The Coming War in Outer Space

SpaceX stacks the full Starship launch system for the first time, standing  nearly 400 feet tall | TechCrunch
Courtesy NASASpaceflight.com

One of my retirement hobbies is to stay abreast of events within the space industry. Elon Musk’s Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas is a launch and rocket development facility unlike any other in history, because it’s all out in the open for anybody to give it a look-loo. Test. Fail. Test. Succeed. Thanks to the remarkable space media company, NASASpaceflight.com, I get videos of each day’s activity and live coverage of major events in the construction and development of next generation rockets and space vehicles.

Musk’s vision is truly extraordinary, and through his leadership, the private sector is taking over the space program, and it won’t be long before NASA’s role and the government’s oversight is dramatically reduced. Musk sees a day for business-related travel and expeditions to the moon and other planets. When he says he wants us to become an interplanetary species, the guy is the right person to lead the privatization of rockets and rocket travel.

And so, I’ve become enamored with all of this, and my mind is busy putting together the things I see downstream that will impact my progeny in the decades ahead.

Who doesn’t love and appreciate the adventures and sacrifices of those pioneers and explorers who went before us? They share one thing in common and that is that business interests mostly paid for their discoveries in the hopes that what they’d find would produce profit for their governments but especially those deep pocketed business visionaries who could see the possibilities. Since the beginning, whichever institution was responsible for growth in the home country/system, the conquering of foreign lands has been the driving force of that growth.

Outer space is now the realistic new frontier, and it’ll be business interests that spawn the exploration and discoveries that await us in the darkness of space. This is going to produce marvelous accomplishments for humankind in the century ahead. Musk plans to build and launch massive fuel tankers that will allow for refueling in space. Efforts at creating nuclear-powered engines are underway, and you can see it all at the corners of Elon Musk’s vision.

The media is obsessed with billionaire launches to space for show and tell, but there’s a reason these deep-pocketed business icons want to get onboard, and it has nothing to do with personal glory. Space is the future of the human race, and especially from a business perspective.

If we study the impacts of European expansionism of the past, we encounter wars fought by countries seeking to grow their influence. When we pull back the curtain, however, we find these wars were financed and built through the efforts of the business communities who profited from conquered resources, including people. You don’t go to war against those who piss you off; you go to war to grow YOUR ability to call the shots when it comes to profit and loss. This is why in war, the victor gets to write the history.

So, we look at the future of outer space discovery and see these same kinds of influences coming to fruition in Boca Chica and elsewhere. Like intercontinental travel, interplanetary travel will be paid for by private investors seeking a very real return. Given that these same forces have raped our own planet, it’s not a stretch to think they might want to go someplace else. It’s what we know as humans. God help the other planets!

The next major war will be in outer space, and already, the battle lines are being drawn. China is racing to space at a pace that is staggering. They’ve built their own space station and plan to keep growing it. China has a rover on Mars. They’re blasting spy satellites into space almost weekly, and only a fool would think the Pentagon hasn’t noticed. Russia plans its own new space station, and it’s only a matter of time before weapons systems are built into each, not only to threaten earth targets, but also those in space.

This war may be the war to end all wars, for it’ll be over which business community or communities will lead planet Earth into Musk’s interplanetary species.

In my view — which may change — this is inevitable, because our history as a species is not known for its coöperation or getting along. Donald Trump’s Space Force is a step in that direction, because you don’t need a “force” to explore space; that term’s reserved for arms and armies. The United States cannot resist dominating our opponents, and we like to win races, such as the space race. What I’m writing about today is something the U.S. can only tolerate if we’re on top. Think not? Think again.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is rewriting the development and testing of reusable boosters, and that alone is dramatically impacting cost to the point where outer space is available to so many more companies for research and development. And, this is to say nothing about the potential benefits to humankind in reaching outside the government-controlled space industry box.

Now is the time to begin talking about all of this. It may turn out that space exploration creates a necessity of global coöperation, but that’s likely more wish than logic. And, this is especially true for those who feel that power is the only way to maintain citizen safety and freedoms, like we’re hearing today from the radical right.

The future of space is yours, young people. What will you do with it?

NASA and SpaceX: A Conflict of Business Personalities

Image result for nasa spacex
Image by The Infographics Show, Jul 10, 2017

For those who care, here’s another great illustration of the difference between managers and leaders in the business world of the U.S. Those familiar with my writing know of the fascinating theories of former Harvard Business School Professor Abraham Zaleznik that were first published in a 1977 Harvard Business Review article called “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?

To review, in Zaleznik’s view, managers get things done through processes and systems, while leaders accomplish tasks through creativity and exploration. One insists upon order; the other is comfortable with what seems like chaos to some.

I’m a staunch supporter of Elon Musk and his way of doing things. Musk is a leader, one who simply points his company in the direction of his vision in order to see what happens. Risk is a familiar friend to people like Musk, because they know instinctively that answers to complex problems can’t always be determined ahead of time. Instead, they require experimentation. And risk.

Enter NASA into the equation. To be sure, NASA is manager-heavy, as are all government bureaucracies. Read this simple statement in an article by Futurism from new NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk when asked about NASA’s support for Elon Musk’s Starship program. Jurczyk seems to be saying “no thanks,” but it’s his reasoning that reveals the real problem for NASA with SpaceX.

“I know what the timelines are for the [Space Launch System], but it’s hard to determine what the timeline is and capabilities are for the Starship,” Jurczyk said in a new interview with Futurism. He added that it’s “just hard for me to determine how we would leverage capabilities like Starship and the Super Heavy that would launch Starship without understanding their timeline, their capabilities, and a lot more detail.”

As a result, Jurczyk points to NASA’s own system as better prepared for real manned space missions.

