The Space Shuttle and the Costly Nature of Space Access

Two Space Shuttles on the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center in 2008.

Two Space Shuttles on the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center in 2008.

Why is space flight so expensive? Lowering the cost of space access has long been a major goal of rocketeers. Thus far they have largely been unsuccessful in doing so. Space travel started out and remains an exceptionally costly enterprise. The best expendable launch vehicles (ELV) still cost about $10,000 per pound from Earth to orbit. The result is that space flight remains an enormously costly business. No wonder that it has been the province of the government, a few high-end communications satellite companies, and other unique users.

Even the most modest space launchers, placing relatively small satellites of less than 4,000 pounds into orbit, still average some $25-$50 million per flight, or about $10,000-$40,000 per pound depending on the launch system. The mighty Saturn V Moon rocket, the most powerful launch system ever developed, had a thrust at launch of 7.5 million pounds of thrust. It could place into orbit a massive payload of 262,000 pounds, but to do so cost an enormous $113.1 million per launch ($465 million in 2015 dollars). And those are just basic launch costs to orbit; they do not include the cost of satellite development, indemnification, boost to optimum orbit, ground support and transportation, operations, and the like.

In 1972 NASA promoted to President Richard M. Nixon and the American people the idea of a reusable Space Shuttle as a means of reducing the cost to orbit from $10,000 per pound to $1,000 per pound. To conduct an aggressive space exploration effort, NASA officials declared in 1972, “efficient transportation to and from the earth is required.” This could be best provided, they believed, with reusable launch systems. Some NASA officials even compared the older method of using expendable launch vehicles like the Saturn V, Atlas, Delta, and Titan rockets to operating a railroad and throwing away the locomotive and box cars with every trip. The shuttle, they claimed, would provide the United States with low-cost, routine access to space.

At that time space observers calculated that a Titan IIIC cost $24 million to procure and launch, while each Saturn IB cost $55 million. Carrying 23,000 pounds to low Earth orbit, the Titan IIIC delivered its payload at a cost per pound of about $10,000. The Saturn IB cost about $15,000 per pound to deliver its 37,000 pound payload. It was these launch costs that NASA officials sought to reduce by a much-heralded factor of ten.

The Space Shuttle, therefore, became an attempt to provide “low-cost access [to space] by reusable chemical and nuclear rocket transportation systems.” George M. Low, NASA’s Deputy Administrator, voiced the NASA position on this objective on January 27, 1970: “I think there is really only one objective for the Space Shuttle program, and that is ‘to provide a low-cost, economical space transportation system.’ To meet this objective, one has to concentrate both on low development costs and on low operational costs.” “Low cost, economical” space transportation became NASA’s criteria for the program, and it was an effort to deal with a real-time problem of public perception about space flight at the time: that it was too expensive.

Launch of the Space Shuttle "Atlantis."

Launch of the Space Shuttle “Atlantis.”

A subtle, but vital, change, occurred during the policy debate over whether or not to build the shuttle in the early 1970s that has affected the cost of space access ever since. As a result of deliberations between NASA and the White House’s Office of Management of Budget, the question of access to space shifted from “what is the least costly design for access to space” to “what design will provide low-cost access to space.” As a result, NASA’s rationale for the shuttle became much narrower and instead of talking about the benefits of the vehicle in toto, it’s rationale became just that it be low-cost. To achieve this, NASA had to raise the projected flight rate to amortize the large development cost which in turn led to policy decisions to place as many payloads as possible on the shuttle, with consequences that were not realized until the loss of Challenger in 1986 and the effective grounding of the American launch capability for more than two years.

NASA had originally intended to achieve cost-effectiveness on the shuttle through economies of scale, as late as 1984 estimating that they could fly as many as 24 missions per year. This proved an unattainable goal; perhaps even an undesirable goal since it would require nearly two launches a month to achieve it. Instead, NASA might have cut operational costs by investing more money in cost-saving technologies at the beginning of the program. Dale D. Myers, who served as NASA Deputy Administrator in the post-Challenger era, suggests that reductions in the cost of flight operations might have been achieved “had the design team concentrated on operations as strongly as they concentrated on development.”

