Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Lost In Space – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on May 14, 2020

After more than decade in ‘aerospace’ the only thing I found what the term ‘classified’ meant is to hide the real cost from the taxpayer.
In 1995 I had a tour of the Lockheed factory where the F-22 was being
built. I joked to the engineer that ‘milling it out of gold bricks could
not have been more expensive’. His response was immediate: “No, that
would be much cheaper.”


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been a non-stop hype machine since its earliest days. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957 American leaders panicked. If the Commies could launch a beeper the size of a basketball into orbit then thermonuclear weapons the size of a greyhound bus to the U.S. mainland could not be far behind. It seemed that American rockets of the day exploded upon launch or shortly thereafter. A “missile gap” was created overnight wherein the Soviets were vastly ahead of the United States and our annihilation would soon follow. NASA was created to address this issue and suck money from taxpayers exhausted by two decades of war and unwilling to give more money to the War Department, the Defense Department’s honest name. Sixty years later encouraged by President Trump and the silly notion of national prestige there is serious talk on all the obedient media outlets, and the massive funding needed, so we can return to the moon, go to Mars and I guess run around festering in space with silly notions of evening news mentality of democracy. The lie that created NASA continues to this day and it is looking to get a lot more expensive for absolutely no benefit of mankind.

I spent several years working for a NASA prime contractor on the Space Transportation System (Space Shuttle) including a year at Cape Canaveral – Kennedy Space Center. Years earlier I had worked as a contractor on the Trident D-5 missile. I spent the better part of a decade as a Lead Engineer and Program Manager in the aerospace/defense sector so I have some level of experience in these things. As was my habit I went to the library studied as much as I could on space technology as soon as I got the job. I found it fascinating as it was the reification of my childhood dream of being an ‘astronaut’. So in a sense I am a rocket scientist, NASA spent millions on my ideas, but all I learned was sad, evil and depressing.

The ‘Camelot’ Administration of JFK could not announce a vast new multi-billion dollar program to build a fleet of rockets designed specifically to put a thermonuclear weapon the size of a small automobile in downtown Moscow (we were always ahead in miniaturizing these weapons of mass destruction, now one fits in a suitcase and is more powerful than the one that levelled Hiroshima) with the cross hairs of the target certainly being Red Square and the Kremlin itself. Instead NASA would put a man on the moon by 1969 when it was announced in 1961. The massive Saturn V could put 300,000 pounds of payload into a Low Earth Orbit which is more than necessary to put payload anywhere on the Earth. The world watched breathlessly as NASA astronauts walked on the moon. The miracle was that they all got back alive because there were so many single points of failure on the Lunar Lander that the just pushed buttons and held their breath. I won’t waste space listing them all but you can probably imagine: ‘start the engine, go engine, click, silence, go engine click silence. Houston we have a BIG problem’.

Along the way NASA designed and built the Redstone, Atlas and Delta rockets all very capable of delivering nuclear warheads. The transfer of the necessary technologies of propulsion, guidance, payload and re-entry to the military were not advertised, deemed national secrets and highly classified. After more than decade in ‘aerospace’ the only thing I found what the term ‘classified’ meant is to hide the real cost from the taxpayer. In 1995 I had a tour of the Lockheed factory where the F-22 was being built. I joked to the engineer that ‘milling it out of gold bricks could not have been more expensive’. His response was immediate: “No, that would be much cheaper.”

The Space Shuttle program was a disaster as it failed to reach any of the initial stated goals during its operational lifetime, so over the years NASA just changed the goals and then just stopped talking about them altogether. Two of the shuttles disintegrated spectacularly killing all the astronauts on-board.  I knew a Space Shuttle Main Engine Reliability Engineer who assured me that the whole thing was safe failure would be in the parts per million. Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman who found why the first shuttle exploded said his calculation was about 1 in a 100 would fail catastrophically. The real number was very close 2 in 255. I go with Feynman.

The original design of the ‘Space Station’, that I read design documents for was incredibly complicated and it called for almost 20,000 hours of ‘space walking’ for assembly at a time when the total accumulated to date by NASA was 200 hours. Space suits cost more than $1 million apiece and they leak but slow enough so the work can get done before they get back in the nice cozy Space RV. Astronauts working on satellites in the weightless vacuum of space found even the simplest manual tasks to be daunting. Newton’s third law action produces reaction in the opposite direction so turning a wrench on a bolt turned the astronaut! This will not work, so like typical bureaucrats they stopped talking about it, and came up with an old design, then pawned it off as new. Skylab was an empty upper stage of a multi-stage liquid fueled rocket. It made for a ‘space fort’. The current International Space Station is just a bunch of these tubes stuck together. This does not look at all like they giant rotating wheels producing artificial gravity that we have all seen in science fiction movies of the last 70 years. If we spent the entire gross domestic product of the entire world for a decade we could not build one of those. Physics says no, again I have to quote Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman ‘nature cannot be fooled’, even if a gullible Congress can.

