November 4, 2014

"The question for me is not 'will people be willing to take the risk,' but 'Will Virgin Galactic have enough paying customers to cover the cost?'"

"Not that many people have so much money that $250,000 dollars sounds affordable. Risk-taking propensity is strongest among young men — and unfortunately, wealth is highest among the old."

Says Instapundit.

Unlike Instapundit, I don't support space tourism, but that's not why I'm posting. I'm posting to speculate that there is a causal relationship between the risk-taking propensity in young men and the disproportionate wealth in the old. If young men didn't feel driven to take risks, who would be generating new wealth? And if young men already had wealth, would they be risk-takers, or would they opt for a life of ease and luxury?

So: Is the distribution of wealth unfortunate or fortunate? From the group perspective, it seems fortunate... both for the young men to be motivated by the need to acquire wealth and for the old people, beyond their most productive years, to have money to go about dumping on all manner of unnecessary things that young men (and women) can get rich selling, like some damned "space" ride.

84 comments:

rehajm said...

Risk-taking propensity is strongest among young men — and unfortunately, wealth is highest among the old."

Palo Alto alone gets them to break-even.

Alexander said...

1. Nobody.
2. In most cases, life of ease and luxury.

If young men didn't take risks, we wouldn't be discussing space tourism... we'd be staring out at the Atlantic and wondering if there was something out there beyond the shores of Albion.

Or more likely, if anyone was willing to take the piece of flint and have another go at summoning the big scary fire.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I was pondering something recently that is somewhat germane to this topic. When you're young you are far more apprehensive about dying than you are after you've lived a long life and have had time to accustom yourself to the inevitable. So why is it that it is the young people who are doing all the crazy shit that is likely to get them killed?

Original Mike said...

"I'm posting to speculate that there is a causal relationship between the risk-taking propensity in young men and the disproportionate wealth in the old."

Of course there is. You don't generate wealth overnight.

Original Mike said...

Nor do you generate wealth without taking risks.

kcom said...

I thought you generate wealth by taxing it away from someone else?

There's not much risk there.

Hagar said...

It is better that the "easy come, easy go" guys spend their money on Virgin Galactic than on progresssive political causes.

traditionalguy said...

Showing off by taking death risks is only for the very immature of all ages.

Taking risks should be reserved for emergencies that call for a rescuer and then only when there is no other way.

Lance said...

"Not that many people have so much money that $250,000 dollars sounds affordable. Risk-taking propensity is strongest among young men — and unfortunately, wealth is highest among the old."

Says Instapundit.


Actually that wasn't Reynolds, he was quoting Megan McArdle.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

It doesn't have to be a paying proposition to succeed.

Maybe the risk averse will fly Virgin Atlantic because it will make them feel like they're flying Virgin Galactic.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

"Not that many people have so much money that $250,000 dollars sounds affordable. Risk-taking propensity is strongest among young men — and unfortunately, wealth is highest among the old."

Says Instapundit.


Actually says Megan McArdle, Instapundit was just quoting.

CStanley said...

Instapundit's wife Dr. Helen wrote something very similar to this post recently (sorry I don't know the URL to link.) it was in response to the viral "catcalling" video.

PB Reader said...

There's a reason why NASA only did two manned "popgun shots" in the Mercury program. There's only so much to learn or achieve in near-space.

I've nothing against wealthy people paying large sums to satisfy their egos/yearnings. It ends up employing other people.

Real space tourism is in orbit, and Richard Branson's efforts are designed to achieve that. Elon Musk is more likely to realize that at at lower cost. When reusable boosters are achieved, the cost per launch could rapidly go from $30M to $300K and the per person cost to go well under $100K.

A combination of Musk's boosters, Orbital Science's space plane, and Bigelow Aerospace's orbital habitats.

EDH said...

Is the "risk-taking propensity" greater among young men or is the risk level just lower because of lower opportunity cost, in terms of alternative sources of income foregone, wealth to loose and life time left available to recoup?

The changing appetite for risk in investing has as much to do with the time to recover before retirement as it does with the amount of wealth available to put at risk.

Anonymous said...

Equivocation fallacy.

We are talking about two different types of risk taking.

1) Taking financial risks, as in, building a company that might take one into space.

2) Risks that may cause physical harm, even death. As in, taking a flight to outer space that may kill you.

Carol said...

What price bucket-lists.

Michael K said...