The Space Shuttle flew no commercial payloads after the Challenger accident in 1986 and, consequently, there has been no agreed upon cost determination for flight per pound. Accordingly, observers have produced an enormous range of cost estimates—from $42 million per flight to estimates of more than $1 billion per mission. The range of cost estimates depend, not surprisingly, on policy questions as to how much of the shuttle’s fixed costs are treated and justified by flights. If the United States were to fly one less shuttle mission per year, would it save $42 million of one $1 billion. Those answers never came.

While the goals of “low cost, economical” access to space were appropriate for NASA; they eventually proved an embarrassment to the space program. In spite of high hopes, the shuttle never provided either inexpensive or routine access to space. The Space Shuttle—second to the Saturn V in both capability and cost—launched some 53,000 pounds of payload into orbit at a cost per launch of about $450 million according to NASA. It was a high-end user, and the cost per flight was so astronomical that only the government could afford it. In addition, by January 1986, there had been only twenty-four shuttle flights, although in the 1970s NASA had projected more flights than that for every year. While the system was reusable, its complexity, coupled with the ever-present rigors of flying in an aerospace environment, meant that the turnaround time between flights required several months instead of several days.

The Space Shuttle on the launch pad.

The Space Shuttle on the launch pad.

Since neither the cost per launch nor the flight schedule met expectations, many criticized NASA for failing to meet the promises made in gaining approval of the shuttle program. In some respects, therefore, a consensus emerged in the last decade of the twentieth century that the shuttle has been both a triumph and a tragedy. The program remained an engagingly ambitious program that operated an exceptionally sophisticated vehicle, one that no other nation on Earth could have built. In that context, it was an enormously successful program. At the same time, the shuttle was essentially a continuation of space spectaculars, à la Apollo, and its much-touted capabilities remained unrealized. It made far fewer flights and conducted far fewer scientific experiments than NASA publicly predicted.

What are the most effective ways to lower the cost of space access? Is it re-usability? Is it “big, dumb boosters?” Is it design for efficient operations? Is it something else altogether, or several “something elses?” Is it a combination of these and many other factors of a more sublime nature? Whatever the answer, it is important to take into careful consideration the legacies of these earlier research and development efforts in conceiving of any future launchers.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “John Ford”

John FordJohn Ford. By Peter Bogdanovich. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

The accomplished film director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon to name only two) interviewed legendary director John Ford in the latter 1960s. This book is the result. They conversed on the many great films that Ford directed. The author divides the discussion into chapters on their meeting in Monument Valley, the nature of Ford’s westerns, the poetic and comedic nature present in his films, how he accomplished his word, and a retrospective of his career.

This is very much a loving account of John Ford, his life, and his films. There are a few important insights, such as Bogdanovich’s observation that all great directors are also great actors. In Ford’s case this was the front that he put up to all around him and the hard image he had for many of his actors that masked a soft heart. Mostly, however, this is a mythmaking account that discusses Ford’s films in order, while interspersing observations from the director himself.

This is enjoyable and certainly a work that works well with other accounts of Ford’s life and work. For insight into his films, the best work remains Joseph McBride’s Searching for John Ford: A Life (1999). For details about Ford’s life I would recommend John Ford: Hollywood’s Old Master (1995) by Ronald K. Davis and John Ford: The Man and His Films (1986) by Tag Gallagher. Bogdanovich’s John Ford is a highly personal and personable account of a film icon.

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A Short History of the Birth of the NACA in Less Than 1,000 Words

NACA LogoOn March 3, 2015, we will commemorate the birth of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) that took place in 1915. This organization was very much a product of its time and place and circumstance. For the first twelve years after the successful flights of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk in December 1903 government investment in the technology was virtually nonexistent. The result was national stagnation in this arena.

European governments, as well as industrial firms, tended to be more supportive of what might be called “applied research.” The Europeans recognized, as the Americans did not with their emphasis on individual initiative, that harnessing the revolutionary attributes of aviation would require government investment. During the first decade of the century government supported laboratories in Europe yielded major benefits for the practical application of aeronautics in both war and peace.