Congress had a choice in the early 90’s to either fund the Super Conducting Supercollider (SSC) or the Space Station (Space RV). Congress chose the latter, the International Space Station and the real science, the Super Conducting Supercollider was killed in favor of an unachievable dream and a tremendous waste. The loss was that maybe when we split quarks we would find anti-gravity, warp drive, free gold and roast ducks that will fly into the mouths of the proletariat who only need to open them. I doubt it though more likely quarks with a charges of 1/3 and 2/3 break apart into 2/5 and 3/5 but that will need many more billions to build just to be sure the ducks are not lurking below. Richard Feynman told an anecdotal story about an old woman he met after giving a talk on physics. She said and I paraphrase them both “You are a clever one young man but don’t you know the earth is flat and rides on the back of a giant turtle? Feynman then said well what does the turtle ride on? The response was immediate it’s turtles all the way down.” – 1/3, 1/5, 1/7 each iterations costing tens of billions more just to be sure.

While on the subject of Richard Feynman (buy and read any of his books, physics is hilarious). He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 for something called Quantum Electrodynamics. Shortly thereafter he was accosted by a reporter who said: “Tell me what you won the Nobel Prize for.” Feynman’s response in his sharp New Jersey dialect was “If I could explain it to you they would not have given me the Nobel Prize.” Feynman delighted in punching holes in pompous jackasses. Here is his picture sitting with the Queen of Denmark at his Nobel Ceremony dinner. While at Caltech the local government wanted to close Feynman’s favorite topless bar where he would go after work, talk with the girls and draw the pictures, he was learning to draw. The local bureaucrats tried to force the owner out of business but when Nobel Laureate Feynman testified on appeal he carried the day and the club stayed open. Attractive young strippers are an essential part of the First Amendment according to Dick.

Back to my favorite collection of pompous jackasses: NASA plans to go back to the moon and then to Mars. Billionaire’s Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are vocal in their intentions (not their money they put up a small fraction) with respect to this as well. President Trump has stated that he supports these programs which will take hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of hard earned taxpayer dollars to pay for this doomed folly and it will be every bit a failure. Trump has foolishly created another Defense Department this one in outer space a very large jurisidictional bailiwick for a country that is already broke.

The coronavirus giveaway has pushed the national debt above 100% of the Gross Domestic Product. If you do this as an individual bankruptcy almost certainly looms, but you get your credit cut off either way. The Fed can print bonds, it is unclear who will buy them? The Chinese? Their economy is in worse shape than ours, vastly more corrupt and someone in the US government threatens them daily. I am pretty sure threatening your banker does not work well as a credit strategy but maybe failure to buy an adequate number of bonds at an auction will be considered an Act of War. The Energy Department has 50,000 plutonium pits in storage just waiting to be mounted on something that flies fast, but these are not militarily ready, today, tomorrow we’ll see. This little diversion is fecund ground for a future more in-depth screed than this bile filled tangent about the new Space Farce.

Reaching space requires rockets and all rockets are linear bombs; a rocket is just a pressure vessel that is filled with explosives or chemicals that become explosive. Not fuel, bombs. Newton’s third law, the gases from the motor go in one direction and the rocket goes the other. There are two basic rocket types for putting payload into orbit solid and liquid fueled. A solid rocket fuels is manufactured as a liquid which is cast into the motor itself. The fuel dries out and at launch time an explosive like nitroglycerin is ignited and pours down onto the surface of the motor which then burns ferociously. The biggest solid fuel rocket was the solid rocket boosters (SRB) that were strapped to the side of the shuttle. The solid fueled rocket is the type used on the ‘boosters’ of the shuttle and liquid fueled were used on the Space Shuttle itself. Solid fueled rockets are cheaper and more reliable than liquid fueled. A solid rocket has a drawback though it cannot be throttled or turned off. Once ignited the explosive propellant burns until none is left. In a sense you could turn it off if you vaporised it with an atom bomb, but that has other liability issues.  A liquid fueled rocket can be throttled similar to the gas pedal on a car or it can be turned off. So getting into space requires sitting on top of a linear bomb and riding it for about ten minutes. They usually work, but not always. The space shuttle flew a couple of hundred times and one blew up shortly after liftoff and one burned up on re-entry. Would you buy a car that had a 1% chance of killing every passenger each time you drove? NASA official failure analysis on the shuttle was six sigma meaning roughly one chance in a million. Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman at the Challenger Committee said his calculation were 2 in 255 would fail catastrophically. NASA was clearly wrong but then a bureaucracy never lets the truth interfere with a good story.

