28 May 2016

Welcome Back

Image credit: Boeing/NASA
Back in March, I was very close to abandoning this blog, having grown tired of seeing my work used by others in various ways without even a nod in my direction. I stated as much in a whiny post (now deleted; it served its purpose) and was surprised when readers responded with helpful suggestions and kind encouragement. For that, I thank you.

I kept your comments. I intend to refer to them as this blog moves forward.

Your kind words plus the vacation from writing seem to have done the trick; I'm at work now on a post taking in two advanced propulsion studies, one from 1997 and the other from 2001. It also features the film and book versions of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think it will be a fun post. Please watch for it in the days ahead.

Many of you offered to contribute funds to support this blog. I might take you up on that eventually, but for now I think it best that I prove that I am going to keep on posting regularly.

The sheer volume of spaceflight history remaining to be explored is daunting. I could write a new post every day for the next decade and just scratch the surface.

Enough procrastination. There are important stories waiting to be told.

49 comments:

  1. Very nice way to start my Sunday! Welcome back David, I really look forward to reading your '2001' post.

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    1. I'd probably be done with it now if I were more familiar with the workings of fusion rockets. I'm up to speed on that now - at least enough to explain the basic principles. Right now I'm re-reading the novel for the first time in a couple of decades. So much fun. I plan to link to your blog among my sources.

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    1. I think it will be fun. It's really hard to get to the moon in 24 hours and get to Saturn in about a year.

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  3. Glad to see you back & reinvigorated.
    Kerrin

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  4. I have always read and loved your blog. So much that could have been....I am glad it will continue.

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    1. Could have been and might yet be. . . Thanks for the kind words. How long have you followed my various blogs/websites?

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  5. Welcome back! I for one would love the chance to contribute a few dollars to a patreon campaign to support your work.

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    1. That's very kind of you. We'll see how it goes. I don't want to take anyone's money until I'm sure I can deliver a reasonable number of good-quality, wholly new posts without long gaps in between.

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  6. Hi David,
    I am slowly muddling through (day job keeps me busy and stressed) Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 now. Some of the forward-looking technology scenarios remind me of an updated 2001. Plausible if the technology trends continue 300 years. I'm curious if you've read it, and given all the different branches of the space history decision trees you've covered in volumes, do you see plausibility for some of the tech (hollowed asteroid terrariums, wide solar system habitation, etc) described? (extending out 300 years, in context, I suppose.)

    Anyway, Welcome back. I too, read your blog often, and would be happy to chip in support to cover much of the free enjoyment I have had from it.

    Best Regards,
    Ben

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    1. Ben:

      2312 was the first Hugo-winner I read before it received the award in a long while. I enjoyed it very much. I've read that it was the same world as his MARS trilogy but farther in the future and maybe with a few tweaks. I didn't read it with that in mind, but I could see similarities. The moving Mercury city occurs in the MARS trilogy, too, for example.

      The asteroid cyclers are interesting, though I wonder about the plausibility of hollowing asteroids. I mean, they must be full of cracks that would have to be stabilized. I don't recall whether 2312 addressed that. Hollister and Minovitch both wrote about cycling spacecraft - Hollister called his Castles - that would form a future transport/settlement network. Hollister's tended to be of a smaller scale than Minovitch's. I think if we'd pursued piloted flybys we'd give such things more attention than they get now.

      I also enjoyed the hints of a Solar System energy/materials economy that was undergoing some untidy change and the freezing of Venus to sequester most of its atmosphere.

      Just about anything is do-able in space if we are willing to pay for it. Unfortunately, to date our investment has been grossly insufficient to enable the kind of space future depicted in 2312 or the MARS trilogy. I sometimes think we're like the Vikings, just dipping our toes in the New World, setting up camps, fishing, and cutting timber, but always heading home to Greenland and Iceland eventually.

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    2. Hi David,
      Thanks for your detailed response. I really appreciate the Viking analogy.

      I watch with eagerness the potential for convergence in AI/Robotics technology, and planetary mining, refining, and manufacturing.

      Scale is a huge factor. Sailing across the ocean is a vast energy requirement difference and distance than leaving Earth for Mars and other places. Humanity is nowhere near the scale for space in 2016 as it was for the sea in 1500. But it's fun to imagine when we might be close to that analogy.
      Ben

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  7. Thanks for your work here. I've always enjoyed it. Glad to see you're back and doing ok.

