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Dr. Jeff Bell, Monday, 3-24-14 March 25, 2014

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Dr. Jeff Bell, Monday, 3-24-14


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Guest:  Dr. Jeff Bell.  Topics:  Dr. Bell discussed a broad range of space ventures including human spaceflight.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See http://www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.   For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.

We welcomed back Dr. Jeff Bell & was at his best for blunt talk, specifically the need for a winning rational for human spaceflight (HSF).  For those of you new to Dr. Bell, hold on tight for a ride that will likely be upsetting.  During the first segment of our 1 hour 58 minute program, Dr. Bell started with saying he was pessimistic over the future of human spaceflight.  In fact, this was an overriding theme throughout the full discussion.  He said it was more than just not properly telling the story either by NASA or space advocates.  He said there was no winning rational for the need or the urgency of HSF.  While he was pessimistic on HSF, he was just the opposite on science, robotic, & unmanned missions which he said were doing well & in a class of their own.  He also talked about the success of satellites & that part of the commercial industry.  Listeners challenged him during the show.  He got several emails regarding space settlement which Jeff addressed in terms of his perspective on HSF.  He also nixed the idea of leaving Earth as a safety valve for when Earth might be destroyed by an incoming NEO.  This led Jeff to talk about planetary defense.  Tony called with an idea to keep a Martian settlement from freezing at night, a point Jeff talked about re Mars settlements.  A listener asked about radiation & magnetic fields.  Jeff said the atmosphere was more of a screen for Earth, again in a discussion about lunar & Martian settlements.  Jeff talked about Orion & SLS, various ideas for Mars missions & the NASA asteroid mission.  I asked Jeff what he was positive about & he replied the Russian space program & SpaceX with Elon.  He then spoke about some of the Russian programs he follows.  He was asked about space tourism & suborbital flights, then he spoke about SpaceShip2 problems, hybrid engine issues, Richard Branson & more.

In the second segment, he had more to say re SpaceShip2 & Branson.  Next, he was asked about space debris cleanup ideas being skeptical of them.  He was also skeptical of propellant depots.  He spoke about small boosters costing much more than using one large booster.  Pooley called in to support everything Jeff was talking about.  Dr. Bell was asked about Dream Chaser.  In general, Jeff was very critical of lifting bodies & their CG problems.  Listeners asked for his assessment of Inspiration Mars & Mars One which was not positive.  In his closing comments, he said HSF was probably mature & needed radical new technologies to make it cheaper & feasible.  I told him he should come back on the show, invite only callers & emails suggesting radically new & different technologies & he could assess the ideas.  Dr. Bell agreed to do that so watch the newsletter for this upcoming program.

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog.


1. Roland - March 31, 2014

Jeff talks about how difficult it suppossedly would be to keep a mars base from freezing during the night. Antarctic bases are kept warm around the year and during a night that lasts months. On mars you can collect heat during the day and use it at night if it’s necessary in the first place. Thermal mass of the base might be enough by itself to keep things comfy and insulation materials are also a useful item.

2. Dwayne Day - March 28, 2014


Flight 370, a mysterious ‘one-off,’ spurs calls to modernize tracking technology
By Joel Achenbach, Scott Higham and Ashley Halsey III, Friday, March 28, 7:59 PM

The bizarre tale of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 comes at a time when flying is safer than ever. Nervous fliers squeeze the armrests for dear life, but most passengers have no problem nodding off as their jetliner cruises seven miles above the Earth. They have internalized the statistical truth that the most dangerous part of an airplane trip is the drive to the airport.

Yet disasters still happen, including this one. Officially declared a plane crash at sea with no survivors, the event remains so deeply mysterious that it seems premature to refer to the people aboard as deceased.

Viewed in the broad context of aviation safety, this weird case actually fits snugly within a recent pattern: Airline disasters now tend to be unprecedented in nature — what investigators call “one-offs.”

In the old days, planes typically went down because of engine failures, wind shear, collisions or some other familiar problem. But turbine engines almost never
fail these days. Improved radar
helps pilots dodge the lethal downdrafts of thunderstorms.
Collision-avoidance technology commands the pilots of converging planes to make diversionary maneuvers.

Even if Flight 370 is the ultimate one-off, aviation safety advocates say there are lessons to be learned from this tragedy, starting with the need for tamperproof equipment that would stream data in real time to satellites and reveal a plane’s position.

“This could well be the kind of ‘black swan’ event that requires everybody to carry a location device,” said Chris McLaughlin, senior vice president of Inmarsat, the satellite company that helped calculate the likely flight corridor of the missing plane.

