Chair Force Engineer

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Three Segments, Making Zero Sense

The return-to-the-moon plan has been through so many changes since the ESAS report last September that it's enough to make your head spin. Adding to the confusion is an alternative to the stick-like Ares I: a new rocket using the Shuttle ET, J-2X engines, and three-segment SRB's.

Supposedly, the new "2x3" rocket (aka "Stumpy") is viewed as a backup if the 5-segment SRB runs into problems. The logic of this statement boggles me. After all, solid rockets can't be stretched or shortened without major modifications. The thrust and burn rate of the solid rocket are functions of the propellant grain's length and the shape of the grain. Whether the SRB is shortened or stretched, a change to the grain shape will be required. In defense of the 5-segment SRB, ATK-Thiokol has at least done this work for the 5-segment SRB, to the point where two have been static-fired. This work isn't as far along for the 3-segment SRB concept.

NASA is running into all sorts of problems with Ares I (whether the final vehicle looks like a stick or a stump) because the rocket has been a kludge since the start, when it emerged as a half-baked thought in the brain of Scott Horowitz. While the ESAS report had some equally half-baked reasons for choosing Ares I over the Delta and Atlas, the truth is that NASA wants a vehicle it has control over, and they want a vehicle that will keep the shuttle's standing army employed in the years after the Orbiter's retirement in 2010. NASA has between now and 2014 to work all of the bugs out of Ares I to the point where a human crew can fly on it. Can it be done, within the confines of NASA's tight budget, even as NASA continues to revisit and revise the design? I am deeply skeptical that it can happen.

NASA is losing sight of the vision, and Ares I will be "the stick" that breaks the camel's back unless the cost and schedule baselines can be saved. Cancel the Ares I right now, and launch the CEV capsule on a minimally-modified Delta IV Heavy. Use the saved money to accelerate CEV development (to support a 2012 first flight) and accelerate the Ares V (which should be scaled back to maximize commonality with the shuttle and Delta IV.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Man of Honor

The nation is saddened to hear that Master Diver Carl Brashear has passed away at the age of 75. He was a true pioneer, becoming the first African-American (and first amputee) to become a master diver. He also took part in the successful recovery of a broken arrow during the infamous Palomares incident of 1966; that heroic action alone should earn him the thanks of the nation. Still, it wasn't until the movie Men of Honor in 2000 that most Americans heard his truly inspirational life story.

In the early morning hours of July 4, I woke up to find Carl Brashear's son being interviewed on the FOX News Channel. The younger Brashear is a warrant officer, flying helicopters in Iraq. The spirit of selfless service, even in the midst of great difficulty, lives on.

Carl Brashear was a great American who should inspire us with his story of extreme perserverence. We would be foolish to ignore what he taught us.

Ares 5, done faster and cheaper

Under the current iteration of NASA's moon plan, the agency will be saddled with the costs of building two all-new rockets over the following decade. In light of the agency's inability to get a budget increase consistent with this plan, it makes the most sense to drop one of the rockets and use the survivng rocket for an earth-orbit rendezvous mission plan.

I've been against Ares I from the start, referring to it as "the stick" last summer. I think there is room for Ares V, but only if the costs and schedule can be kept in check. That will only happen if performance is sacrificed. In other words, I think that Ares 5 should be faster and cheaper, but not better (at least in terms of throw weight.)

How do we accelerate Ares 5 development? While I would keep the RS-68 engines, I would not introduce the 10-meter first stage, I would delay development of the EDS upper stage, and I wouldn't use the five-segment solids. It won't require much, if any, new tooling if they stuck with the shuttle's 8.38-meter tank and four-segment solids. It would be easy from a manufacturing standpoint to make the LOX tank for the Ares V (it's just a shorter version of the LH2 tank,) and it would be easy to manufacture a longer first stage if needed. However, I'm willing to trade performance to get this rocket built quickly and within budget.

The vehicle I propose (RS-68 engines, 8.38 meter tank, 4-segment SRB's, axially-mounted CEV, and no upper stage) will have fairly underwhelming performance, perhaps putting only 60 metric tons into low earth orbit. Still, that's over twice the capacity of Ares I or a heavy EELV. It also ensures that an economy of scale will be necessary for a lunar mission. NASA's maximum proven flight rate was 9 shuttle missions during a year (1985.) NASA estimated that it could potentially launch 14 missions per year, assuming that no time was wasted with an orbiter in the Orbiter Processing Facility. If the Ares 5 program costs $4 billion per year like the shuttle does and launches 14 times, it will cost $286 million per launch.

