Friday, May 18, 2012

Capitalist Pigs in Space

From Chris Vosburg:  Are We There Yet?

Paypal founder and zillionaire Elon Musk has been keeping busy lately, pursuing his real dream, space travel. Tomorrow (Saturday) morning at 4:55am ET (1:55am PT) will mark another milestone in the stunningly rapid progress of Musk's SpaceX company: the launch of the first ever privately built commercial orbiter with a load of cargo for the International Space Station.

Insomniacs can watch the launch live on the NASA-TV channel (if you can get it; TimeWarnerCable does not carry it, the bastards) or at the NASA-TV website, or at the SpaceX website. General information on the launch, docking schedule etc., and handy links to other sites can be found at the colorful and educational site.

So, all my fingers and toes are crossed for Musk and his dream team. He has no intention of stopping there, by the way. Not by a long shot. It is his stated desire to retire on Mars, for instance, and from what I've seen so far, he's just the man to finally do what no government agency could do before him: open up the heavens to exploration at last.

From Scott:  Thanks, Chris.  I wasn't aware of any of this, and it's very exciting news, but for me the biggest question still remains:
Will they have SPACOM?


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

As long as they don't have Facebook, I'll happily joing...Elon Musk???

Come on, now!!!

Chris Vosburg said...

Yep, Thunder, Elon Musk. It gets better. Not only is this a perfect name for one of Ian Fleming's Bond Villains, Elon looks, talks and dresses the part to perfection as well (vaguely europy sounding, well tailored all-black suits). To top it off, he is a wealthy private citizen engaged in what was previously the province of governments, and the first handful of Falcon 1 tests were actually conducted at a secret facility on a remote tropical island.

So it's definitely not much of a stretch to imagine this quietly determined fellow stroking a long haired white cat sitting on his lap while smugly explaining to a captured 007 his master plan for global domination.

Jon Stewart had him on his show last month, by the way, and couldn't resist having a little fun with this, with Elon joining in.

M. Bouffant said...

Chris: NASA-TV's on 234 on TWC's Hollywood-Westchester system.

Not HD 'though, so they're still bastards.

Green Eagle said...

Uncross your fingers. It didn't work.

Li'l Innocent said...

Well, Green Eagle, don't know if you're old enough to remember back when the early Space Age was happening, but stuff didn't work then either, for quite a long time.

Early 50s tech-type joke follows (my engineer dad brought this one home when I was about 8 or 9):

Four-yr-old boy goes to first day of Nursery School, and his teacher is finding out what the children have in the way of knowledge, so she asks,"Does anyone know how to count to ten?" and the little boy says "Yes!" "Can you show us?"

"Yes! Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, oh damn."

"Oh dear, where did you learn that?"

"From my dad, that's how he counts at work."

"Where does he work?"

"Cape Canaveral."

This called forth comprehending laughter even amongst kids, as it was a sort of standing joke at that point, and the dud launches were covered on TV news. The pre-NASA boffins (I think it was being done mostly under Army auspices) must have been having over a 50% failure rate with rocket launches at that point. And they were trying really hard, as it was the Cold War and everyone was increasingly terrified that the Soviets would get up there first.

I doubt that Mr. Musk will give up. He probably has more money than the European Space Agency.

Chris Vosburg said...

And as SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell pointed out in the post-scrub news conference, this is not a failure. What happened is the equivalent of a airplane pilot revving the engines at the end of the runway and checking gauges before committing to takeoff. If he finds oil pressure too high, or a rough sounding engine, he'll head on back to the hangar.

The fight controller software did exactly what it was supposed to do. Remember, this is a demonstration flight-- a proof of concept. If the Falcon 9 had actually lifted off with engine 5's high chamber pressure, now that would have been a failure.

Interestingly, engine 5 has done this before, in the first flight test, though not to as high a degree. If I'm correct in assuming that engine 5 is the one in the center of the 3x3 array of nine engines-- the center square, the one with Paul Lynde, in other words-- then I'm intuitively inclined to wonder if its behavior is a result of it being the only engine in the array surrounded on all sides by the other engines, and thus may be feeling the waste heat from them in addition to what it is itself producing, resulting in the higher combustion chamber pressure which caused the software to shut it all down.

But I'm sure they already thought of that [laughing].

Chris Vosburg said...

M Bouffant, thanks for that. I should have clarified that although TWC does carry NASA-TV, it is part of their "Choice" premium tier subscription package, not its basic cable package, meaning it'd cost extra, and I'm already getting soaked enough for the movie channel package that includes TCM.

Since NASA-TV is, like the C-SPANS, a free-to-air provision of the gummint, it costs them nothing to acquire the programming or show it.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I have a black (o.k., pretty dark charcoal) suit. It's my best one.

But I'd accessorize it with a black cat, though (like Max, a feline friend from my past).

I'm practical like that.

Kathy said...

There is something very wrong about a civilization where an individual person can make enough money to pay for a spaceship and governments are cutting back in all areas of science, especially "useless" space exploration. Very wrong.

Weird Dave said...

Welcome to the New Gilded Age Ms. Willow.

Chris Vosburg said...

Dave, I think you and Kwillow might be responding more to the antics of Virgin Entrepreneur Richard Branson than what Elon Musk is doing.

They are very different things.

I've already nerded out this thread enough, but suffice to say, Branson is a guy who wants to fly around in a spaceship, and Musk is a guy who wants to sell the world on the idea that a private company can build cheaper and more effective launch vehicles than a government. He plans to make money at it, and frankly, I imagine he will.

There's much more to it of course, but, like I said, I've nerded out the thread enough.

Scott said...

I could be wrong -- show of hands? -- but I don't think it's even possible to nerd out too much on this blog.

Chris Vosburg said...

Well, Scott [laughing], then I'll sum up. In an update shortly after the aborted launch, I wrote:

The countdown made it all the way to T Minus Zero with "all systems go", and engine ignition actually commenced, but then, heartbreakingly, suddenly everything was not go; in fact, everything was kinda stop (h/t Bugs Bunny). Turns out the onboard computer monitoring software had noted a slightly high pressure reading in the combustion chamber of engine 5 (of 9), so automatic shutdown was duly initiated on all systems by the software and the launch was aborted.

It's a nuisance, not a crisis: Nothing blew up, and there is another launch window coming up on Tuesday, May 22, 3:44am ET (12:44am PT), by which time all performance data will have been examined, and the problem will be resolved.

SpaceX posted last night:

Today’s launch was aborted when the flight computer detected slightly high pressure in the engine 5 combustion chamber. We have discovered root cause and repairs are underway.

During rigorous inspections of the engine, SpaceX engineers discovered a faulty check valve on the Merlin engine. We are now in the process of replacing the failed valve. Those repairs should be complete tonight. We will continue to review data on Sunday.

If things look good, we will be ready to attempt to launch on Tuesday, May 22nd at 3:44 AM Eastern.

So chill, they got this. I hope.

Incidentally, re: Falcon, Dragon, Merlin etc., okay, laugh all you want. Me, I always hated NASA's Atlas, Saturn, Delta, Apollo, etc. bombastic Greek God nomenclature, so I'm okay with it. Speaking as a former graphic artist, much nicer logo designs too.

So, again, up up up: Tuesday 22 May, 3:44am ET (12:44am PT).

Anntichrist S. Coulter said...

Um... If I remember 4th & 5th grades correctly, Apollo, Delta, Saturn, etc. were the Romanized rip-offs of the original Greek names for their mercurial and batshit-crazy gawds? Or am I senile again?