPACE FLIGHT
As promised, a conference report from Annapolis, or, more strictly, Maryland’s beautiful Eastern Shore! At least that’s where I was when I started writing this. If you’re looking for some great seafood I can heartily recommend the Fishermen’s Inn and Crab Deck on Main Street, Kent Narrows. I’ve never dined so close to the water. You can leave over and feed the ducks.
BWI is a friendly, convenient airport. I’m not surprised they used to call it Friendship Airport. They’ve finally moved the rental car counters! In Spyhunter I joke that the Avis counter seemed further away from the terminal than NSA. Great service again from Avis by the way – they gave me a nice new Chrysler 300. That is one, stylish automobile. The 8-speed slushbox is amongst the smoothest I’ve ever used and even the small 3.6 liter engine gives adequate performance, although of course when driving in the USA Michael observes the speed limit (the Maryland highway patrol may be reading this!!). Thanks to Marie and the nice people at Avis.
I even remembered to drive on the wrong side of the road. I also haven’t driven onto anyone’s lawn, unlike the US Post Office delivery driver I saw on WUSA yesterday morning! That was funny. Nor have I crashed into a bollard outside the White House. Administrators should always remember that disabled parking permits can be very important to some folks.
I’m glad my schedule on this trip does not include Wyoming. Let’s hope that state legislators there stop believing in manmade global warming. Denver’s looking a bit chilly as well. I was very sorry to see the floods in Colorado, by the way, my favourite state.
Highlight of the conference for me was a great presentation from Jim Lovell, Mission Commander Apollo 13, also a veteran of Gemini 7, Gemini 12 and Apollo 8. He even signed a book for me! Jim is seriously good people. I was astonished to learn that he and his equally brave colleagues were never decorated and that officially Apollo 13 was classed as a failure. Well, yes it was if success is defined solely in terms of achieving the stated mission objective. In terms of enhancing the can-do reputation of NASA and the USA it was an outstanding success.
We ought to have a “Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in Space” in the UK and you guys should have something similar. We in Britain also need a serious space program, something we have not had since Sir Anthony Eden was Prime Minister. His successor, the DVD’s Harold Macmillan, was a dull, uninspiring man of limited vision, who had no commitment to space exploration at all. Harold Wilson talked a good game but was technologically illiterate. A machine politician, he too lacked the ‘vision thing.’ By the end of his disastrous terms of office we were so far out of the space race it wasn’t even funny. We weren’t even in the Space Paralympics.
By the way I do not want to see Jim Lovell dragged into the debate about who sabotaged his spacecraft and why. We only met briefly and did not discuss Apollo 13, save my complimenting him, respectfully, on his outstanding work. So far as I know Jim goes with the Board of Inquiry’s findings. He was a test pilot (and a very good one too, tested the F4H (F-4) for the Navy) and an astronaut, not a systems engineer, nor counter-sabotage expert.
That session was moderated by former Good Morning America host David Hartman, and moderated very well too. Jim was joined on the panel by Shuttle veterans Bob Cabana, Bob Crippen and Captain Ken Ham USN of the Naval Academy. I was encouraged to learn that the Aerospace Engineering Department at Annapolis adopt a scientific approach to that crazy old Kraut Einstein’s flawed theory that the speed of light (C) is a limiting velocity. It isn’t.
The Shutdown and the Space Station
This was the first conference I ever attended which was scheduled to have off-planet speakers. I’ve listened to off the wall speakers, but never off the planet! Sadly the government shutdown, cleverly arranged by Obama (boys, if you a see a hole dug for you by your opponent you are not obliged to jump into it), prevented Colonel Mike Hopkins and Dr Karen Nyberg from joining us from the International Space Station.
They had to pre-record a message instead, although that was pretty awesome. The lady astronauts in the room (of whom there were at least two, including a nice US Navy lady captain) were no doubt sympathetic to the effects of zero gravity on Karen Nyberg’s hair.
I suspect Karen was making a point to us old codgers – lady astronauts are serious, dedicated professionals. They are not just on the space station to hang the curtains, make the coffee and clean up after the men.
When the figure was given I thought they meant monthly, not yearly. NASA’s budget is ludicrously low. It’s about a quarter of the British defense budget, which God knows is tiny enough (like Chamberlain, Cameron does not believe that there is an international crisis which cannot be resolved by conceding ground to the Bad Guys). Congress needs to quadruple it, and that’s just for the next fiscal year. It should be ten times what it is. As I pointed out to a senior NASA administrator, the Apollo program in the end was free. It was paid for many times over just by the technological spin-offs, including the laptop on which I am writing this.
NASA had to sneak some people in under the radar. Sadly, Charlie Bolden, the immensely capable NASA Administrator, who is doing astonishing things with his chicken-feed budget (hell, there must be chicken farms in Kansas with a bigger annual spend), was forced to cry off due to the silly shutdown.
The next new destination for human space flight (clearly we need to start the settlement of the lunar surface) is Mars. That’s a no brainer. Why go to Venus? You couldn’t get humans down to the surface even on a one-way trip – it’s hotter than Vegas and has more problems with CO2 than an IPCC report. Mars is the next planet out.
The obvious way to do it, as we discussed at the conference, is to assemble the ships in orbit, in dedicated space stations, using the expertise we are building up with the ISS. The obvious drive is electric, with nuclear power, and the obvious reactors to use are existing US Navy and Royal Navy submarine reactors – compact, light and powerful. Britain should join in. A transatlantic space treaty would make it difficult for left-wing, anti-progress, technophobic govts like the Obama Administration and the Coalition Government to cancel. Of course we would need governments in both countries who do not see their man aim in life as holding back humanity.
Movie of the Week
British TV replayed Von Ryan’s Express this week. The all-star cast was led by the great Frank Sinatra, who insisted on the tragic ending so he would not have to do a sequel. Yes, I am aware that Frankie had his dealings with the Mob, indeed I have stayed with the nice folk who gave him refuge (they gave me Frank’s old bedroom, but I still can’t sing!) when the pressure became too great. He was a good man, who could only fulfill his God-given talent if he made compromises. It doesn’t mean that he was happy with them.
Trevor Howard was the British lead. He plays a by the book old-school regimental officer, who approves of hanging Italians. It’s a splendid sentiment, but you have to choose your Italian carefully. He gives valuable advice to the eponymous Colonel Ryan on how to kill Germans, pointing out, reasonably, that your average German will get impatient whilst you waste time trying to strangle him. Much better to garrotte him. With the Anglo-European crisis deepening this sort of practical hint is becoming increasingly valuable.
That’s all for this week, folks. I’m off to Warbirds Over the Beach.
Michael Shrimpton was a barrister from his call to the Bar in London in 1983 until being disbarred in 2019 over a fraudulently obtained conviction. He is a specialist in National Security and Constitutional Law, Strategic Intelligence, and Counter-terrorism. He is a former Adjunct Professor of Intelligence Studies at the American Military University.