Talk for Article "Q&A: Astronaut Ron Garan on Falcon Heavy and the future of space exploration"

Talk about this Article

  1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

    First, I wholeheartedly disbelieve in the notion that there will ever be any significant space travel in humans’ future.

    It seems that we are unable to transcend the ancient paradigm of Earth exploration where a body could literally jump onto a cheap raft and float to another planet in space. Space exploration is not Earth exploration; the energy requirements are incomparable and the environment of space is, well, not.

    Second, I am stuck on this vision of 7.6E9 humans incapable of caring for what we have on this Earth and yet, many of us carry a notion that we need to spread that malaise into space, the cost of which is hideously beyond imagination.

    In conclusion, it strikes me that in the face of the obvious unsustainability of the current industrial human society and its nearly assured imminent collapse, that fanciful, twitterpating media stunts serve only the masters at the expense always of the masses.

    But I could be wrong.

  2. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

    Definitely an interesting discussion. Must say, my first thought in reading this thread aligned with Ted Lemon’s suggestion that benny beaver might be interested in writing a separate piece on the issue, given his interest and knowledge of the subject, which I readily admit surpasses mine. I’d certainly be interested in reading that. Personally, I’ve been hopeful that more of these good TALK discussions would move into the realm of STORY creation. That, to me, is what will really make this site start to hum.

    I will respectfully push back to a degree on the idea that the piece as it stands functions as PR for Elon Musk and SpaceX. I don’t believe that’s an accurate starting point for this discussion. No matter what your feelings about Elon Musk, the launch of Falcon Heavy was a big event that captured attention worldwide, supported by the fact that it was YouTube’s second-most-viewed live-stream ever, as reported by The Verge. Given this, and the fact that a private concern is launching rockets into space (still a big deal for many of us), it’s entirely within reason that a writer might want to interview an aerospace expert to get his or her reactions to what was inarguably a major news story.

    As laid out in the introduction of the piece, Ron Garan has as much credibility in discussing space exploration as just about any living person on the planet. He isn’t employed by SpaceX. He isn’t a publicist for the company. Therefore, his opinions and ideas about Falcon Heavy—no matter the nature of those opinions—are of great relevance to the discussion.

    I suppose it goes to the fundamental nature of “perspective” and “neutrality” that one reader can suggest Garan passes off the matter of gaining a human-rated certification as a minor issue, while another might read the quote in the story in which Garan explicitly calls that same certification “a very big process,” and state that it was likely too expensive for SpaceX to undertake, and reach the opposite conclusion. Or read Garan readily disagreeing with Musk’s assessment that Falcon Heavy launched “a new space race,” and agreeing that the launch of the Tesla Roadster was at least partly an advertising gimmick, and still feel this was a story generated by a SpaceX publicist.

    Personally, I found Garan’s views on space exploration fascinating and the background he provided on the overlooked “Earthrise” photo illuminating and inspirational. I thought the writer pulled some truly interesting insight from a truly interesting subject.

    But, I conclude where I started: what can we do to move more informed voices from TALK and get that expertise into new stories on WikiTribune? Doing so might in turn generate more interest, more expertise, more new stories, and a stronger WikiTribune. If SpaceX, for all its issues, can launch a rocket into space, I’m hopeful we manage that.

  3. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

    This article is written like it was from the SpaceX publicist.

    I’m sure that Ron Garan would decline to ride on a SpaceX heavy at this point, even though he implies that it is only a matter of certification before it can carry human cargo.

    We can be pretty sure that a significant redesign would be required before “certification” was awarded.

    The truth is that the rocket has no current mission. If there were customers looking for a payload capability this size (other than SLS), you can be sure that other companies would have been in the mix at this point.

    1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

      I would have liked to hear a bit more about the constellation project, for sure.

      Nevertheless, I have a few questions about what you’ve said. First, do you have any reason to think that you are able to predict what Ron Garan thinks or would do? If so, how?

      Do you know what is required in terms of a redesign to make a certification possible? If so, could you share that?

      As for your assertion that the Falcon Heavy has no mission, there is at least one mission on the agenda already—an Air Force payload. Is it your impression that there really are no other reasons to want this lift capacity? Or just that the Falcon Heavy is not the rocket to provide it?