“As a ticket-payer, wouldn’t you like to know that the authorities know where your plane is at all times?” he said. “This is not expensive. We’re talking maybe a dollar an hour or less to get that information off the plane.”

Mary Schiavo, former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which includes the Federal Aviation Administration, would go even further. She’d like to see the full “black box” data — a massive amount of information about the plane’s performance — streamed to ground locations during flight.

“There’s lots of reasons to have streaming data — not the least of which is to foil criminals — and to solve the mystery of what happened to your plane. It would have helped in 9/11. It would have been immensely helpful here,” Schiavo said.

Star Navigation Systems Group, a Toronto company, has designed black-box technology that streams data in real time. It costs about $50,000 per plane, plus $10 more to transmit the data for each flying hour, chief executive Viraf S. Kapadia said. Only one customer has bought the system, he lamented.

“It’s all about the money for the airlines, even though it’s not a lot of money,” he said.

“We’re using 1970s technologies instead of the data streaming that’s been available for nearly a decade now,” said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org. “The fact that airplanes can basically disappear over water is not only troubling to passengers, but it also gives a heads-up to those who would do a terrorist act or a murder-suicide. They would be virtually undetected. These planes can fly to almost any place on Earth nonstop.”

Sean Cassidy, an Alaska Airlines pilot serving as national safety coordinator for the Air Line Pilots Association, International, said his organization is wary of such a sweeping change in industry practice.

“How is the data being used? How is it being protected? And how is it really driving up the safety case?” he said. Referring to Flight 370, he said, “If this is such an in­cred­ibly, exceedingly rare event, I think it’s a little bit premature to begin discussing the way we transmit some of this data until we understand if that really would have made much of a difference in how this flight ended up.”

Katie Connell, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, the trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, said in an e-mail that it is “premature for us to speculate and/or discuss potential changes to safety and security procedures.”

Safety advocates contend that real-time data-streaming technology will become more critical in coming years simply because there is more air traffic and longer routes are being flown over increasingly remote areas, including the North Pole and great expanses of open water.

The industry roughly doubles in size every 15 years. People like to fly.

The civil aviation industry has been working with authorities for years on what is known as NextGen technology. Among other things, the new technology would allow airplanes to be tracked more effectively by satellite. The FAA’s work on NextGen has been sluggish, however. Few airlines are willing to invest billions of dollars until the FAA delivers the final regulations that will govern the system.

The human factor

Flight 370 was a modern aircraft with modern technology. The Boeing 777 had multiple robust mechanisms for communicating with or sending data to the rest of the world during flight. The transponder sent a radar signal and another system transmitted data via satellite to ground stations. But these systems were either turned off intentionally or somehow became disabled. No one in the cockpit radioed a distress signal or activated a hijacking code. No one used the jetphones in business class.

Authorities have released no evidence of wrongdoing or malicious intent by anyone on the flight crew. But in general, as technology improves, the remaining hazards in aviation are often found in the cockpit. Among the issues that safety advocates worry about are fatigue and inadequate training.

“What’s causing accidents these days is humans figuring out ways to crash perfectly airworthy airplanes. That’s the area that we really need to be focusing in on,” said John DeLisi, director of the Office of Aviation Safety at the National Transportation Safety Board.

He cited three recent examples of pilot error: Colgan Air Flight 3407, which crashed on its approach to Buffalo in 2009, killing all 49 people aboard; Comair Flight 5191, in 2006, in which 49 of 50 people died when the pilot used the wrong runway, one meant for small planes, and crashed; and Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which came in too slow in San Francisco in July and hit a seawall, resulting in three deaths.

DeLisi declined to address Flight 370. There is no evidence of pilot error, pilot suicide, hijacking or any kind of terrorist event, nor is there evidence of a mechanical malfunction, fire or decompression. There is, in essence, no evidence of anything other than that the aircraft did not go to China as planned but rather flew in a zigzag fashion into the southern Indian Ocean.

The Flight 370 disaster has some similarities to the tragedy that befell Air France Flight 447, which on June 1, 2009, with 228 people aboard, vanished in the Atlantic Ocean during a thunderstorm off the coast of Brazil. It took investigators five days to find the wreckage and two more years to locate the plane’s black box.

Learning from disaster

After the Air France disaster, the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N.-sponsored organization based in Montreal, began to study technologies designed to locate airliners when they go missing. Several task
forces examined in-flight streaming technologies and other ways to improve the chances of finding the black boxes, boost their battery power and increase the strength of the beacons they send out.