There is a near consensus that the choice of engine was a major problem and probably caused the crash. That will mean a major redesign if they are correct.

The Telegraph can disclose that Sir Richard’s company, as well as US authorities, were warned about safety issues on numerous occasions, as long ago as 2007 when three engineers died in an explosion during testing of a rocket engine on the ground.
Carolynne Campbell, the lead expert on rocket propulsion at the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS), said: “This explosion is not a surprise. None whatsoever, I am sorry to say. It is exactly what I was expecting. It was Russian roulette which test flight blew up.”
She had first warned Virgin Galactic about the danger of its nitrous oxide-propelled engines in the aftermath of the 2007 disaster, and has repeated those warnings since.
In a study published in 2010 on her website and sent to Sir Richard’s company as well as to the US authorities, she wrote: “We are not confident that … we yet know enough about N2O [nitrous oxide] to consider it a safe oxidiser for use in passenger flight.


The engine combines liquid and solid propellant.

In May this year, the company and its partner firm Scaled Composites said they would switch from using a rubber-based solid fuel burned in a stream of nitrous oxide, which had caused engine instabilities in earlier test flights, to a plastic-based solid fuel called thermoplastic polyamide also burned in nitrous oxide.
It was claimed the new fuel would be more reliable and more powerful.
In a statement on its website on Friday, the company said: “During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of the vehicle.”


MY lab partner in medical school was one of two engineers at Aerojet General who designed the first solid rocket engine for the ICBM. He would take off each summer to work on the engine and return to medical school in the fall.

It was the solid boosters that blew up the Challenger.

Brent said...

Anne, I respectfully disagree with your position on space tourism. There will be plenty of rich people willing to take both the risk and the financial cost to be some of the first tourists. Russia has been doing it for years at a much higher price. Like all technology, its cost will decrease significantly as it becomes more routine.

The benefits of space tourism will be significant. By privatizing the program, huge efficiency will be gained, allowing for significant reinvestment in technology. Eventually this will lead to better products for all of us, medical advances, access to precious metals, etc. This will all be with the added benefit of allowing people the opportunity to do what so many have dreamed about - travel in space.

It makes me super excited for my young daughters that they will probably get the chance to do what I probably won't and never thought was a even a possibility. My future grandchildren will be able to travel to space for the cost of an airplane trip to Fiji.

Exploration is built into the human soul. Space tourism may not be exploration, but it is opening the door to it. After all, NASA hasn't even left orbit for decades.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Michael K-

The reports so far are that there was no explosion. The ship broke up due to aerodynamic forces because the feathering system deployed too early.

The engines could still have been involved ( excessive vibration in theory could contribute to the problem ) but the engines did not explode, and were recovered, along with the intact fuel tanks.

Gahrie said...

The first adopters of new technology are, always have been, and always will be, the rich.

Ann Althouse said...

"I was pondering something recently that is somewhat germane to this topic. When you're young you are far more apprehensive about dying than you are after you've lived a long life and have had time to accustom yourself to the inevitable. So why is it that it is the young people who are doing all the crazy shit that is likely to get them killed?"

Because in evolutionary times, the young men who did such things put their genes into us.

Big Mike said...

If I had the money, I'd take the ride in a heartbeat.

Ann Althouse said...

It didn't matter that they died young. If, in dying young, they projected their genes forward, that was what worked.

Young men these days might feel bad about the prospect of death, but the drive to project their genetic material is overridingly powerful.

Sex and death OR no sex and later death.

Pick one. And if you pick the latter, you're not the kind of person we'll be seeing in the future.

I'm referring to evolutionary times.

Now that there's birth control and sperm selection by the females who want children, the system will work differently.

Anonymous said...

Those wealthy people who have passed Dr. Obamacare's optimal age of 75 should take a plunge(a flying leap?)

Ann Althouse said...

"travel in space"

It's such a ridiculous idea for a dream. You don't go anywhere. It's just a theme park ride. Up and then down, back where you came from. You never got out of the vehicle!

Why not just build a really great simulation?

Ann Althouse said...

"Anne, I respectfully disagree with your position on space tourism. There will be plenty of rich people willing to take both the risk and the financial cost to be some of the first tourists. Russia has been doing it for years at a much higher price…."

1. The name's Ann.

2. I didn't say I didn't think there would be enough rich people willing to take the risk. That has nothing to do with my opposition to space travel.