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        I’ll answer the first question last.

        1. What is required to certify a rocket for man rating is a baseline design that has fault tolerant systems. At one time, that was 2-fault tolerant; that is, every system should be able to function well enough to continue the mission after 2 failures. That requirement may have been relaxed for SLS, but that is the historical case. For example, a zero fault-tolerant propellant line would have one valve in it to open and close flow. Single-fault tolerant line would have a parallel set of 2 valves (4 total), and a dual-fault tolerant line would have 3 valves in 3 parallel paths (9 total) in order to accommodate every set of 2 failures to open or close. This kind of requirement, as you can see, is both expensive and heavy. Secondly, since we have people as valuable cargo, more testing is required to verify system and end-to-end reliability. Third, the review process is much more lengthy (costly). Fourth, there need to be extra systems carried for emergency cases, such as booster failure soon after launch, to allow astronauts to escape.
        2. The mission on the agenda from the DOD is almost certainly capable of being conducted by ULA. The point is that the SpaceX heavy is over-designed for the payloads out there today (and in the immediate future).
        3. Considering the answer in (1) above, and the lack of flight history, would you be willing to get on board the next SpaceX heavy? Most astronauts may be courageous, but not stupid. I would assume that Ron Garan is in that camp.

        1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

          So how many system failures can the Falcon Heavy tolerate before the mission fails? As for the crew escape system, given that SpaceX at present has no plans for human missions, wouldn’t that be something that they would design in if and when that changes? And while I think what you say about a crewed Falcon heavy mission prior to certification is true, what relevance does it have, since such a mission would never be permitted in the first place?

          1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

            I don’t know. How many do you think? SpaceX is a private company. Musk only shares what suits his purposes. (Certainly he doesn’t share real costs. Note that I said cost, not price.) But why would he go to the trouble and expense of funding a rocket with redundancy that is not needed for carrying cargo?

            I doubt that it is ready for human flight, but Ron Garan implied that the matter of certification is a minor issue. I took that to mean that he is saying it is only a bureaucratic process, and technically it is ready. Novices, who make up most of the community that comments on these things, could very well believe that is what he is saying.

            Designing in these systems and completing certification for flying humans is not a minor thing. Costs will go up significantly and performance will go down. It is sometimes easier to start all over.

            What is it that you know that you can share with us? Can you add something of value here?

            1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

              I don’t have any inside knowledge here—I’m just trying to understand where you are coming from. Your general position on this seems to be that the article is more like marketing copy. But that’s okay if it is (1) accurate and (2) doesn’t create an incorrect impression of the general state of affairs by leaving out relevant information.

              I get the impression from the way that you are talking that you feel like there’s another story here that isn’t being told. It might be worth exploring what that story is and presenting it separately rather than approaching it as a criticism of this article.

              The big problem with criticizing this article is that since it’s presented as an interview, it’s too late to adjust it. If I were the interviewer I’d ask more questions about constellation. It sounds like you’d ask more questions about SpaceX and the Falcon Heavy. But we can’t put words in the subject’s mouth, so there’s not much that can be done to change that.

              I don’t know if the interview questions were discussed prior to the interview, or whether the author just did the interview on her own speculatively. If the latter, one worthwhile lesson to take from this article is that that may not be an ideal approach to WikiTribune interviews.

              BTW, I assume that you know that SpaceX has already announced that they’re working on obsoleting Falcon Heavy. So some of the redesign that you are talking about is already underway. And I’m sure you know that one of the design goals of the BFR is that it should be able to land safely even if several of its engines and associated subsystems fail. So it sounds like some of the points you are raising are already being addressed.

              1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

                My read is that this story is more about SpaceX than about anything else. It is a continuation of the fascination of the author and the general public with Elon Musk, who has gained rock star status (complete with groupies and free publicity). The game he runs benefits from the general ignorance of the public and the media about “rocket science” and launch system technology. It is a tough business (as Musk has discovered and acknowledged.)
                To those of us familiar with the game, the SpaceX financial numbers (launch prices) don’t match up with the design factors. Since SpaceX is a private company, the finances are hard to come by. He has admitted that, in the past, he was very close to bankruptcy until he got bailed out by NASA funding.
                The key mystery to me is how you can make money selling cheap launches with a basic design that depends on rockets with 9 to 20-something engines. We (some of us) know that the most expensive part on a rocket, by far, is the engine system.
                And don’t tell me it is because he is reusing them. So far, that math is not adding up. Maybe, in the long, long run, he will catch up. By that time, it looks like the competition will have their own reusable systems.

