Benefits Of Man-In-Space Program
I always enjoy your articles, but I somewhat disagree with "Man-In-Space Is An Ambition Whose Time Has Passed" \[April 2, p. 152\] and want to point out something that you may not know about. I worked for NASA for years, so I know how misguided and wasteful it can be, and I don't want to debate the costs of manned flight and the benefits (I may lose). But all of that history has led to the International Space Station (ISS), which has one aspect that bridges the gap between manned and un-manned space activities. You could think of it as the gap between satellites and the manned ISS.
Rack is a pressurized payload system in laboratories. Pallet is an external unpressurized system supporting 18 payloads. These payload bays allow excellent scientific research (the same kind of science done on satellites now) to be put on the ISS at an affordable cost, even by NASA measures! It's affordable because the controls, platform, data interfaces, etc., are all common. You only need routine launches on the shuttle and installation, and the experiment is up and running. It doesn't re-quire dedicated satellite design just to support the experiment.
An added bonus is that the control doesn't have to be over-engineered for automation. Astronauts can somewhat tend the experiments, giving control inputs based on mission parameters, position, sun flares, etc., that would be hard to program into a satellite.
Another bonus, another commercial triumph story borne out of space endeavors is the BFGoodrich Radiation Hardened Processor. BFG Space Flight Systems supplies hardware on the rack and pallet systems, and for the pallet system, a new high-power processor was needed. None of the available processors worked, so BFG developed this processor for the pallet program (and others—satellites too).
So the rack and pallet programs are NASA's realization of affordable space research on the ISS. The idea works better than satellites. Costs are down and popularity is up. NASA even has a way to effectively utilize astronaut presence for these payloads. The need and design for this technology bridge has enabled a good company to justify and develop a product that benefits the engineers working on it, and the aerospace community, satellite, and NASA entities!
Lawrence J. Kamm's reply: As I understand the NASA program, the system comprises a plurality of modules plugged in and out of a common power and electronic system in orbit. It's transported up and down by the space shuttle in its present or advanced design. Until now it has been standard practice to provide all power and electronics with each satellite so that the satellite is self-contained. Conceivably there are sufficient benefits to a common base of power and electronics permanently in orbit to compensate for the extra cost of mating and transporting modules lacking their own. So, why do you need men up there?
I have designed and built analogous systems for transporting and connecting PCs for testing during manufacture and not considered the system anything but a routine design. Automatic accurate mechanical alignment and connection of electrical, mechanical, and fluid connectors is a trivial problem.
Be Open To New Ideas
I like your second law that "most people are hostile to most new ideas and are at their most creative when devising ob-jections to them" \["Do You Possess The Necessary Elements To Successfully In-vent?" Jan. 8, p. 148\]. The reason is be-cause I often catch myself doing exactly that and have to work hard to warm up to the new idea and come on board. Thanks for the input.
Senior Systems Engineer
An Answer To The Energy Crisis
This is in reply to Paul Schick's letter, "California's Electricity Shortage," in the April 2 issue. Sure, you must be right—increase supply so the waste can go on. Did you ever stop to think about the fact that the per capita energy use in the U.S. is twice as high as in any other industrialized nation? And I can assure you that we in Europe don't sit in the dark at nightfall or freeze during the winter.
The key issue is that energy in the U.S. is way too cheap. Gasoline for instance is more than twice the price here in Germany. You will seldom find anyone here letting their car engine run for an hour while having a coffee, or letting their computer at work run when going home, or letting the air conditioner run while the windows are open, etc.
Raise the energy price significantly and you will see that there are abundant reserves without building anything at all. People need to become aware of energy waste and realize that they can save money by saving energy. I don't expect any populace in the world to be aware enough to conserve energy just because it's not a good idea to waste resources. But when you hurt them in their wallet, they will care.
In case you missed it, the air pollution meeting that your president so nicely dissed was about reducing carbon-dioxide emissions. The U.S. alone accounts for 39% of the worldwide CO2 emissions. Compare this with the fact that the U.S. populace is smaller than that of Europe.