NASA will still need to develop the EDS upper stage and the lander (which has now taken over the lunar orbit insertion burn from the EDS,) but the cheaper, faster Ares 5 that I describe could at least be flying CEV missions to the ISS before the other elements are ready.

An open question is whether the lighter, underperforming Ares 5 in this proposal would really be an "Ares 4." It would seem that the fifth engine would be overkill, considering that this configuration will be similar in mass to the existing shuttle. I am tempted to retain the fifth engine, but only to preserve the option for adding the EDS as an upper stage at a later date. If the fifth engine is omitted, it would save NASA $20 million per launch.

NASA Watch also reports that NASA is looking back to the Saturn V's third stage (S-IVB) for the EDS. If anything, the S-IVB can suggest technical solutions for the EDS (and the second stage of Ares I, if it survives,) but can't be put back into production. The S-IVB was built by Douglas Aircraft in El Segundo, and the 6.61-meter tooling was probably scrapped long ago. Still, the unique common bulkhead employed by the S-IVB is worthy of consideration. However, reusing the Shuttle ET tooling for the EDS might be the cheapest way of approaching the problem.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Shit jobs really piss me off

Today I spent my birthday watching men urinate into plastic bottles. That's right--I had to monitor the random drug tests that the Air Force administers.

It's a known fact that Air Force lieutantants are routinely called upon to perform "shit jobs" that have absolutely nothing to do with your primary duties or your qualifications. Most of my days consist not of "chair force engineering," but buying office supplies, paying Blackberry bills, changing out equipment checklists, begging people to donate to the Combined Federal Campaign, or managing the facilities where I work. Things aren't that much better for other lieutentants. Even the prima-donna pilots have to be the snack-o every once-in-a-while.

In my mind, it makes absolutely zero sense that lieutantants have to do shit jobs instead of their primary duties. A rough estimate is that the Air Force has invested $80,000 in my bachelor's degree, plus thousands more in the military training that I received after commissioning. To this date, it has all gone to waste.

American taxpayers should be incensed about the way their money is being wasted. The Air Force needs less lieutenants and more entry-level, unskilled workers to get the shit jobs done. It doesn't take an aerospace engineering major to make micropurchases or run press releases around the office for signatures. It doesn't even require a high school diploma.

Why won't this tradition change? Because when the Air Force's leaders were lieutenants, they were stuck with shit jobs too. It's viewed as paying your dues, I guess. I usually believe that just because something was done in the past, it doesn't make it right. People need to have the fortitude to examine the way things are done and constantly examine better ways of doing them.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Orion vs. Altair is reporting that the human lunar return will be called "Project Orion." Shame on NASA for reusing a name that was used for the nuclear-pulse propulsion project. Presumably the CEV capsule will also be called "Orion," just like Project Apollo and the Apollo capsule.

Earlier in the year, the NASA Spaceflight website (not an official NASA website) was promoting the name "Altair" for the capsule and "Artemis" for the lander. Perhaps it's for the best that Altair will likely be dropped. In James Michener's epic novel Space, the Altair is the command module for the star-crossed Apollo 18 mission. In light of the book's storyline, it's probably bad karma to call the new capsule "Altair."

[EDIT 1850 MT] Whatever the manned capsule will be called, it's getting lighter and smaller. This is a big step in the right direction. Apollo's service module had enough propellant to perform the lunar orbit insertion and the trans-earth injection maneuvers. The CEV only has to perform the TEI burn, so shouldn't the service module be smaller? It's also worth noting that the bulk and mass of Apollo's fuel cells are being replaced by lightweight solar cells which don't take up volume in the SM.

While the CEV capsule is bigger than the Apollo CM by a linear scale factor of 125%, NASA has claimed that Aluminum-Lithium and other new alloys in the CEV will keep the mass close to that of Apollo. The use of an off-the-shelf engine from Delta II's second stage will keep cost and development time down. While I have a lot of faith in the engine being used in the new CEV design, NASA is wise to use the RCS as a backup to the SM main engine (in case it should develop a propellant or pressurant leak.) I also like the use of oxygen and ethanol for the CM's thrusters, because the fumes from the storable propellants used in Apollo's thrusters almost killed the American crew of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project during landing.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Doom, Gloom, and the Space Shuttle

The Encyclopedia Astronautica Blog has a noteworthy piece about the Space Shuttle's flaws, and why we shouldn't have expected much better than the shuttle we got. Mark Wade is totally right in assessing the foam issue as an inherent flaw in the system. He's also hitting the nail on the head by saying that if there is (God forbid) another shuttle disaster, it will not be the foam or the SRB seals that will doom "The Albatross."