On the other hand NASA satellite programs (robotic spacecraft) have been wildly successful, and produced real science. The many robotic spacecraft like the Hubble Telescope, SDO, or Chandra and dozens of others have provided astounding views of outer space. Robots do not require life support systems. There are no widows and grieving children when a satellite fails and a still a lot of them do.

The solar system, beyond earth, is extremely hot or extremely cold and can be extremely violent. The atmosphere ceases to be livable beyond 26,000 feet in altitude. All of outer space is inhospitable to life. To go there, is to die, or like climbers on Mount Everest you go for a short time and then return or else death comes calling.

All this talk of living in outer space is silly and a complete waste of time and money to do anything beyond robotic spacecraft. What they do not show in movies of the space station is that astronauts have to spend three hours a day strapped into spinning exercise bikes or their bodies start to disintegrate. Many of them are too weak to walk when they return to normal gravity on the surface. If you spend a year in space your body has absorbed a lifetime of ionizing radiation from cosmic rays, alpha and beta particles streaming from the sun. It is impossible to get a lead lined spacecraft into orbit it weighs too much so all astronauts take a serious health risk even if the rocket does not explode.

Talk of mining resources from the moon or Mars is just non-sense. Getting water from rocks on Mars or the moon is a lie-the costs would be astronomical. Continued life support on the moon, or Mars or the asteroids is the stuff of science fiction. It is not real. SpaceX gets around $21,000 per pound of payload to the Space RV. Boeing is allowed to charge almost twice that so there is a competitor in the business. Try building a discount store next door to Sam’s Club, carry all the same products but at twice the price Sam’s charges. Needless to say you can only sell a crappy business plan lack that to the unwitting taxpayers, NASA knows exactly what is going on and they do not care, they are just another ruthless bureaucracy doung their best to suck the last dollar possible out of the public trough. Every pound of payload put on the Gong Show to the Moon will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per pound payload delivered, maybe millions of dollars, but how frugal is my twelve year old going to be when he has a credit card you never make payments on and never gets denied.

Mars will be hundreds of billions or trillions. A manned spacecraft has never been built for the kind of isolation and desolation of the mind and body that going to Mars will entail. Sure, there will be cadres of well-educated ‘heroes’, I call them fools, willing to take the ride, but the ride will end in death. Mars is unlivable because it has no atmosphere. The atmospheric pressure is 1% of that on earth. The little atmosphere it has is toxic, mainly carbon dioxide. It has no atmosphere because it does not have enough gravity to hold on to one. Sorry no SyFy atmosphere processors. However, should Matt Damon gets to Mars he will not be able to grow potatoes because it has no soil just rock and rock dust. Actual ‘soil’ takes millions and millions of years to produce via the decomposition of the dead biome. I suppose you could load huge water tanks and top dollar NASA certified fertilizer and raise the cost a few hundred billion but even then who knows the potatoes might just not like it there. It took billions of years before they liked it here.

The amount of money wasted on these programs is just insane. All costs, no benefits. We went to the moon to fool the public into developing ballistic missile technology so we could nuke the Russians or any other evil horde ‘leadership’ decides they do not like. We do not have the technology to go anywhere but where we are on earth. We are much closer to the stone age than we are to interstellar travel, stop it NASA and grow up. It is almost certainly beyond any current technology. The distances are too vast, the speeds are too slow even if we could zoom in space at 90% of the speed of light it is still far far far too slow. Man evolved to live on the earth, everywhere else he dies. Ask the parents of all the dead astronauts the cost.

Imagine for a moment some advanced civilization existed whose technology is the stuff of our dreams and they have easy and convenient interstellar travel no more inconvenient in crossing the galaxy than I have in driving the seven hours to Chicago for a Cubs game. What would they do? Come to Earth share their technology? Come to Earth and kill us all? Most likely we would never know they had been here.

