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Dr. Jeff Bell, Monday, 2-20-12 February 21, 2012

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Dr. Jeff Bell, Monday, 2-20-12


Guest:  Dr. Jeff Bell.  Topics:  Dr. Bell’s assessment of NASA, the science missions, human spaceflight, the Russian space problems, & Phobos-Grunt conspiracy theories.  You are invited to comment, ask questions, and discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments, questions, and any discussion must be relevant and applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright.  We welcomed Dr. Jeff Bell back to the program for his assessment of space today in theUnited States, along with the problems facing the Russian space industry and the Phobos-Grunt conspiracy theories as to why the mission failed.  Those familiar with Dr. Bell and his Space Show programs will not be disappointed as this two hour plus discussion is vintage Jeff Bell.  Dr. Bell started with an assessment of the problems over the last year and half or so with the Russian space industry and its management.  Jeff does a good job of summarizing their history of manufacturing, technology, and engineering problems going back to the time of Sergei Korolev.  He also shares with us his experiences working with the Russians on the Phobos 88 mission.  He said typical characteristics of Russian missions leading to problems include being too ambitious, costly for their budgets, and the labor allocated to the projects.  He suggested that we in theU.S. do the same thing and cited MSL and Curiosity as an example.  He had much to say about the early Soviet Venus probes and how their data was widely discounted outside of theSoviet Union. He then said Space X might be overextending and he cited several ongoing Space X projects which might distract from their primary mission at hand which is to get Falcon and Dragon operational.  Listeners asked about the Russian problems driving customers away from doing business withRussia in favor of ULA in theU.S. Here, Dr. Bell had much to say about ULA pricing, overhead costs without NASA sharing them, and more.  He also mentioned what was happening to Delta 2 given the GPS system needing larger rockets as an example of the impact of government policy/spending in space industries.  Dr. Bell turned to the latest Phobos-Grunt conspiracy theories for the mission failure.  At the end of this segment, Dr. Bell talked about the JWST & Curiosity in terms of overly complex and costly missions.

In the second segment, Jeff talked about the Newt space policy suggestions and the idea of the Moon as the 51st state.  He had much to say about the ridicule in the media and was not surprised by it.  He used this as an example to say reality “conflicts with the space cadet world view.”   In talking about Mars missions, he said people had been conned by the Mars theory of life stories and promoters.  He said that Mars and HSF were not worth it.  Several listeners called in to debate Jeff on these comments but Jeff took no prisoners.  He then talked about the ISS and its less than full utilization and that the entire idea of HSF had come and gone.  At one point in response to a listener question/comment, Dr. Bell said that all Zubrin offered was a 60’s program!  Jeff did have good things to say about the science and robotic missions, said our planet exploration would be with robots, not humans, and that we needed more missions like the Kepler Space Telescope.  He repeated throughout the discussion that nothing useful has come form HSF nor would it.  He offered that the basic technology was from the70’s and had not changed.  He said overall interest in space had declined since Apollo.  In his closing comments, he said he was still hopeful that NewSpace would decrease the launch costs as that would be a game changer.

If you have questions/comments for Dr. Jeff Bell, post them on The Space Show blog URL above.


1. Dwayne Day - February 24, 2012

Dr. Bell’s comments about the MSL (Curiosity) landing site, the MER missions (including landing sites), and the overall Mars exploration program contained much opinion and very few facts. There is a MSL landing site selection team that has presented publicly at a number of scientific conferences. For him to claim that their site selection is stupid and makes no sense is not supported by the facts. There are working Mars scientists around the country who have been involved in this, and he is not one of them.

Then again, he doesn’t come across as a ray of sunshine. I know he’s not trying to win a popularity contest, but he really limits his effectiveness by taking the position that “I’m right and everybody else is an idiot.”

2. Alistair - February 22, 2012

It is interesting to hear a non-space cadet perspective. Dr. Bell does have a lot of valid points about using robotic spacecraft/rovers to do most exploration (which do a great job). It’s clear he does have some bias, but then again so do we all.

Still, some of the medical research in micro/low gravity requires a human presence (especially if it’s research on humans).

Most space cadets would advocate going to space for pure human colonization. Most ‘exploration’ in the past was driven by the desire to access raw resources (i.e. minerals, timber, sugar, etc.), with a few pure exploration missions (which usually had ulterior motives anyway).

Right now, the only usable resources in space are microgravity and sunlight. When we get over the hump of talking about other resources and actually using resources, then there will be a need to go; right now it’s more of a want.

It would be interesting to see a x-prize like competion to actually manufacture (and assemble) a product in space. 3D printing could prove to be the tool to produce the ‘killer app’. Would be interesting to see 3D printed bricks (sintered) [google “3D printer sintering” for applications] for lunar regolith.

But I digress.

Interesting show. Dr. Bell does bring some needed realism to the general discussion, not that we all agree on everything.

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