The discussion on the flaws of a fully-reusable shuttle, while pointing out the difficulties of such a design, should not discourage us from seeking a true reusable launch vehicle. He identifies many real problems, but none of them are insurmountable.

1) The thermal stresses associated with constant pressurizations and depressurizations of the cryogenic tanks is an interesting problem worthy of extensive study. If cryogenic fuels are deemed to be a showstopper, it's always possible to design a rocket with storable fuels like kerosene and hydrogen peroxide, or hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.

2) The shuttle's heat shield is undeniably fragile, but it's not the only means of thermal protection for a spaceplane. The X-20 DynaSoar used a hot structure of exotic metals like Rene-41 steel, Columbium, and Molybdenum. The X-33 program developed metals that could be used for a passive thermal protection system.

3) Intact abort modes are unrealistic for any reusable launch vehicle. There is always the airliner philosophy of "make it so safe that the escape system is unnecessary." Mark Wade's point is that rockets will not be safer than 99% reliable using the current technologies, so I will propose a realistic escape system. The crew should fly in a small orbiter, mounted axially atop the rocket. Abort motors could free the orbiter, which would glide to a landing (or make a parachute-assisted splashdown.) Northrop Grumman proposed a similar design in a 2002 "Space Launch Initiative" proposal that I was enamored with. NG had two identical winged rockets, mated back-to-belly. The rocket on the top of the stack (when viewed horizontally) carried an HL-20 style orbiter on top of its nose.

It's funny that there was one program which actually solved all three problems: the X-20 DynaSoar. After all, the Titan III rocket used solid and storable liquid propellants. The DynaSoar glider was sized for a single man and a small payload; it could be jettisoned away and perform a landing in the event of a booster failure. It also had a metallic hot structure.

As I've stressed on many occasions, the 1963 cancellation of DynaSoar was the most short-sighted move in American space history (perhaps even worse than the end of Project Apollo.) DynaSoar would have taught us what techniques worked (and which ones did not) in our quest to build reusable spaceplanes. It also would have given American engineers some humility, teaching them that spaceplanes could not be flown routinely without a lot of effort. For the engineers who put men on the moon, the space shuttle must have seemed simple at first. If they ever believed this, they couldn't be further from the truth.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Remora & Great White

There have been many ideas floated for a true spaceship, which is fully reusable and has a reasonable turnaround rate. It should take off and land horizontally from a runway, with little in the way of new infrastructure to support it.

Two of the ideas worth considering are two stage to orbit (like Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne and White Knight, but on an orbital scale) and Aerial Propellant Transfer, where a dense oxidizer is loaded from a tanker aircraft onto the spaceplane after it reaches cruising altitude, which cuts down on the weight of the landing gear and possibly the size of the turbine engines. I tend to think that both of these ideas will need to be used in the same system to make a true spaceship.

My plan starts with a small, orbital, winged craft called "Remora." It uses Kerosene and Liquid Oxygen as propellants. It will be carried underneath the belly of an even larger airplane, "Great White." This mothership has two turbine engines for takeoff and climb to refueling altitude, and it has a Kerosene-Oxygen engine that is used for ascent after the Great White and Remora have taken their oxidizer load from the tanker.

On a typical mission, Remora and Great White will mate on the ground. The kerosene used for the takeoff and climb will be carried in two external fuel tanks (either expendable or recoverable by parachute) mounted tangentially to the Great White. Then Great White's turbines will start, and the duo will climb to 40,000 feet in altitude.

Great White and Remora will soon be joined in the sky by a converted airliner, with an internal dewar containing liquid oxygen. The skilled pilot of Great White will link up with a rigid "flying boom" on the tanker and take on the oxidizer load. Some oxidizer is pumped through Great White's tanks into those of Remora through a cross-feed system inside the pylon connecting the two craft. Once the propellant is off-loaded, the tanker flies a safe distance away and then serves as a chase pilot to observe the ignition.

Fully fuelled, Great White drops its external tanks, then ignites its main rocket engine and gradually transitions into a climb while picking up speed. After Great White's engine burns out and the craft ascends to a high altitude where the dynamic pressure is low, the Remora separates and ignites its own engines, sending it into orbit. Great White descends back to earth, eventually building up a sufficient amount of lift as it enters the denser atmosphere. The turbine engines allow Great White to make a powered landing with the opportunity to make a go-around.