They would pass by, sensors on, to learn about us and then produce something like this in a report home:

  • The dominant species are savages; social but uncivilized
  • Their governments steal from their citizens
  • Their governments periodically massacre each other’s citizens including their own.
  • Their citizens steal from one another
  • Their citizens kill one another
  • They pollute the atmosphere burning hydrocarbon fuels with no reclamation system
  • They pollute the atmosphere with millions of hydrocarbon burning screw machines passing through the higher altitudes with no remediation
  • The governments of all countries desecrate their environment and pour poison into the biome where it never existed before
  • The vast and beautiful oceans are being destroyed by pollution and over harvesting of wildlife
  • Their limited fresh water is becoming undrinkable in its natural state in most places
  • There is not enough safe to drink clean fresh water for all the population to drink
  • They overpopulate leaving billions of lives in poverty and misery
  • They split the atom to create vast killing machines instead of taking care of one another
  • These creatures have enough religion to hate but not to love
  • They have not admitted that peace, freedom and voluntary cooperation are the ONLY way to be civilized and probably the only way into space, that is, when it makes sense. They have a prophet that led the way to this paradise, Ludwig von Mises whose magnum opus Human Action shows exactly how to organize paradise. Even Aliens could download Mises books just like the rest of us, assuming they got past ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns on the way in and did not turn around, no intelligent life down there! Lucy is now about 70 light years from earth and traveling outbound for eternity.

My favorite episode of the series Star Trek back in the sixties has the Starship Enterprise and an alien spacecraft chasing each other in battle. A giant hand impossibly stops both ships dead (suspension of disbelief) and makes a combatant from each ship descend to a nearby planet and fight a duel. The winner’s ship will be spared and the losers will be destroyed. Captain Kirk manages to defeat a giant rubber head lizard man borrowed from a cheap Japanese horror movie. The representative of the giant hand civilization appears looking like a white eurocentric male in a shimmering white gown. He pronounces Captain Kirk the winner and announces he will destroy the lizard creatures ship. Kirk says something vainglorious like ‘maybe we can join together as there is much we can learn from each other’. The alien in the white gown pauses for a moment then just says ‘No’. As a teenager I knew this was actually a profound statement about the state of our civilization. We are truly “Lost In Space”.

We have everything to turn life on Earth into a Paradise, but sadly since we do not live by peace, freedom and cooperation, the stuff of Human Action, we are turning it into the other place that Dante Aligheri wrote about the many levels. Governments and their murderous policies have turned lots countries in to living Hell’s: Yemen, North Korea, anywhere in the middle east and now Venezuela, the country with the largest oil pool in existence and they cannot keep the power turned on, or clean water flowing; socialism at its finest. Imagine the millions of tons of high explosive and fiery napalm that the United States Air Force dropped on poor subsistence third world human beings in Southeast Asia between 1965 and 1975. All because of some esoteric theory about philosophy of government and property rights. Hell on Earth. It may be possible that a village has some important part in socializing children, but it takes a government to kill them by the millions.

The Voyager spaceraft launched in the 70’s has finally reached what is called the heliopause, the boundary of our solar system. It is traveling at 38,000 miles per hour and will never slow down unless it hits something large, still it will take another 90,000 years of travel before it reaches the nearest star! NASA listen up: We are not going to the stars and we must stop spending money on it. I worked on the Space Shuttle for three years and all I saw there was just appalling, waste, waste, waste. There has been NO new space technology since the 60’s when it comes to rocketry. It is just shameful that this cruel façade continues to be perpetrated on the American taxpayer. The only way out of our mess is peace, freedom, destroy the state and live with Human Action a book anyone can download and read for free. I believe in their heart that every person longs for this even if they do not allow it to be ever said on CNN.

Postscript: when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 90’s the value of the ruble went to zero, they defaulted on their bonds and the leadership of what followed were so desperate for hard currency so they could trade with the rest of the world. I had NASA friends that went and looked into their ballistic missile silos and concluded that most of the stuff they had would not launch. Most likely nothing would happen when the buttons were pushed except possibly to blow up and kill the operators, a classic government program. One of the things they sold were their highest military secrets, one of which was that the USSR had no offensive military plans beyond their borders! Sadly they followed almost every United States military program and tried to duplicate most of them, impoverishing their already poor citizens. Socialism does not work, a painful lesson I fear we are headed for learning the hard way.  The United States led the world in escalating the arms race, thus all the military activity thwarting Communism was just fraud, waste with millions of Asians dying horrific death totally needlessly. Put that in your pipe and smoke it Washington DC and hear their dying screams as you dream of new appropriations. I still hear them. We all deserve better!

Be seeing you




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