Recommendations of those task forces have yet to be implemented. This is a complicated process at “technical, political, legal, economic and operational levels,” ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin said in an e-mail.

But Philbin put in a plug for the industry as a whole, calling it “arguably the most significant cooperative achievement in the history of human endeavour and perhaps our greatest shared example of what countries and peoples can ultimately achieve when they work together toward
consensus-driven objectives.”

Any discussion of safety has to acknowledge the progress made in recent decades. Major plane crashes have become exceedingly rare. Disasters are instructional, and airlines and regulators make adjustments. For example, after the TWA Flight 800 disaster off Long Island in 1996, in which the plane exploded when a spark ignited fumes in an empty fuel tank, airlines began filling those empty tanks with nitrogen to prevent any such sparking.

Robert Benzon said the improvement in safety was one of the reasons he retired after 27 years as a lead investigator for the NTSB.

“I got kind of bored because I had no accidents to go out on,” Benzon said. “When I first started in the big-aircraft investigation business, each investigator in charge had two, sometimes three, concurrent investigations they were working on. Nowadays, if you’re really lucky as an investigator in charge, you’re doing one major accident. And even that is pretty damned rare now.”

Cassidy, of the Air Line Pilots Association, said passengers trust pilots for good reasons.

“By the time you get to the captain’s seat, especially with a major airline, you have been checked, you’ve been trained, you’ve been through countless training situations, you’ve been evaluated by many, many instructors. By the time you get to that point, you should have a high degree of credibility and respect,” Cassidy said.

But DeLisi, the NTSB official, noted that some new pilots with small companies are paid shockingly low salaries.

“We love airline travel, and yet the economic model is one where new pilots starting out in their careers typically working for regional carriers are making, pick a number, $25,000 or $30,000, working long hours,” DeLisi said. “The number one thing for safety right now is to have a well-trained, well-rested, non-distracted crew.”

DeLisi said technological innovations will never obviate the need for a human in the cockpit. He cited the 2009 case of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who famously landed a US Airways jetliner safely in the Hudson River after the plane struck a flock of geese and suffered engine failure.

“He did an amazing job of taking an extremely rare failure mode — impacting birds when you’re flying over the Bronx — and landing a disabled jet that is no longer producing thrust,” DeLisi said. “That defines why we still have humans in the cockpit. Because there’s no way you could have ever programmed the auto­pilot or had an unmanned vehicle make those decisions he made that day to safe those lives.”

3. Dwayne Day - March 28, 2014

And since I’m piling on, Bell is not content to opine about space topics, but also went on to talk about the absurdity of calls for better aircraft tracking as a result of the Malaysian airliner disappearance. He said that nobody should be doing something like that as a result of a single unique incident.

Except that they’re not. One of the projects that I’m currently involved in concerns the FAA’s NextGen air traffic control system. There are a number of technologies already in development, some in deployment, that tie into this. The Air France crash several years ago involved an airplane that already had some advanced aircraft system reporting capabilities. And the ADS-B system, currently carried on a number of aircraft, includes positioning information that can be relayed via satellite. In short, the equipment exists and is included as standard equipment on many new-build airliners. It’s not a crazy idea, it is increasingly common on modern airliners. For a guy who claims to be following the airliner disappearance as closely as he does, he should know about this stuff.

Bell likes to shoot down what he calls “stupid” ideas, but his own knowledge is extremely limited on many of the subjects where he thinks he has a superior position.

4. Dwayne - March 28, 2014

And when asked how come all these aerospace engineers make such “obvious” mistakes when designing things like DreamChaser, Bell replied “A lot of these guys don’t have experience in designing hypersonic vehicles…”

Except that Bell is an astronomer, and he far less aeronautical engineering design experience than these guys. So there’s a fundamental flaw in his argument–he keeps calling everybody else dumb and says that they have no experience, but by his own criteria, he has less experience than they do.

The “everybody else is wrong and I am right” attitude has its limits.

5. Dwayne Day - March 27, 2014

Jim Davis is right. I tend to agree with Bell’s views on human spaceflight, but he does A) tend to overstate his case (i.e. usually it is economics, not physics, that makes this stuff impossible), and B) make a lot of flatly incorrect statements.

Early in the program Bell stated that we don’t need sample return from Mars (which will cost billions of dollars) because we already have a bunch of rocks from Mars. The planetary science community has ranked Mars sample return as one of their highest priorities, so you can be sure that they have actually bothered to answer this question.