3. "I ask you how things could get much worse if the Russians happen to get up there first. Wowee! pretty scary!"

rhhardin said...

Virgin Galactic doesn't make etymological sense.

rhhardin said...

A flying bicycle would be nice, if you're a kid.

This is before they take physics.

It used to be a magazine seller. Kids! Build this flying bicycle!

rhhardin said...

The trouble is that kids weigh too much. A bird-powered ornithopter is the way to go. Birds are strong and light.

Some little hamster wheel inside with a bird running on it.

Shanna said...

The first adopters of new technology are, always have been, and always will be, the rich.

There is a whole early adopters curve. It's expensive then it gets cheap. It works beautifully to make things available to just about everyone eventually, at least in the electronics realm it has.

Why not just build a really great simulation?

Because it isn't real. Like looking at a fake mona lisa or pyramid. There is a difference between going to the grand canyon and watching a film and if you don't care about those differences that's fine.

But it isn't all about just flying to the moon or in space - technological advances can and often do lead to something else and working on this sort of 'space tourism' will lead to things that enrich our lives in other ways.

Brent said...

"Why not just build a really great simulation?"

I have been in one of the most advanced airplane simulators in the world, but simulators just aren't the same as flying in a real F-16.

Is hiking to the top of a giant peak in the Rocky Mountains just a theme park ride? Maybe to you, but not to me. It is highly enjoyable to many of us to experience something beautiful with our eyes and other senses. The rarity of the experience adds to the enjoyment.

"It's such a ridiculous idea for a dream. You don't go anywhere."

Sure you do; you go to space. When you travel to Colorado, do you not go anywhere? Why would it be any more valid of a dream if I traveled to Mars and back?

You raise an interesting question - do we ever go anywhere if we always return "home"?

Also, this is just the first step. Eventually, we will go "somewhere" as tourists.

Just because you don't share the same dream, doesn't make it ridiculous. But I still think your great.

Skeptical Voter said...

Ah Ms. Althouse--feeling your age and letting your inner curmudgeon out.

Wait 10 more years, see the long term destruction that Obama has wrought, and you can curse yourself for your misguided enthusiasm in 2008.

rhhardin said...

Hamster wheels do not work in space.

Beldar said...

What other sorts of tourism do you support, Prof. Althouse?

I'm not sure what you mean by that, exactly. I don't support government subsidies for space tourism, if that's what you mean.

I gather you'd rather not "support" it with your discretionary entertainment dollars, either. Most would agree with you.

But do you oppose the concept? Do you think Virgin Galactic or similar companies should be banned from their efforts by government law or regulation? Or forced by public opinion to drop those efforts?

Scott M said...

Ire...rising......

St. George said...

It will scale up like cars, TVs, and personal computers and will become so commonplace as to be mundane within our lifetimes.

One consequence--once "average" people from around the world get into space--may be what is called "The Overview Effect." This is the change of consciousness regarding the Earth and the one-ness of human beings that has already affected astronauts.

Here's a brief documentary on how looking down on the Earth changes people.

PB Reader said...

Humanity as we know it will never really leave this planet. Space is a very dangerous and unforgiving place for our water-filled, carbon-based bodies.

Our evolved, mechanical successors will be the ones that leave in numbers to go other places in the universe.

David said...

"a brief documentary on how looking down on the Earth changes people."

Depends on the person, I think. Imagine Napoleon orbiting the earth and looking down. He would just see more opportunities.

Michael K said...

" the engines did not explode, and were recovered, along with the intact fuel tanks."

Interesting. I didn't see that.

"On Sunday, the space plane’s fuel tanks and engine were found intact, contradicting earlier claims that SpaceShipTwo had exploded."

Found it. There is still controversy about the hybrid engine but that seems not to be the cause.

Original Mike said...

Sub-orbital flight is not that interesting. I'd pay a lot for orbital flight. It's been a dream since I was a little kid.

Jupiter said...

"Because in evolutionary times, the young men who did such things put their genes into us."

a) We are still living in evolutionary times. The dinosaurs, however, are no longer evolving.

b) More importantly, the young men who did such things put their Y chromosomes into today's men. But before you get all celebratory about that, you might want to consider that rape has long been an effective male reproductive strategy. We are all descended from multiple successful rapists. Shines a different light on "put their genes into us", no?

Original Mike said...

"It's such a ridiculous idea for a dream. You don't go anywhere."

Absurd.

dbp said...