Viewing the progress in aviation being made across the Atlantic several Americans lobbied President William Howard Taft and other senior government officials in 1911 for the “establishment of a national aeronautical laboratory.” They intended to supplant the hobbyist barnstormers and daredevils with serious efforts to advance and use this new technology. They might have been successful had it not been for a leak to the media about the effort. On April 10, 1911, the Washington Star reported details about a plan to establish a national laboratory under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution. This plan failed.

The next year Albert F. Zahm, a professor of mechanics at Catholic University in Washington and an aviation researcher in his own right, revived the idea of a national laboratory. He advocated for the “symmetrical, rapid, and continuous” aeronautical progress seen in Europe made possible by sustained efforts in national laboratories instead of the “halting, haphazard, and fortuitous” advances witnessed in the U.S.

Others weighed in. Capt. W. Irving Chambers, the Secretary of the Navy’s special adviser on aviation, added his endorsement to Zahm’s proposal in his “Report on Aviation” published as Appendix I to the Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy for 1912. He cited the European example of aeronautical progress: “The work of established aerodynamic laboratories has transported aeronautics generally into the domain of engineering, in consequence of which aviation has reached a stage of development wherein the methods of scientific engineers have replaced the crude efforts of the pioneer inventors.” Chambers also suggested that the British model of an advisory committee would be a reasonable way forward in achieving this objective.

The most remarkable aspects of this proposal was that Chambers clearly grasped the potential of aviation for both military and commercial purposes and that it was incumbent on the federal government to advance this potential. He saw ways to mitigate the bureaucratic narrowness present in some federal agencies and to chart a path forward for organization. He avoided pitfalls that had destroyed earlier initiatives, and couched his proposal in the language of scientific/theoretical aerodynamics rather than the broader development of technologies. Although unsuccessful in 1912, Chambers’s ideas remained the heart and soul of the 1915 decision to establish the NACA.

Chambers also recommended the creation of presidential commission to study for the president the “the necessity or desirability for the establishment of a national aerodynamical laboratory.” Taft did not act on this proposal until he was a lame duck as president on December 19, 1912, appointing a nineteen person National Aerodynamical Laboratory Commission chaired by Robert S. Woodward, president of the Carnegie Institute of Washington. At its first meeting on January 23 it considered a resolution for “the establishment of a national aeronautical laboratory in the District of Columbia for the scientific study of the problems of aeronautics with a view to their practical solution.”

The commission thereafter worked to draft legislation that would establish an advisory committee based on Chambers’s earlier plan, although after interagency disagreements they dropped the idea of making it a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. Infighting over the placement of the organization and its mandate for research—theoretical aerodynamics versus practical research and development—derailed the proposal.

Unfortunately, no consensus on the creation of an aeronautical laboratory emerged in the United States until conflict in Europe beginning in August 1914 changed the nature of the debate. Certainly much of the ferment in favor of moving forward with government-supported aeronautical research was fueled by observations of what was taking place in Europe as its various nations invested heavily in aeronautical technology and built flying machines of great complexity and significant capability, capability far outstripping anything that the U.S. could hope to accomplish. As a result, the small, fast, maneuverable, and heavily armed fighter emerged as a major component of the World War I battlefield.

Aware of this European activity the Smithsonian’s leaders obtained funds to dispatch Albert Zahm and Jerome C. Hunsaker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Europe to see firsthand what was taking place. Their report emphasized the galling disparity between European progress and American inertia. It noted that when World War I began in 1914, about 1,400 military aircraft existed, of which only 23 belonged to the United States.

Because of this situation, the U.S. Congress finally decided to take action. Pushed by the Smithsonian’s Charles Walcott, the proposed legislation emphasized the committee aspects of the effort and provided a mere $5,000 for the first year of operations. Sentiment for some sort of center of aeronautical research had been building for several years, of course, but it was only the experience of war on the Continent that led to specific action.

Now, something drastic could be accomplished as broader perspectives subsumed the more traditional bureaucratic in‑fighting and questions about the appropriateness of government investment in technological R&D. Something had to be done the and it came through the passage of enabling legislation for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) on March 3, 1915, as a rider to the Naval Appropriations Act. This new federal agency had its first meeting in the office of the secretary of war on April 23, 1915, with representatives from universities, the military, and several other federal agencies.

