Some of you know that I’m a longtime fan of Jonathan Coulton. Great songs on a variety of topics, including space. At one point he gave up his job as a software engineer and set himself the goal of writing and recording a song a week. That year-long effort provided the basis for several of his albums and live shows for what is now close to a decade.
I have no plans to leave Cornell and hit the road with my guitar. However, I am going to design a new spacecraft every week. Then I’ll blog about it. You can read them at http://spacecraftlab.wordpress.com/
One reason for my doing so is a conversation I had with a former chief technology officer for a large government agency. No, not NASA. A different one. He asserted that his time at the agency had already addressed the remaining open problems in space technology, that there was nothing fundamentally new to be done. Only incrementalism remained. We agreed to disagree.
Another has to do with the two years I recently spent at NASA. I served as the agency’s Chief Technologist. From time to time I would encounter a similarly dreary perspective among some members of the world’s space community. But, as I had hoped, I also found the opposite. There is a lot of enthusiasm out there for innovating in space. Many of us believe that the best days are ahead, that there are inventions to make, adventures to experience, and science to discover. NewSpace companies are popping up all over California. Some have their sights set on asteroids, mining them to create a self-sustaining space economy and space infrastructure, and some are going to image the Earth in unprecedented temporal and spatial detail. Some of my academic colleagues are setting out to explore space on their own: discovering new planets, understanding the Earth, and maybe heading to Mars in the next few years, all without waiting for the science community to catch up.
I offered some additional thoughts on this topic in the first post. Let me emphasize one in particular here. There is simply not enough money available for research on these topics to allow my group to pursue every idea (good or otherwise) that we come up with. That’s true even if mine were the only ideas we tried to work out, but students come up with great stuff too. So, rather than let them spend the next few decades mouldering in the back of a old notebook on a shelf, or scribbled on a piece of paper in the stack of unfinished business on my desk, or listed in an Excel spreadsheet that will eventually become obsolete and unreadable, I thought I’d just put them out there.
This week I was reminded again how out-of-sorts people can become if they feel the haven’t got enough credit for their work, whether or not desired credit is in proportion to what they contributed. SSDS’s projects include the contributions of many people, some of whom go unnamed. I hope that the most influential are acknowledged on the website somewhere or in our publications, as appropriate. As an example, our early work on Lorentz Augmented Orbits was conducted with the help of dozens of undergrads and master’s students, several Ph.D. students, after many conversations with colleagues all over the U.S. domain name values and in the U.K., and with the sponsorship of several government agencies whose program managers and contracts people all had a part to play. It’s just not feasible to cite every little contribution every time someone asks about a project. In my experience, there tend to be only one or two people who really bring the projects to life, and I tend to give them the credit when I talk about the projects to others. I think that’s OK. For instance, Brett Streetman and Justin Atchison are the two former SSDS members whose work I cite when I’m talking about LAOs. My doing so should not imply that everyone else’s work is of no value or that their participation is being intentionally, conspiratorily purged from the record.
So, I’ll try to give credit for innovations I’m aware of. If I neglect to mention someone with whom I talked about these spacecraft already, or who affected my thinking on a subject years ago, however slightly, I sincerely apologize.