Great White and Remora would be designed more like rockets with wings than like airplanes. That's because the spherical and cylindrical tanks used on rockets are the two most efficient shapes for pressure vessels. While most airplanes use "wet wings," the weight of the wing itself is less of a concern for the airplane; it represents dead weight on the rocket for most of its flight. The wings on Great White and Remora should be as simple as possible, and so should the landing gear.

I forsee some other problems with this system, like aborting a launch after the propellant transfer but prior to engine ignition. Escape for Remora's crew is impossible during the ascent phase of flight, but this is moot if the system can be given airliner-like safety margins (and hence avoid an escape system like airliners do.) But my proposal is at least worthy of detailed study, if for no other reason than stopping other dreamers from going down this path if it truly is the wrong one.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

So Many Rockets

The rumors are flying in regards to the CEV's launch vehicle, and it appears that the trade space is wide open. Each of these choices has its drawbacks and advantages that are worth considering.

Ares I: This is the current baseline. It will also require a moderate amount of new development. The five-segment SRB must be put through its paces. An all-new second stage and the mostly-new J-2X engine still need to be developed and tested. It will heavily rely on the shuttle's standing army, and will recycle much of the shuttle infrastructure (except for the MLP, which will be built from scratch for Ares I.)

Ares I will not be "simple" or "soon," despite the wishful thinking of ATK's public affairs department. It will probably be safer, though, as it only needs a single engine on the first stage (compared to three for the Delta IV Heavy and Atlas V Heavy.) It also reduces the loads placed on a crew during a launch abort due to its depressed trajectory.

Delta IV Heavy or Atlas V Heavy: This was the baseline during the O'Keefe days, and it makes the most sense in my mind. Both of these rockets are in production, both of them have been reliable thus far, and there's the benefit of competition/redundancy in that both rockets have similar capabilities.

NASA made a big deal about man-rating both rockets, but this wasn't a showstopper with Redstone, Atlas D, or Titan II. If the avionics that detect engine anomalies are linked to the capsule's escape system, it will provide the crew with a more reasonable chance of escape than the shuttle ever did.

In addition to the abort loads problems noted earlier, it should be noted that the Heavy EELV rockets will have three engines burning on the first stage, which is inherently less reliable than a single-engine. This shouldn't be a big problem. The Atlas had three engines, the Titan II had two, Saturn 1B had eight, and Saturn V and Shuttle had five.

Lastly, the structures and infrastructure for the EELV's will need some upgrades, like a service tower for the CEV after being mounted to the booster. This is still less than the upgrades needed for the Ares I's infrastructure. However, Lockheed Martin will need to complete the engineering required for the Atlas V Heavy, which was never finished due to a lack of orders from the Air Force. This isn't negligible, as demonstrated by the Delta IV Heavy demo.

Ares V: The editor at US Space News is very fond of talking about the option of mounting a CEV atop the Ares V, sans SRB's. I don't know how seriously this concept was studied. As it currently stands, Ares V is undergoing another trade study, examining a switch to kerosene-oxygen fuels burned in the RD-180 engine. This is driven by a desire to switch back to the 8.38 meter tooling for the Shuttle ET, rather than the 10 meter tooling of the Saturn V. It's also worth noting that two new "super transporters" will be built for Ares V to replace the existing crawlers that have been in use since 1968.

This option requires a lot of new engineering (even more than Ares I,) but it will be done anyways because the Ares V is baselined for use in the lunar missions in the 2017-2020 time period. While Ares V will never achieve the economies of scale that are possible with Delta or Atlas (operating at a maximum flight rate,) it will still be used for the lunar-Mars missions.

The biggest forseeable drawback to using the Ares V will be the time table for CEV missions. It's doubtful that Ares V will be able to support a CEV launch in 2012, and even 2014 seems unlikely. It all depends on when NASA can free up development funds for the Ares V, which were supposed to be a trickle until Ares I was complete.

My recommendation to NASA is to rely on Delta IV Heavy for the initial stages of CEV flight tests. The modifications can be accomplished inexpensively, they can run concurrently with Air Force launch needs, and they could inspire Boeing to build more Delta IV's for orbital space tourism. Once Ares V development ramps up, NASA should commit to adopting a version of it for CEV launch. The manned version of Delta IV Heavy will be phased out once Ares V enters service.

And what will become of Ares I? As I've said before, throw "the stick" to the dogs. Split Ares I's development budget into three pieces and use it to man-rate the Delta IV Heavy, accelerate CEV development for a first manned mission in 2012, and accelerate Ares V development.