"It's such a ridiculous idea for a dream. You don't go anywhere. It's just a theme park ride. Up and then down, back where you came from. You never got out of the vehicle!"

This is a first step. Later, the same technology will get you from NY to Tokyo in 30 minutes.

Original Mike said...

"You never got out of the vehicle!"

So, Ms. Althouse, can I interest you in the spacewalk option? Just 50k more!

traditionalguy said...

2001 A Space Odyssey had better music.

For $250,000 you could just buy a HAL 9000 and kill off your enemies. Which would also fulfill our evolutionary mandate.

Michael K said...

"The dinosaurs, however, are no longer evolving."

Of course they are. We just call them "birds" now.

William said...

The music and sports industries generate quite a large number of youthful millionaires. Taylor Swift could use such a trip to publicize her new album. Many x sports stars would probably go space walking without a suit just for the hell of it. People will find a use for it........Perhaps they could evolve a fifteen minute trip to Japan from the technology used.......If they could develop some faster than light speed vehicle that returns you to earth ten years younger than when you left, I would be interested, but this trip is not cost effective for most people.

John Lynch said...

It's just novelty. The Arctic used to be a place for romantic exploration. Now it's a tedious, boring place where people live in pre-fabs. I've lived there. It sucks. So does space. So will Mars. The universe is full of bad places to live.

Space is most of the universe. There's nothing special about it. All that's special is being able to say you went there when no one else has.

It's not about space, it's about human desire to one-up other people. That's space tourism. It's the same drive as mountain climbing, but that takes more effort. I don't really care what people do to pose for the crowd.

There are people who do risky things for their own reasons, not for recognition. But that's their business. It doesn't do anything for anyone else, and we shouldn't care.

Riding on a rocket, in and of itself, isn't much of an achievement, especially since people have been doing it for 50 years. It's a more exclusive club than people who own private jets, but not much more.

Brent said...

"The name's Ann."

Forgive me. I know many Ann's or Anne's and I should have known better than to mess with the E. It is a sensitive subject.

John Lynch said...

Genetically, risky behavior is a test for bravery. Traditionally, that's shown by fighting in a war. Modern people have found many new ways to show it off.

Drago said...

dpb: "This is a first step. Later, the same technology will get you from NY to Tokyo in 30 minutes."

Shhhhhhh.

This is no time visionary thought.

It's time to put a stop to those reckless sillies who want to test themselves against the limits of technology and our environment!!!

Ahead to the present!! May it always be thus!!

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, I beg your pardon, but is your position something on the order of you don't support space tourism and therefore it shouldn't exist?

An affirmative answer means that deep inside you are still a hardcore liberal.

Brent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Smilin' Jack said...

It didn't matter that they died young. If, in dying young, they projected their genes forward, that was what worked.

I haven't checked the statistics, but I doubt astronauts have any more children on average than accountants.

"travel in space"

It's such a ridiculous idea for a dream.


That, on the other hand, is true. I took a ride into "near space" on Delta Airlines just the other day. It cost a lot less than Virgin Galactica, and it sucked.

Brent said...

"I didn't say I didn't think there would be enough rich people willing to take the risk. That has nothing to do with my opposition to space travel."

That was sloppy writing on my part. I didn't mean to say that it did have something to do with your opposition. I was addressing the quote first.

But I still don't get your opposition, even after reading your linked comment. It appears to be nothing more then - it isn't my dream, so I don't support it. Use robots to explore space instead. But you are arguing as if it is funded by taxpayers. I don't understand your desire to closely scrutinize how private individuals spend their tourist dollars. Should I scrutinize your road trip to Colorado to determine if your money was well spent, or if it was a ridiculous dream because you didn't really go anywhere?

I don't dream of going on an African safari, but can certainly support people spending tourist dollars to do so (as if anyone should give a darn whether you or I support their vacation plans). And with space travel, there is likely to be resulting technology and knowledge that benefits all of us.

In the end, it isn't your money being spent, so why do you care either way?

John Lynch said...

I don't see people flocking to the Sahara or Antarctica because they exist. Those are remote, inhospitable places to live. Either of them is still much less hostile to life than anywhere off of Earth. The fact that no one is rushing to live in the Empty Quarter of Arabia tells me that once the romance of exploration wears off very few people are going to want to live off Earth.

The only reason I can see for off-planet colonization is to get away from Earth for religious or ideological reasons. The money isn't there (barring some technological advance), so there will have to be some other reason.