“What I can say now is that the Space Launch System is farther along than the Starship or any other commercial [project] with respect to a super heavy-lift capability that’s purpose-built for human spaceflight missions,” he said.

Jurczyk wants to see SpaceX’s plan. Moreover, he wants to govern that plan. However, SpaceX doesn’t really have an elaborate plan until they figure out a few things first. This is an insurmountable conflict between the basic methods of getting things done, because Musk literally cannot provide a true business plan with timelines that Jurczyk and his other managers could and would pick apart based on their understanding of how space exploration must proceed. They want their checklists and their timelines. They’re in no hurry either, and that has to gall Elon Musk.

The chilling thing is that our government has authority over private sector practices in the name of public safety, which they are already using to slow the momentum that Musk has with Starship. Headlines of violations of the FAA rules governing rocket launches cost SpaceX nearly an entire week before resolution. During that time, Musk criticized the FAA for its outdated approach to spaceflight testing. What he was really angry with was being hand strapped by rules that seem unnecessary to SpaceX in the accomplishment of its goals. Musk isn’t being arrogant when he makes such claims, and Jurczyk isn’t being foolish in asking for Musk’s detailed plans. They are simply two different approaches to doing business.

The question is always which one should be in charge?

NASAspaceflight.com: A shining example of new media

Starship SN9 loses a Raptor during flip. RUD comes as future Starships line  up - NASASpaceFlight.com
Remarkable photo of SN9 by Jack Beyer just prior to crashing

I spent much of my day Tuesday with YouTube watching the drama at the SpaceX testing facility in Boca Chica Texas as the company successfully launched its prototype Starship SN9. The drama, of course, was centered around whether SpaceX would stick the landing, which it didn’t. The drama ended quickly, and now it’s on to version SN10, for SpaceX is a company determined to rewrite everything when it comes to rockets and space exploration. For a guy from Huntsville, Alabama — also known as Rocket City — this is great fun.

I watched this with 300 thousand others worldwide via the live stream of one of the most shining examples of everything that’s new in news coverage these days, NASASpaceflight.com. I need to talk about this, because it’s a model of how to do live coverage of news events in 2021, and my hat’s off to Chris Bergin and the entire NASASpaceflight.com team.

Back in my early days of writing about how the internet would change media, one of the most obvious trends to people like me was what J.D. Lasica termed “the personal media revolution.” This group of observers included people like Dan Gillmor, Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Michael Rosenblum, and a host of others who shared the vision. But, NASASpaceflight.com has laid the foundation for something so completely new that it challenges all forms of existing media for supremacy in covering space and the companies vying for a piece of the revenue pie involving outer space.

Here’s what they do so well.

NASASpaceflight.com is a virtual company, employing several experts from different parts of the world. They are not affiliated with NASA whatsoever. It was founded 15 year ago by Chris Bergin, a British journalist who cut his teeth during the shuttle period of space travel. Others are scattered around the U.S. They have only one reporter on the ground in Boca Chica, but their best source of information at the SpaceX complex comes from a Boca Chica photographer referred to only as Mary (@bocachicagal). To cover the entire area, NASASpaceflight uses robotic cameras controlled by the anchor team themselves from various points around the country.

Without a single direct source from SpaceX, they’ve developed their own launch sequence based solely on observations of the various stages of fueling and launching a Starship. The point is that rocket experts, through direct observation via robotic cameras, are able to build their own loose countdown based purely on observation. They simply don’t need an official countdown to do their job, and that’s part of the charm they bring to television news.

But it is the anchor team itself that brings everything home to viewers, for these people are serious students of science with a touch of nerd humor. It’s their genuine love of rockets that drives their business and their narrative. They are absolutely over-the-top when it comes to science, and it gives the viewers a chance to interact with genuine experts during the long hours of waiting via the chat and super chat functions of YouTube. They lovingly refer to their work as “roadside rocket science.” Their work is expensive but is paid for in a large part by crowd-funding from those viewers they serve so well. The size of the donations — in nearly every currency of the world — is truly staggering, and it’s a model that could be scaled to handle other news niches.

And, there’s no doubting that NASASpaceflight has a very narrow niche, which is another one of the many factors that make hours and hours of live coverage so watchable. They know what they’re talking about.

Another factor is the humor that develops and is continued throughout their coverage. They have an online store of merchandise created from these humorous thoughts, and the biggest problem they have is with their site crashing as so many people rush to buy the shirts, hats, etcetera. There are a great many inside jokes that the newcomer to the coverage are taught through clever mentions of those jokes.

I found myself laughing out loud many times throughout the coverage. It’s fascinating how well humor works in a time of extremely dramatic events. The team has no problem just being themselves, and they often joke about how they could never be stiff-shirted network correspondents. The transparency of this actually adds to the authority of their observations, because it feels exactly like it’s intended to feel — like being invited to watch the launch with a group of extremely intelligent and knowledgable friends.

And, make no mistake, these people know photography, cameras, live-streaming, and video technology better than most so-called professional news people. If you don’t mind the lousy pun, it isn’t rocket science, and smart people can easily outdo the pros who are locked into their systems and deadlines. It’s far more logical to hire scientists and let them practice journalism than to hire journalists and try to make them scientists.

Another thing that’s noteworthy is how well the NASASpaceflight.com team works with YouTube. Google has put in place the tools that the company needs to present their work — at no cost to them — and help them raise money. It’s truly remarkable, but an example of how the personal media revolution has helped itself to the goodies that used to be reserved only for the pros.

So, now it’s on to Starship SN10, but don’t worry. NASASpaceflight.com will put in place a reminder for you when they plan to go live.

I just love it.