I finally saw the movie Jarhead tonight. I can certainly see why the Marines who have seen it were disappointed. There isn't a specific instance in the movie that depicts Marines in a bad way. I think that the Marines are disappointed by what the movie fails to show.

Throughout Jarhead, I was unable to connect with any of the characters. They're all just too one-dimensional. They grunt, want to kill somebody, enjoy partying when the drill instructor isn't riding them, and make fun of a fellow Marine when he gets a "Dear John" letter from his girl. The Marines of Jarhead are completely lacking in virtue. They exist only to fulfill the Marine mission of kicking butt and taking names.

My favorite war movie, in terms of portraying the character of the American fighting man, is still We Were Soldiers. While Jarhead is interesting, it lacks the character development to truly be an enduring movie that people will want to watch more than once. Marines are interesting people; it just takes a good filmmaker to capture that in a movie.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Launch Constraint

The problem with launching an orbital mission from Wallops Island in Virginia is one of overflight constraints. Launches below 38 degrees inclination overfly the US east coast and are forbidden. If you launch to higher than 50 degrees, you start to overfly eastern Brazil. Anything steeper than 55 degrees is also forbidden.

You might be saying that 38 to 55 degrees is still a pretty good spread. However, we then run into the problem of overflying Bermuda. Not only can't you overfly Bermuda, but there's also a 100 nm exclusion zone surrounding Bermuda. This zone seems pretty large in my estimation. Perhaps it's there for political reasons, or perhaps there are small, inhabited islands within that exclusion zone. In any case, it forces any launches between 41 and 50 degrees to execute a dog-leg maneuver, which robs your launch vehicle of performance.

For these reasons, I really don't understand why anybody would want to put a launch pad for an orbital rocket at Wallops. Most of the orbital launches at Wallops have been the Pegasus, which can be dropped over the ocean and is not subject to the same smothering constraints that launches from land are subjected to. Perhaps you can launch into sun-sync orbits from Wallops, but that will still require an overflight of Central America. And the last thing we need right now is to give Venezuela's Hugo Chavez another reason to think that America is trying to kill him. In any case, Cape Canaveral remains the best existing facility for easterly launches in the US, and Vandenberg is the best place for near-polar and retrograde orbits.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Name Game

While a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, people get emotionally attached to names. Sometimes they are the names of Air Force installations, and other times they are the names of multimillion-dollar fighter jets.

In a particularly poignant example, Rep. Ed Case (D-HI) is upset that Onizuka Air Force Station is being closed down under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. I agree with Rep. Case that the late Challenger astronaut should continue to be memorialized. Rep. Case thinks that a military facility in Hawaii should be renamed to carry on Ellison Onizuka's memory. The Air Force's Maui Optical and Supercomputing site fits that bill very nicely. Ellison Onizuka would probably feel honored by this appropriate name change if it goes through.

At the same time, I'm very disappointed that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be called Lightning II. Wasn't that the YF-22's unofficial name? It also appeals only to the Air Force, as it recalls the Army Air Force's P-38 Lightning from World War II. I would have preferred something that was service-neutral, like Condor or Ghost Hawk. Guess I will have to live with it (unless it falls to the wayside, like Lockheed's ill-conceived name of SuperStar for the F-22.)

A Measure of Consolation

Upon hearing that North Korea's Taepo Dong-2 rocket failed shortly after liftoff, I couldn't help but think of another new rocket that suffered a similar fate this past March: SpaceX's Falcon I. In comparing the two launchers, I think SpaceX has a lot to be proud of.

How did North Korea and SpaceX get from where they started to the first flight of their rockets? For North Korea, it started in 1987 as a desire by the Kim dynasty to build an ICBM. The effort relied on reverse-engineering from SCUD's and Russian submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Several intermediate rockets (No Dong, Taepo Dong, and No Dong-B) were built in the process. To fund the development, North Korea used counterfeiting, narcotics sales, arms deals, and extortion of other nations. Building the rocket were thousands of slaves, who worked all day and went to bed hungry.

SpaceX's efforts are far more humble. The company began in 2002. Most of the technology was developed from scratch, reflecting a desire to reduce costs throughout the process. No demonstrators were flown prior to the first Falcon I launch. Development was funded by Elon Musk's sale of Pay Pal to eBay. SpaceX never had more than a couple hundred people working on the rocket.