So, spare me the romance. It wears off.

RecChief said...

It's such a ridiculous idea for a dream.

I wonder how many times that was said to Columbus, or Lewis and Clark, or the Wright Brothers, or a girl who said she wanted to be a lawyer?

RecChief said...

John Lynch said...
I don't see people flocking to the Sahara or Antarctica because they exist.


Actually, from what I've read, the tourism trade to Antarctica is quite brisk.

Hagar said...

I still say it is a girl thing and based on nothing more than resentment of resources wasted on guy things rather than being spent on them and the children.

Dan Hossley said...

I don't support or oppose space tourism since it's private enterprise, emphasis on private and therefore, none of my business. It's their money after all.

Instapundit on the other hand is seriously confused.

Brent said...

"I don't support or oppose space tourism since it's private enterprise, emphasis on private and therefore, none of my business. It's their money after all."

You put is much more succinctly than I did in my many posts. Well said.

Rusty said...

kcom said...
I thought you generate wealth by taxing it away from someone else?


Taxes don't generate wealth. Taxes consume wealth.

Clyde said...

Fortunate. Most wealthy people became so the old-fashioned way: They inherited it. They were born on third base and thought they hit a triple.

Shanna said...

The only reason I can see for off-planet colonization is to get away from Earth for religious or ideological reasons.

How about because our star will go through a regular star life and eventually earth won't really work for people anymore? If we want to continue, we will have to colonize. Not to mention any number of other disasters that could hit the planet that would make it hard to live here.

lgv said...

While individual risk aversion may increase as one gets older, it is distributed more evenly than you think.

The more memorable startups were created by the young, but many are started by older people.

Rather than linear, risk aversion may be a curve. Low when young, increasing after marriage and children, decreasing after the kids are out of college. Call it the responsibility factor.

Larry J said...

Michael K said...

There is a near consensus that the choice of engine was a major problem and probably caused the crash. That will mean a major redesign if they are correct.


The NTSB says that the engine shows no sign of deformation or breech. Once again, just because there is a consensus, it doesn't mean it's correct. There are reasons why the hybrid engine may be a poor choice but a big part of that is economic rather than technical.

PB Reader said...
There's a reason why NASA only did two manned "popgun shots" in the Mercury program. There's only so much to learn or achieve in near-space.


Project Mercury initially planned on each astronaut taking a suborbital flight before an orbital flight. However, the Soviets beat us in sending a man into space (and in orbit, to boot), and Kennedy said he wanted to go to the moon, so things accelerated. In the meantime, NASA and the Air Force flew the X-15 on many suborbital flights. They learned a great deal. The ESA is getting ready to launch an unmanned suborbital flight of a new design, perhaps later this year. In the case of tourism, suborbital flights offer an opportunity for ordinary people to experience a taste of space. Since Gagarin's first flight in 1961, fewer than 600 people worldwide have flown in space.

I've nothing against wealthy people paying large sums to satisfy their egos/yearnings. It ends up employing other people.

Real space tourism is in orbit, and Richard Branson's efforts are designed to achieve that. Elon Musk is more likely to realize that at at lower cost. When reusable boosters are achieved, the cost per launch could rapidly go from $30M to $300K and the per person cost to go well under $100K.

A combination of Musk's boosters, Orbital Science's space plane, and Bigelow Aerospace's orbital habitats.


I doubt SpaceX will be able to get the prices that low but if they succeed, it'll still be an order of magnitude or more cheaper than buying a ride on a Soyuz. SpaceX is building their own manned capsule, the Dragon 2, and it's also designed to be reusable. If all goes well, they'll do the pad-abort test by the end of this year and an in-flight abort test early next year. Manned flights will likely follow within a year or two.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

You need to adjust for survivor bias as well, of course. The currently-wealthy old are a subset of the prior risktakers, some of whom went bust when they were younger.
In evolutionary terms the desire to acheive anything (like great wealth) is tied primarily to procreation and also to survival (so that one can procreate). In an advanced modern society it is not too difficult to survive, and for the young it's usually relatively easy to find a sexual partner with whom to simulate procreative activity. One wonders what this fact means for the future evolution--at first blush it seems the genes for risk taking (etc) would be less-heavily selected for. When the unambitious are sexually successful what does that do to the gene pool? A counterargument could use a total # vs frequency comparison (ie if the unambitious have a few kids each but the very ambitious have many more kids each) but you'd have to, you know, use math.

