The first is from Iraq just weeks after the draw-down reached 50,000 U.S troops remaining:
Nation Building Works
August 30, 2010
The New York Times
The U.S. venture into Iraq was a war, but it was also a nation-building exercise. America has spent $53 billion trying to reconstruct Iraq, the largest development effort since the Marshall Plan. So how’s it working out?
On the economic front, there are signs of progress. It’s hard to know what role the scattershot American development projects have played, but this year Iraq will have the 12th-fastest-growing economy in the world, and it is expected to grow at a 7 percent annual clip for the next several years.
About half the U.S. money has been spent building up Iraqi security forces, and here, too, the trends are positive. Violence is down 90 percent from pre-surge days. There are now more than 400,000 Iraqi police officers and 200,000 Iraqi soldiers, with operational performance improving gradually. According to an ABC News/BBC poll last year, nearly three-quarters of Iraqis had a positive view of the army and the police, including, for the first time, a majority of Sunnis.
The second is about Iraq's political climate, now seven years after the Baath regime was routed:
Iraq's Blessed Affliction
August 4, 2010
The Wall Street Journal
These struggles are often colored by sectarian and ethnic divides, and further complicated by politics of fear driven by Iraq’s political history of oppression, making compromise more difficult. The good thing, however, is that so far the political parties are referring to the Constitution and courts in their disputes, not resorting to violence.
And then from Afghanistan, almost nine years since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom:
Is Afghanistan Worth It?
August 3, 2010
The Wall Street Journal
Consistency, in the sense of supporting a counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan similar to the one conservatives urged (and that worked) for Iraq after the abject failure of the "light footprint" approach advocated by Joe Biden. Responsibility, in the sense of keeping faith with those to whom we make commitments.
This is not just a moral argument: The U.S. cannot remain a superpower if the suspicion takes root that we are a feckless nation that can be stampeded into surrender by a domestic caucus of defeatists. Allies or would-be allies will make their own calculations and hedge their bets. Why should we be surprised that this is precisely what Pakistan has done vis-a-vis the Taliban? It's not as if the U.S. hasn't abandoned that corner of the world before to its furies.
How a feckless America is perceived by its friends is equally material to how we are perceived by our enemies. In his 1996 fatwa declaring war on the U.S., Osama bin Laden took note of American withdrawals from Beirut in 1983 and Mogadishu a decade later. "When tens of your soldiers were killed in minor battles and one American pilot was dragged through the streets . . . you withdrew, the extent of your impotence and weakness became very clear." Is it the new conservative wisdom to prove bin Laden's point (one that the hard men in Tehran undoubtedly share), only on a vastly greater scale?
Excellent article from Spaceflight Now describing the multiple missions being collaboratively planned by the United States and Europe to discover and excavate samples from the surface of Mars, launch them in to Mars orbit, rendevouz with a return orbiter, fly them back to Earth and land them safely on Earth's surface.
Mars sample return mission could begin in 2018
July 20, 2010
The costly mission would blast off on an Atlas 5 rocket in 2018 and land two rovers on Mars with a single "sky crane" descent system...
The European Space Agency's ExoMars rover and a $2 billion NASA Mars Astrobiology Explorer-Cacher mission are the leading candidates for the tandem project.
Planners haven't decided on a schedule for the sample's return to Earth, and it's possible the the precious soil could wait for up to six years -- or even longer -- before NASA and ESA can afford to send a mission to bring it back.
One sample return option involves launching the caching mission in 2018, skipping a launch opportunity in 2020, then sending the an orbiter to Mars in 2022 that would ferry the cargo back to Earth, according to McCuistion.
Another mission could fly in 2024 to fetch the samples from the 2018 landing site and launch the cache into orbit around Mars, where it would dock with the return orbiter and begin the journey home.
"When we write the history, that decision taken by the council will be seen as the turning point," Southwood said in a July 8 interview. "That will be the point at which the Europeans said the future Mars program is together with the United States."
What is needed is the incremental, cumulative build-up of space faring infrastructure that is both extensible and maintainable, a growing system whose aim is to transport us anywhere we want to go, for whatever reasons we can imagine, with whatever capabilities we may need.