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    1. Thanks. You aren't Bernie Sanders, are you? :-)

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  8. I am pleased to see you return to bringing us your trenchant insights into the history of space exploration. Don't let the illegitimate offspring of a Targ keep you from blogging. I am wary of the 2001 post. I blame that iconic Kubrick film, along with Star Trek, for filling my youthful (back in the 70s) imagination with such positive, technologically advanced visions of the future. I truly believed I would live long enough to get to spend time relaxing, looking out the window of my orbiting Hilton hotel room and even having a decent shot at getting to go to the moon. The reality has been harsh as we haven't been BEO since Apollo 17 returned in 1972 when I was 5.

    So I'll gladly read your post on 2001 and ponder how our world could have been different if we had taken a different path. LLAP!!!

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    1. Robert:

      You are doomed. The "2001" post is guaranteed to evoke memories and probably will generate some regrets about what could have been. But I'm trying to keep it fun. It's different from anything I've done here before.

      What might have been may yet be. We might not be here to enjoy it, but what we do now can help it happen. I really believe that.

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  9. Glad you're going to keep writing. It's exactly the kind of stuff you're telling to the world, that let's everyone know how much we aspired to when we were just starting out on the road to space, how much dreaming counted for, and how "thinking outside of the box" was not a concept that came along in the last few years.

    Thanks for soldiering on, David

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    1. Thanks for saying such kind things. I like your reference to "thinking outside the box." That's a good way of putting it - particular with regard to the planners who had no high-level sanction for the work they did.

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  10. I'd like to add my welcome back to the chorus. Your blog has always been wonderfully detailed and interesting, particularly given that so much space history is simply a rehash of the same same story.

    As a historian, I appreciate the work you've done mining the archive for the 'what ifs' and unrealised studies.

    Keep up the good work!

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    1. I certain hope to! I've written about this in the blog, but to me most space history is space nostalgia and thus nearly useless for understanding.

      What kind of history do you do? Me, I'm a blogger by night, an archivist and map librarian by day.

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    2. I completely agree regarding nostalgia. There's unfortunately little that strikes the middle ground between NASA technical manuals and narrative history.

      I do military history, with a focus on the 'new', that is integrating social, racial, gender history, while maintaining a solid foundation in empirical history, well researched (yay for archives!). I see a lot of similarities between the way that poor military history is written and the endless stream of the same old stories in space history. A New Zealand historian, James Belich, wrote that there are two ways to bury history: writing too little, and writing too much. It's a pity that there doesn't seem to be a solid, well written, archival-based but general history of space exploration in general (or indeed any individual part of it).

      (apologies for the late reply, by the way).

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  11. I know you are WAAAYYY ahead of me on this because it's what you do, but I read this book, and thought it analogous to what you write here. Maybe this is the book you are crafting for the content of this blog. If so, I would buy your book like I bought and enjoyed this one:

    https://www.amazon.com/What-If-Foremost-Historians-Imagine-ebook/dp/B002I1XRYU/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1464786220&sr=1-4&keywords=What+if

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    1. The WHAT IF? series is a classic, and an excellent example of the kind of alternate history I like - rigorous essays. I know of three books, all of which have been combined in omnibus editions. I snapped 'em up as soon as they came out. There are, of course, other books that take a similar approach, but the WHAT IF? "trilogy" remains the best. IMHO.

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    2. Glad you're also avid about that series!

      I need to go looking for the third book. I pivoted on some of those essays to get their author's longer works.

      My key takeaway from all is how small events or decisions made huge impacts (similar to statistical decision trees). I worked my way back from the Cold War through World War I to the US Civil War. What makes your blog similarly compelling is your analysis of how a space policy was affected by one person's view or vision which ultimately changes 20 years of effort, direction, and investment.

      Armed with an engineering education, I always return to 1/28/86, and the decision to launch Challenger with morbid cultural regret. A simple delay decision of 3 days may have changed 40 years of space policy. These little, tiny decisions and their huge impacts - particularly in the case of Challenger (and Apollo 1 prior) - are heartbreaking.

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    3. You might enjoy the new Baxter-Reynolds collaboration THE MEDUSA CHRONICLES, which is a sequel to Arthur C. Clarke's famous novella "A Meeting with a Medusa." In addition to extending the chronology far into the future, it places Clarke's story in an alternate history that makes its timing more plausible. I'm about halfway through. It's fun spotting the quotes from various Clarke novels put into new contexts.