Original Mike said...

" ... or a girl who said she wanted to be a lawyer?"

HEH.

Drago said...

Larry J: "Manned flights will likely follow within a year or two."

Did you hear that Ann?

To the barricades!! We must stop this tomfoolery which endangers us and serves no purpose and is icky!

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Private individuals choosing to spend their own money and take their own risks doing an activity they find worthwhile and that may as a side benefit advance technological understanding and/or decrease the cost of subsequent technology is not something I think is really worthy of ridicule. It actually seems like a pretty good outcome! If it's not for you, don't do it. If it's not costing you anything, what do you care? If you oppose gay marriage don't marry someone of the same gender, otherwise butt out! Wait, no, that last one slipped.
I disagree with the cultural, moral, and aesthetic choices and tastes of my fellow citizens in a myriad of ways and on basically every possible topic. I might shake my head or cluck my tongue softly to myself, but as long as I'm not being forced to fund their ventures, underwite their costs, or coerced into giving my approval (moral sanction, etc) I don't think I'd have much of a problem as such.

Drago said...

Rusty said...
kcom said...
I thought you generate wealth by taxing it away from someone else?

Taxes don't generate wealth. Taxes consume wealth


Uh oh. Time to recalibrate the Sarcasm Meter.

Unless the Luddites amongst us disapprove of Meter recalibration.

Michael K said...

"The NTSB says that the engine shows no sign of deformation or breech. Once again, just because there is a consensus, it doesn't mean it's correct. There are reasons why the hybrid engine may be a poor choice but a big part of that is economic rather than technical."

Oh, I acknowledged that the engine wasn't the problem this time but the reasons why the hybrid engine is still thought to be risky has to do with safety.

This engine was swapped out for a different solid fuel propellant after 3 engineers were killed by an explosion.

More here

The test was conducted at 2:30 pm at the hottest part of a very hot day. These was no shade. The test appears to have been conducted on a concrete pad. If the ambient temperature (in the shade) was 110 F, the temperature a few feet above the concrete pad would probably have been in excess of 140 F.

I understand that the pilots expressed concern about temperature before takeoff. If the failure was the reentry system, the engine temperature issue was not the source but it is still controversial.

Hagar said...

Shanna,
The sun will go nova in 3 billion years. If the human race lasts another 3 million it will be a wonder. (3 thousand might actually be quite good.)

And, if it does last another 3 million years, the homo species then will not have that much resemblance to us.
Don't worry about it.

Larry J said...

Michael K said...

Oh, I acknowledged that the engine wasn't the problem this time but the reasons why the hybrid engine is still thought to be risky has to do with safety.

This engine was swapped out for a different solid fuel propellant after 3 engineers were killed by an explosion.


No, that's inaccurate. The explosion happened in 2007 when they were running a nitrous oxide flow test. There was no propellant involved in that accident. The propellant was changed out only this year when the prior propellant was having issues of insufficient performance and combustion instability. The prior propellant was essentially the same used 10 years ago to win the X-Prize. They tried to scale up that engine to meet the requirements of SpaceShipTwo but were unsuccessful. One problem with hybrid engines is that they apparently don't scale well. Earlier this year, they switched from a rubber-like propellant to nylon. Both engines use nitrous oxide as an oxydizer.

The economic issues of using a hybrid engine are limited reusability and relatively slow turn-around time. Another space tourism company named Xcor is working on an all liquid-fueled rocket plane. If successful, they'll only have to inspeact and refuel between flights. Their goal is up to four flights per day. Xcor is a very good company with a lot of experience developing rocket engines but this is their first in-house aircraft. They will likely experience some testing issues as well. That's the nature of flight test. Test pilots are so widely respected for good reason. Not only are they consumate professionals and exceptional pilots, they're willing to take high risks flying unproven aircraft to their very limits in order to improve safety.

Original Mike said...

Hagar,
Actually, the sun will heat up to the point of making the Earth uninhabitable after a few hundred million years. Which does nothing to diminish your point, of course.

tim maguire said...

I didn't mind at all being so poor in my early 20's that I sold my blood for food money at least half a dozen times. I take contort in the knowledge that I will likely be financially comfortable when I'm 80.

Peter said...

"The engine combines liquid and solid propellant."


Solid rockets are simpler than liquid-fuel ones, and thus should be more reliable.
BUT liquid-fuel rockets can be turned off if/when something goes wrong; solids can't.