There are several reasons why these are not equivalent. For starters, we have no idea where the Mars meteorites actually came from. They could have been blasted off the pole or the equator, from the top of a mountain or the bottom of a valley. They also were not carefully selected for their properties (such as the possibility of containing organic compounds). If somebody said that they were going to mine for gold in South Africa, you couldn’t hand them a rock from your driveway in Cleveland and say “There’s no gold in this rock so you don’t need to search in South Africa.” You do your search in the area and material that is most likely to answer your question. As an astronomer, Bell knows that you look at the stars by pointing a telescope at the sky, not any random direction on the ground.

In addition, the shock that ejected the meteorites, and their entry into Earth’s atmosphere, has exposed them to extreme shock and heat forces. Thus you cannot obtain volatiles from them. You cannot examine a water sample in a Mars meteorite. If there ever was something alive at the spot where that rock got blasted off the surface of Mars, it was certainly destroyed.

Similarly, we know that on Earth some of the best rocks to examine for fossils are sedimentary rocks. But we have no Mars meteorites that are sedimentary rock, and we never will, because they would never survive the shock.

It’s these flatly-wrong statements presented as truth that ultimately undermine his credibility. You can be 90% right and then say “The sky is yellow” and it throws off the audience. Why should we accept what you if you cannot get the basic stuff right?

6. Network Doctor - March 27, 2014

Hi David,

At the end of this show you suggested a future Dr. Jeff Bell show topic: “Radical New Ideas for Manned Space Flight” possibly also soliciting ideas from callers. Many repeat SpaceShow callers already promote half-baked “Radical New Ideas for Manned Space Flight” requiring one or more of: massive quantities of unobtainium, broken Laws of Physics, unlimited Free Money, & LaLa land political unity.

I would rather hear Dr. Jeff Bell.

If you want callers on this Dr. Jeff Bell show, please REQUIRE they submit before the show a ONE (1) PAGE “elevator pitch” of their “Radical New Idea for Manned Space Flight” to be approved for discussion by Dr. Jeff Bell before the show.

If anyone cannot meet this most minuscule requirement I submit their “Radical New Idea for Manned Space Flight” is a waste of the time & patience of the SpaceShow audience & Dr. Jeff Bell. If no one submits an eligible pitch, much better to have an undiluted Dr. Jeff Bell show on the topic!

7. Network Doctor - March 27, 2014

Dr. Jeff Bell is one of my favorite SpaceShow guests!!

He is a refreshing change from some Space Show guests that think because their mission works great on PowerPoint slides we should charge straight ahead with huge Multi-billion dollar boondoggle funding.

Fun Quote – Zeppelins: Like New Space but with older technology.

8. Luke - March 27, 2014

While I must concur with the post by Jim Davis, I continue to find Jeff Bell to be one of my favourite Space Show guests of all time. My only wish is that someone could call in and alter the trajectory of the discussion and… nudge it over towards unmanned space, specifically the outer planets and their intriguing Moons.

His planetary science background would allow Bell to paint an exciting picture of what could be – if the scientific community got to decide national priorities in space and not politicians – with regard to exciting future unmanned missions. Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Titan, Enceladus, Uranus and Neptune along with its bizarre Moon Triton – these are the objects that stirred my imagination as a child. Today these objects hold my mind hostage in a vice like grip of staggering awe and wonder.

That NASA has no plans to investigate these bodies is truly bewildering and disquieting. Instead we see the dithering spectacle of invented missions to justify SLS and a host of other embarrassing side shows. The rest of the world is equally dissipated in their resolve, paralyzed with incompetence and lack of leadership. Japan, up until recently the second largest economy on the planet, is truly a singular disappointment in regards their space efforts…

9. Jim Davis - March 26, 2014

Dr. Bell is Rick Tumlinson’s evil doppelganger.

A few observations:

1. Bell tends to badly overstate his case. He often says things like “the basic physics just doesn’t work out” when his objections are really doubts about the engineering and/or economics.

2. Bell makes a lot of flatly incorrect statements which usually do not, but occasionally, undermine his case. Conspicuous in this show was his statement that “the shuttle is really a lifting body”. No, it is not.

3. Bell gives the impression (unintentionally, I’m sure) that a lot of failures could have been avoided if he had only been consulted at the start. This used to annoy me but now I find it one of his more endearing qualities. Much of this is due to his delight in making statements calculated to shock the typical Space Show listener.

4. One of the callers was seriously trying to use the recent tragic mudslide as a justification for manned space. Space advocates really have to drop this kind of fear mongering. If man can thrive in space, he will go there. If he can’t, he won’t. A thousand extinction level asteroids on a collision course with earth won’t change this.

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