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    4. Oh thanks, I'll look it up. Muddling my way through "2312" now between work and family time. Thanks!
      Ben

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  12. It is a pleasure to see your return.

    This blog - and its earlier iterations, winding its way back to... hell... 2007? - have been regular touchstones for me.

    ... this archive is a brilliant example of the creative 'what-if' - an archive of parallel pasts - and its one that has a broader application than just spaceflight and aerospace history - entrenching ideas of a plural/parallel set of historical pathways.

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  13. Thank you for your kind words and goose-pimple-raising description. Yep, that's got it.

    My first online space history project along these lines was Romance to Reality: Moon and Mars Plans, which I launched in 1996. So, 20 years this year.

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  14. Thank you so much for staying with us.

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  15. Your blog is one of the few I read regularly, David. Please keep writing... and do some more books!

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    1. It's very kind of you to share that fact - that my blog is one you read regularly.

      Regarding the books comment - first things first - get the blog going again, up the production rate, get some sort of funding mechanism in place (like Patreon) and then get a book project rolling. However, I'm not that enthusiastic about paper book projects because they never give me enough room to say what I want to say! They have marketing formulae that guide page counts, as best I can tell. I've thought about self-publishing - perhaps that will spin off the blog funding effort. We'll see.

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  16. Thank you so much! I was really sorry for the pause and didn't know what to say to encourrage you to continue. I have found no other place on the internet with your depth and wrtiting style comparable in space matters.

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    1. You're holding me to a dauntingly high standard! :-)

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  17. I've been following your work since 2006 - or even since 1996 (Romance to reality). Keep up, you have dug some unique documents such as "spirit of 76" alternate space station program.

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    1. "Spirit of '76" is one I found in an actual paper archive. There's no substitute for digging in paper archives. I probably needn't tell you that the Internet contains a tiny fraction of what is in paper archives. I manage an archive, and we simply have not had time, what with all our other processing tasks, to put more than a few pages of our holdings online. Our archive is in no way unique in that respect.

      I have 45 file drawers full of documents. Some are documents printed off the Internet, and a fair fraction of those are no longer accessible (the NTRS purge). Most, though, I've accumulated through visits to archives across the United States - from JPL, JSC, and MSFC to GSFC, NASM, and NASA HQ, plus academic and observatory libraries. I'm nearly as obsessive about visiting archives as I am about visiting second-hand bookstores. Those places hold treasures.

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    2. I'm an archivist, too, although not in the United States. I worked at the archives of a large town. They have so much documents that, if placed in a straight line, they would be 7 miles long. Archives are great places.

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  18. Welcome back. Glad you're reenergized and looking forward to more great insights and analysis.

    Two things:

    1) I'm totally in on the Patreon thing, should it come to pass.

    2) As for the plagarizers, the hell with those guys.

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    1. Plagiarists are frustrating on many levels - don't get me started. I'm pretty sure hell has a special place for them, next to child molesters and people who talk loudly in restaurants (oops, I plagiarized - or maybe paraphrased - that one from a FIREFLY episode).

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  19. David,
    I can say little that hasn't already been said - but I will add my emphasis. The depth and candor of your research is always fascinating and often electrifying. I was unsure what to say when you found your work was being plaigiarized, but I'm relieved to see you back and I hope you will continue. Count me as another potential contributor on Patreon!

    I'm about 25 years old. I started following your Wired blog, Beyond Apollo, something like five years ago. About three years ago, I found it inspiring enough to do some of my own research and give a presentation to my college about it (on the Integrated Program Plan specifically). Don't mean to make this about me too much - but I thought you might like some context, and to know that your work does have real-world effects.

    Please continue! I particularly want to see some details of that lunar space station you used as your header image. Thank you for all your effort and passion over the years.

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    1. Very cool about your IPP presentation. I like it when people tell me the blog inspires them to do some spaceflight history of their own. How did the folks who saw your presentation respond to it?

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    1. Me also! I'm having fun with the new post. It's taking a little longer than I'd hoped, but I think it will be a good one.

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  21. Brilliant to see you back. Really enjoy your blog. Would certainly buy any book you wrote.

    Thank you for battling on.

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    1. You're welcome. Really, I can't not write. Writing has consumed a substantial part of my day ever since I was 10 or 11 years old. I suppose the question was whether I would continue to blog, or retreat to writing for my own amusement and that of friends.

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I like hearing from my readers. No rules except the obvious ones - please keep it civil and on topic.