Here’s an old-time scale.  Great Art taken at Greenfield Village and part of my famous Workbench and Vacation series.

Welcome to a Very Special Morrowlife Blog post.  Are you sitting down?  Okay.  It’s my one thousandth post!  That’s right – one comma zero zero zero.  A grand.  My kilopost.

Absolutely amazing.  A thousand posts without ever saying anything.  Must be some kind of record.

Anyway.  If I still have any Loyal Readers left, leave me a message of hearty congratulations.  Cash is always nice too.

Sadly, nothing happened today.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  LRN12 is here!  Yea!  She and LRN4 had an action-packed day, full of book-related activities (see LRN4’s book-related blog here) and a visit to Library Park.  LRN12 and I played restaurant, cars, balloon, and Spongebob Uno.  We also watched several Spongebob episodes.  Which I possibly enjoy more than she does.  They’re upstairs getting ready for bed now while I write this.  Then it’s lights out for the entire house.

Drove home from work today.  The train people sent me a text message in the afternoon, saying there was a wildfire burning somewhere on the route and the train would probably be delayed.  I wisely chose to drive.  I just checked their website, and the first AND second trains arrived in Lardville at 7:20 (should have been here at 5:21 and 6:21, respectively), while the third train arrived at 7:28 (a mere seven minutes late).  I would have taken the second train, so I chose . . . wisely.  Even though the traffic wasn’t exactly great, I got home shortly after 6:30.  Of course, I have to drive back tomorrow morning, which shouldn’t be too bad.  Friday mornings are usually good drives, followed by horrible drives on Friday afternoons.  Which I won’t need to worry about.

Anyway.  I’ve been thinking about the last space shuttle flight, which is currently on orbit.  A lot of people are predicting doom and gloom for American Space.  I disagree.  I was working for a NASA contractor in the 1980s.  We made expendable Atlas/Centaur launch vehicles one or two at a time, always under NASA’s direction.  NASA handled all the commercial sales and ordered our products to fulfill them.  We never built enough vehicles at a time to afford to upgrade anything until it either no longer worked or absolutely couldn’t be bought anywhere at any price.  We just kept on cranking out the same old NASA-spec launchers.

That lasted until shortly after the Challenger was lost.  NASA decided they didn’t want to be in the commercial space business anymore.  They stopped selling commercial rides on the shuttle, and they decided to turn us (and our competitors) loose.  Many (most?) people in the industry thought it would be impossible to commercialize the Atlas (also the Delta and Titan bad guys) – it was way too expensive and risky for private industry to be able to do.  Well, it turned out they were wrong.  General Dynamics invested a bunch of money to modernize the fleet and offer multiple versions, and it turned out there was a strong commercial demand that kept us building Atlases at a much faster rate than we had done with NASA.  We were able to afford to make a lot of updates – really started a program of constant upgrades that continues to this day.  GD ended up losing their shirts on us, but they eventually sold the division to Martin Marietta and wrote off the development expenses.  Without all that debt, Martin was able to turn a profit on the business.  The Delta folks lived a similar story.  Both vehicles are still flying and still being actively developed – now as a joint venture between LockMart and Boeing.

Titan was a different story.  Martin was never able to position it well for the commercial market, and they were so deep into the Government Contractor way of doing business that they couldn’t figure out what to cost to make it commercially affordable.  They eventually settled on being an Air Force contractor and flew them at a large profit until the Air Force couldn’t afford them anymore.

Anyway, my point is that I believe manned space will go the same direction as the Atlas/Delta/Titan business and its numerous newly-minted competitors.  Some of the old NASA contractors will leave the market, some will lose a bunch of money trying to stay in it and will end up selling their manned space operations to leaner operators, and some will prosper as-is.  Maybe I’ll try predicting who will do what in a later post.

When we were getting ready to go commercial, many people predicted that our customer base would evaporate without NASA to hold their hands.  They thought we’d never be able to afford the financial risk (turns out you can buy insurance!).  They thought there just weren’t enough commercial satellites out there to sustain a viable business.

I see some very distinct parallels in what people are saying about manned space.  How can we send people into orbit without NASA?  Who could afford to do that?  Where’s the commercial market?  There are only so many space-enthusiast billionaires to go around, after all.

My feeling is that the commercial manned space market will blossom exactly as the commercial unmanned space market has done over the past twenty years.  New businesses will appear that will discover novel uses for people in space, and they’ll make a profit at it.  Space tourism will become a reality.  An insurance market will develop that will help spread the risk around.  We’re already seeing an explosion in the number of launch vehicle and manned spacecraft developers.  Some of the old guard will survive – I’m hoping my company will be one of them, although they’ll need to get out of their Government Contractor mode to have a chance.

I think the golden age of space travel is right ahead of us.  What do you think?

I’ll leave my Loyal Readers with this exciting Morrowlife Employment Agency job opportunity: Evil Russian Hypnotist!

See you tomorrow.

One Response to “Scales”

  1. Shannon Says:

    As you know, I’m very impressed that you have 1,000 posts. It has taken me months to get 67! Congratulations!

    Also, I found your thoughts about the commercialization of manned space extremely interesting. Of course, everything you say is fascinating, but I hadn’t heard your thoughts on this before.

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