Combining liquid and solid propellants sounds like a compromise: the plumbing is simpler than an all-liquid rocket's, but it can still be turned off.

"It was the solid boosters that blew up the Challenger."
And one of the arguments against using solid boosters is that once they're started there is no way to turn them off.

Although for the Challenger the specific cause of failure was a lack of elasticity in an O-ring, presumably because the temperature at launch was below design limits.

Larry J said...

"It was the solid boosters that blew up the Challenger."

More specifically, it was hot combustion gasses from one of the solid rocket boosters leaking through an unsealed joint (O-ring failed to seal properly) onto the huge tank filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that destroyed the Challenger. The solids didn't blow up until range safety sent the destruct command.

Hybrid rocket engines were sold as being safer than all liquid or all solid fueled rockets. There's a lot of debate about that and the evidence so far is lacking. They are simplier than most liquid fueled rockets and can be throttled or shut down easily, unlike solids. Done properly, hybrids offer higher specific impulse than solids but lower than most liquids.

Anonymous said...

400 years ago, would Ann have been against 'New World tourism'?

John Lynch said...

Shanna-

The problem with the eggs-in-one-basket justification for space travel is that all the other baskets are full of holes.

We'd most likely need thousands of off-world colonies to have any real increase in the odds for our survival. We evolved on Earth, and anywhere else is going to be very deadly for us. Many unforeseen catastrophes await us. The universe is going to do its best to kill us and the hazards we are likely to encounter are going to take a long time to overcome. We don't even know what they are going to be.

We'll get around to it, but it's going to take a much higher level of technology and a much larger global economy than we now possess. Anywhere else is going to be much less pleasant to live on than our planet.

Almost all of our planet is a hostile environment as it is, with oceans, deserts, ice caps, and tundra predominating. We're not even very good at living here, given the small part of the planet where we actually live.

I think people need to look at space travel more rationally. It's not like anything we've ever done.

Carl Pham said...

If young men didn't feel driven to take risks, who would be generating new wealth?

Middle-aged men generate most wealth. As a rule, that's who starts successful small businesses or steers large businesses in better directions, or midwifes new technology, or makes constructive changes in the law. Nature programs men in middle age to be restless, independent-thinking, arrogant and well-socialized, and programs everyone else to instinctively respect them but judge their failures mercilessly. Maximizes entrepreneurship.

The role of younger men is to supply shock troops for their fathers and uncles: they take chances because somebody's got to, and they're more disposable, and in order to advance in the ranks faster, so as to reach a springboard for their own later acts of wealth creation faster.

I think you are forgetting that we are a social species, and successful acts of wealth creation are largely social, not individual. It's being a brilliant manager and observer of people that is the key characteristic, not individual brilliance or energy, occasional exceptions notwithstanding.

And if young men already had wealth, would they be risk-takers

Yes. Even if your hypothesis held water, which stats on business formation suggest it does not, such attitudes are clearly wired in by evolution, and would be unaffected by change in circumstances. (And, in fact, I don't think we generally observe that the scions of wealthy families are much more conservative and cautious than the offspring of the poor.)

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Larry J said...More specifically, it was hot combustion gasses from one of the solid rocket boosters leaking through an unsealed joint (O-ring failed to seal properly) onto the huge tank filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that destroyed the Challenger. The solids didn't blow up until range safety sent the destruct command.
Even more specifically it wasn't the explosion itself that destroyed the orbiter but aerodynamic pressure (with instant loads in excess of 20gs) that broke it up.

Michael K said...

" it was hot combustion gasses from one of the solid rocket boosters leaking through an unsealed joint (O-ring failed to seal properly) "

Agreed and it was the desire to reuse them that led to that design. Feynmann made one of his last contributions by figuring that out and demonstrating it to lay people.

Jalanl said...

$169,815 puts Ann in the top 5%.

Salary Details
ALTHOUSE, ANN

The name "ALTHOUSE, ANN" appears in the following records in the 2014-15 UW Redbook:
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Position PROFESSOR
Position type TENURE
Position salary $169,815.00
Pay basis Academic year
Campus UW-MADISON
Division LAW SCHOOL
Department LAW SCHOOL
Unit LAW SCHOOL-GEN
Classification Unclassified
Leave status
Funding source General Purpose Revenue
Fund GPO - Doctoral Cluster
Funding use Instruction

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