If anything, SpaceX should be proud that they were able to build a full-scale rocket without resorting to immoral behavior, bringing the world to the brink of war, or becoming international pariahs. While there might be multiple approaches to building rockets, some are clearly better than others.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Rocket's Red Glare

Never has there been an Independence Day with so many fireworks, and so many repercussions.

It really made my day to watch Discovery lift off on live TV. Manned spaceflight, when it works successfully, makes us a more hopeful nation. It was the perfect way to celebrate our nation's 230th year with the 115th Space Shuttle mission.

Shortly after the launch, Fox News interviewed Alex Roland, the Duke University historian who frequently bashes manned spaceflight in favor of robotic science missions. Fox then got Buzz Aldrin on the phone (Buzz couldn't appear in person because he was busy pimping at the Playboy Mansion.) Buzz made the point that nobody gets too excited about robots, but manned spaceflight inspires people to study math and science and engineering. God, I love Buzz.

However, Buzz was cut off by the news of Kim Jong Il's most recent tirade, a cavalcade of six missile test firings. He certainly wiped the shuttle launch off the front page of tomorrow's newspapers; after all, there's no news like bad news.

Yet Kim Jong Il's missiles weren't as bad as they could have been. Published reports state that at least four of the missiles were SCUDs, and one may have been a No Dong or No Dong-B. The missile that had held the world's attention, the Taepo Dong-2 ICBM, blew up like the piece of shit that it is.

It's been a very noteworthy day, in spite of the "barbecue mentality" that most Americans tried to put themselves in. Pray for Discovery's crew to complete a safe and productive mission, and pray that our leaders will come up with the best approach for dealing with North Korea.

Monday, July 03, 2006


I just finished watching the teaser for the upcoming Transformers Movie. I have to voice my objection that Michael Bay is confusing people by talking about the "Beagle 2" Mars lander in his teaser, yet using footage from (or inspired by) the far more successful Spirit and Opportunity rovers.

Much like The DaVinci Code, I take strong objection to when Hollywood muddles with history in the making of a movie. While people should be smart enough to learn the facts on their own, many are lazy enough to digest Hollywood's miseducation. In this case, it should be noted that Beagle 2 was a cheap and dirty mission that failed based on its own merits (or lack thereof.) Spirit and Opportunity were done far more professionally by the people who learned from the mistakes of previous Mars mission failures.

And why has Michael bay earned the nickname "Crapfinger"? Because every movie he touches turns to crap. Just look at Pearl Harbor. Only The Rock survived the curse of Crapfinger. As a fan of the Transformers during childhood, I can only hope that Crapfinger doesn't transform the Transformers movie (and franchise) into a steaming pile of feces.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Spaceships at Roswell?

Today, July 2, is generally accepted by the UFO community as the date of the Roswell Incident in 1947. The significance of this event (or non-event, depending on your perspective) is not lost on British aerospace journalists. They are eagerly covering their native son, Richard Branson, in his quest for space; unfortunately, the sensational mention of "Roswell" is finding its way into too many Branson-related stories.

I remember reading a story from last December (I think it was in The Times) that the New Mexico spaceport was being built "near Roswell." I've got news for The Times--the spaceport is in Upham, which is over 100 miles away from Roswell (as the crow flies.) If you stood in my face and told me that Roswell was close to Upham, I would laugh at you and say that you were out of your gourd; I would then force you to drive that distance with the windows rolled down and Def Leppard's Hysteria blasting as loud as possible.

More recently, there was a story in Flight International claiming that SpaceShipTwo would have sufficient cross range "to reach Roswell." It might be a handy capability in the event of an emergency that would preclude landing at Upham, but that's about it. For the sake of the space tourism business, Branson & co. will want to land their spaceship at the same place it took off from. For the same reason, NASA prefers landing the shuttle at Kennedy Space Center, and will only settle for Edwards if there's no chance of landing at the Cape.

For that matter, I'm trying to figure out why somebody who pays $200,000 for a spaceflight would want to mess around with a visit to Roswell. The town is a tourist trap, thanks to the UFO museum and related tourist stops. The museum itself is the brainchild of Walter Haut, the public affairs officer who told the world that a "flying disk" had been recovered. Haut revealed himself to be an opportunist, promoting Roswell witnesses whose credibility was questionable at best. While Haut benefitted from the "Roswell Crash" mythos, it played a sizable role in the recovery of that city after Walker Air Force Base was closed. In jest, I suggested that AFRL crash another balloon near Cannon AFB when that base was in danger of closing.

Many people already have a hard time in taking space tourism seriously. It doesn't help the situation when sensational British reporters are mixing the "space alien" mythos into this very serious subject.