Thursday, May 06, 2010

Birds Of A Feather

Scott "Doc" Horowitz recently [1] published a rant on The Mars Society, and among the stupidity was this gem:
The COTS providers (Orbital and SpaceX) were awarded firm fixed price contracts totaling $3.5B to deliver approximately 40MT of cargo to the ISS. This, plus the $500M already invested in COTS, results in a cost of $100,000/kilo ($45,000/lb) to deliver cargo to ISS. If the Ares I/Orion were flown at a similar rate (6 flights/year) the fully-burdened government cost for delivering cargo to ISS would be about $70,000/kilo ($32,000/lb)!

Totally ignoring that there was no cargo block for Orion, what about the estimated $35B to $40B that Ares I + Orion is expected to cost? How about adding that in?

It's just like how Zubrin claims that NASA's budget today is the same as it was during Apollo [2].. by cherry picking 13 years from the Apollo period [3] (and in some retellings the 90s too) and then defining "the same" as 21% more. [4]

You'd think that completely objective proof that someone is wrong would be sufficient to discredit them but our community has been so diluted by politics and subjective opinion that we don't hold anyone to their claims anymore.

We're supposed to accept that Zubrin is just making a point that the budget excuse is irrelevant, and hey, I don't completely disagree with him, NASA can blow $9B on Constellation with virtually nothing to show for it, so a little NASA bashing isn't out of line, but the argument Zubrin presents immediately after this mathematical sleight-of-hand is that "during the past 13 years, no new technologies of major significance were developed." Of course, by "major significance" Zubrin means things like space suits [5], in space life support systems [6] and rocket engines [7].

So next time you hear Zubrin talk, and I guarantee that it'll be the same old shtick, think of Doc Horowitz - the kind of person who assumes his audience is clueless.

[Edit]

I spoke to Zubrin about this post.. he said I really should mention that the people he was arguing against were saying that NASA's budget was something like four times as much as it is today. Obviously these people are also wrong. Even at the peak of Apollo spending (which is what I think is really relevant) it was only 1.87 times as much as NASA's budget today. Although, I guess, if you were to compare the amount of the peak Apollo budget that was actually being spent on the human spaceflight program, and the amount today that is being spent on the human spaceflight program, you could get something like 4 times... but that's entirely Zubrin's point - the priority during Apollo was human spaceflight and today it isn't. To both camps I say: use real numbers and don't throw away the decimal point to make your point.

1. http://www.marssociety.org/portal/a-trajectory-to-nowhere-by-scott-doc-horowitz/

2. "In today’s dollars, NASA’s average budget from 1961 to 1973 was about $18 billion per year. That is about the same as NASA’s current budget." - Zubrin, http://www.marssociety.org/portal/zubrinoped-space-news-2-10/

3. NASA budget from 1961 to 1973, in constant 2007 dollars, $282.865B. NASA budget in 2010, in constant 2007 dollars, $17.912B. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Budget

4. $282.865B / 13 = $21.759B, which is 21.48% more than $17.912B.

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_III_%28space_suit%29

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISS_ECLSS#Water%20recovery%20systems

7. http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/constellation/main/lox_methane_engine.html

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