Not too far from our home, on Salt Road, there lies Beeman Cemetery, an old frontier graveyard, with the tomb of one Nathaniel Gallop (1760-1843), my sons' Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather. He was born in Rhode Island Colony before settling in Clarence by way of Bennington, Vermont. Nathaniel Gallop begot Asa Gallop (1794-1881), also buried in Clarence, who begot Mary Gallop (1823-?) who begot Olive Boyer (1843-1911) who's last born Bessie Hetherly (1889-1975), after her spouse passed away during her second trimester, gave birth to my wife's grandma Thelma. Along with their two direct ancestors, dozens of dead fifth or sixth cousins, five+ times removed, lie buried in the same old cemetery.
If one follows the interrupted path preceding the design of the NASA Human Spaceflight Exploration Systems Architecture Study, you’ll find the NASA actively discarded advanced technology and highly innovative architectures in favor of those internal NASA concepts and technology that depended on the the existing capabilities of NASA Centers (Heavy Lift from Marshall, for example) and preserved requirements for the existing Shuttle workforce.
Successful adoption of innovative concepts inside of NASA requires exceptional leadership. Otherwise, parochial Center and Contractor interests will prevail.Comment originally posted at Centauri Dreams' post NIAC Redux: A Visionary Future.
Now that Shuttle's development costs are far sunk, it is a much more affordable launch vehicle than Constellation's Ares, by almost any measure - total life cycle, average and marginal cost. The $2 billion average cost per flight of Ares 1 blew me away.
To start comparing Shuttle costs to commercial launch, NASA's 2008 budget for Shuttle was $3.2 billion and in 2009 was $2.9 billion. Divide that by an average of five flights per year and you're looking at $580 million to $650 million per flight.
However, if you disaggregate the requirements for delivery of crew and cargo given the demands at Station, the Shuttle lift capacity is oversize and the launch cost less affordable - once Station assembly is complete.
Compare with the $3.5 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) for cargo delivery to Station from 2011 to 2016. NASA could try to keep Shuttle flying at a low rate instead of pursuing CRS, but, given the reference cost of the stand-down post Columbia (Shuttle was still burning up $2-3 billion a year without a single launch) the Shuttle would still not be cost effective given the operational resupply demand of Station.
For crew transportation to Station, using a conservative price of $50 million per seat on Soyuz, let's assume NASA needs to fly ten astronauts to Station each year. That would still only amount to $500 million per year at Russia's extortion pricing.
I suppose if NASA could minimize Shuttle program costs to below $1.5 billion a year from the remainder of Station operations, it could be the more affordable option.
"The Committee concludes that the ultimate goal of human
exploration is to chart a path for human expansion into the
solar system. This is an ambitious goal, but one worthy of
U.S. leadership in concert with a broad range of international
Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee Final Report
This illustration by Sean McNaughton at National Geographic shows all interplanetary missions since the dawn of ths Space age.
Space simulation that lets you explore our universe in three dimensions. Unlike most planetarium software, Celestia doesn't confine you to the surface of the Earth. You can travel throughout the solar system, to any of over 100,000 stars, or even beyond the galaxy. Awesome program.
Today The New Atlantis published A Space Program for the Rest of Us - the best space policy paper I've read this year. Author Rand Simberg plans for a civil space program that is affordable and scales towards opening the high frontier for the rest of America, potentially the lead nation in a embryonic spacefaring civilization. Key passage:
The critical requirement of a reusable space system is refuelability. Consider a thought experiment from an earlier frontier. Imagine that, on the settlers’ hard trek to the western United States, there had been no vegetation along the way for the wagon-pulling horses or oxen to eat. To get across the country, each Conestoga would have to carry enough hay to feed the animals (not to mention supplies for the pioneers for months). The wagon would have been so large that the animals wouldn’t have been able to pull it. The longest distance that could be traveled would be dictated by the largest size of wagon that they could pull when it was full, and the initial speed would be very slow, picking up as the wagon grew lighter. Once the final destination was attained, the wagon and the animals would be useless without more fuel, so presumably the wagon parts would be used to build a cabin or saloon. In reality, of course, such a system would never have been affordable; had the settlers not been able to avail themselves of food and water along the way, the West would never have been settled.
Now apply that logic to space. The vast majority of the payload for heavy-lift launch vehicles is the propellant needed to send a relatively miniscule spacecraft to the Moon (or Mars or whatever destination) and back. Recall the Apollo missions’ gargantuan Saturn V rocket; the tiny capsule atop it was all that came back. And much of the propellant used by Saturn V was needed just to deliver into space the propellant that will be used for the trip back, since there were no gas stations on the Moon. The Apollo missions’ marginal costs were astonishingly high—but acceptable in the context of a race, since we did not have the time to set up the infrastructure, the needed service stations for fuel and food, along the way.