                1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

                  If this is true, why not write an article about it? You are doing a bit of hand-waving that you may not be aware of, though. We don’t all know that the most expensive part on a rocket is the engine system, so you’d need to actually explain that so that we understand it. Walk us through your math. Otherwise you may believe your criticism of the company, and you may even be right, but you aren’t going to convince anyone.

                  1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

                    I have given you enough to do your own research. Don’t be a starry-eyed Elon Musk groupie. Make the effort to question these things on your own.

                    1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

                      I’ve heard what you have to say, but don’t see an action item in it for me. This is clearly pretty important to you—that’s why I’m suggesting that you be the one to take action. But if you aren’t interested, that’s okay too.

                      Bear in mind that WikiTribune is a community organization. I’m interested in this topic, but I’m not a paid employee of WikiTribune—I’m engaging with you because we share an interest in this, not because I’m in a position to fix things for you.

                    2. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

                      That tone isn’t entirely what this site is about. Elon Musk has sparked huge interest in space again. His motives are another question.

                    3. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

                      Definitely an interesting discussion. Must say, my first thought in reading this thread aligned with Ted Lemon’s suggestion that benny beaver might be interested in writing a separate piece on the issue, given his interest and knowledge of the subject, which I readily admit surpasses mine. I’d certainly be interested in reading that. Personally, I’ve been hopeful that more of these good TALK discussions would move into the realm of STORY creation. That, to me, is what will really make this site start to hum.

                      I will respectfully push back to a degree on the idea that the piece as it stands functions as PR for Elon Musk and SpaceX. I don’t believe that’s an accurate starting point for this discussion. No matter what your feelings about Elon Musk, the launch of Falcon Heavy was a big event that captured attention worldwide, supported by the fact that it was YouTube’s second-most-viewed live-stream ever, as reported by The Verge. Given this, and the fact that a private concern is launching rockets into space (still a big deal for many of us), it’s entirely within reason that a writer might want to interview an aerospace expert to get his or her reactions to what was inarguably a major news story.

                      As laid out in the introduction of the piece, Ron Garan has as much credibility in discussing space exploration as just about any living person on the planet. He isn’t employed by SpaceX. He isn’t a publicist for the company. Therefore, his opinions and ideas about Falcon Heavy—no matter the nature of those opinions—are of great relevance to the discussion.

                      I suppose it goes to the fundamental nature of “perspective” and “neutrality” that one reader can suggest Garan passes off the matter of gaining a human-rated certification as a minor issue, while another might read the quote in the story in which Garan explicitly calls that same certification “a very big process,” and state that it was likely too expensive for SpaceX to undertake, and reach the opposite conclusion. Or read Garan readily disagreeing with Musk’s assessment that Falcon Heavy launched “a new space race,” and agreeing that the launch of the Tesla Roadster was at least partly an advertising gimmick, and still feel this was a story generated by a SpaceX publicist.

                      Personally, I found Garan’s views on space exploration fascinating and the background he provided on the overlooked “Earthrise” photo illuminating and inspirational. I thought the writer pulled some truly interesting insight from a truly interesting subject.

                      But, I conclude where I started: what can we do to move more informed voices from TALK and get that expertise into new stories on WikiTribune? Doing so might in turn generate more interest, more expertise, more new stories, and a stronger WikiTribune. If SpaceX, for all its issues, can launch a rocket into space, I’m hopeful we manage that.

  4. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

    Are you sure that it’s “balance” and not “ballast” here?

    Garan: SpaceX probably needed balance for the rocket

    1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

      No I’m not! Although they’re really similar in meaning,no? Our recording wasn’t crystal clear, I’ll make sure to ask him for clarification when he’s back in the grid. Thanks!

      1. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

        No, they aren’t similar in meaning. We will take a look at this story again.

    2. [ This comment is from a user you have muted ] (show)

      I had the same thought. “Balance” seems like an odd term in this context.

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