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Joseph Smith III, the Reorganized Church Presidency, and Divine Appointment

The Reorganized Church peace seal.

The Reorganized Church peace seal.

In a blog post last week I discussed the issue of lineal succession for Joseph Smith III (1832-1914) and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. While the church’s leadership certainly accepted without qualification the role of primogeniture in presidential succession, Smith also emphasized the divine aspects of his call to preside over the Reorganized Church. He spoke and wrote about his development between 1844 and 1860, especially about his spiritual experiences confirming the rightness of his place at the head of the church. His memoirs, his editorials in the church newspaper, and his private writings attest to the importance of these events heralding Smith’s commitment to a life of prophetic ministry.

These concerns and angles of vision contributed to Smith’s emphasis of the role of appointment by revelation through the previous president as a significant determinant of succession in the Reorganized Church. Although this method of succession had been advanced by others, indeed Joseph Smith Jr. had designated several different people to succeed him at various stages of his career, in the case of Joseph III this revolved around blessings on him by his father. There does not seem to be much question that Joseph Jr. did bless his son to succeed him; too many references to the incident are extant. But numerous factors came into play to prohibit his succession in 1844, not the least of which was the fact that he was a boy not yet in his teens and could never have provided the church the strong leadership it required in that troubled period.

As the Reorganized Church encountered the Utah church’s religious system beginning in the latter 1860s, it searched for irrefutable means of proving its legitimacy. The direct link to Joseph Smith, Jr., first by having his son as president of the Reorganization, and then by having that son actually be called to the presidential office by his father, was a persuasive argument. Although there were no formal documents extant verifying Joseph Smith III’s setting apart, the oral tradition from a wide range of sources pointed to at least one such blessing by the father to the son. That the blessing had been well known was attested to by the fact that in a history of Illinois published in 1844, the non‑Mormon writer had commented that Joseph Smith Jr. had “left a will or revelation, appointing a successor; and among other things, it is stated that his son, a lad of twelve years, is named therein as his successor.”

Joseph Smith III (1832-1914) late in life.

Joseph Smith III (1832-1914) late in life.

Over the years the case for Joseph III’s succession through appointment—by revelation was always assumed as part of this act—from his father had developed. Smith presented on several occasions his own recollections of the event, as did other old church members. The case was impressive for those with sympathies for the Reorganized Church. It was probably not overly convincing to members of the Utah Latter‑day Saints, some of whom pointed out that no hard evidence confirmed these oral arguments and recollections written years after doing so. It was the same rationale used by Joseph Smith III to reject the recollections of Utahns that his father had been a polygamist.

The oral tradition of Joseph Smith III having been blessed by his father to be his successor continued to grow throughout his career. The lineage and the designation, both of which were manifested to Smith through spiritual intervention, combined to create a strong sense of legitimacy for his presidential leadership. Smith commented on how these ingredients affected him during his testimony on behalf of the church at the Temple Lot Suit in the 1890s. He told the court:

 I claim to be his successor by lineal right, and by his blessing, and lastly by the right of selection and appointment. It is not necessarily a birthright to be the President of the Church. It comes by virtue of fitness and qualification, I may say, good behavior and the choice of the people, recognizing a call or a right….I do not regard my lineal successorship as one of the claims [to legitimacy for the Reorganization], not necessarily. The existence of the Reorganized Church does not depend on my lineal successorship as I understand it.

The succession question, particularly as it related to the appointment of Joseph Smith III by his father, took a different and ultimately a tragic course beginning in 1981. Mark W. Hofmann, a Utah documents dealer, claimed to have found a written record of the blessing of Joseph Smith III by his father. Dated January 17, 1844, it said all the appropriate words legitimizing the succession claims of the Reorganized Church: “For he shall be my successor to the Presidency of the High Priesthood; a Seer, and a Revelator, and a Prophet, unto the Church; which appointment belongeth to him by blessing, and also by right.” The Reorganized Church acquired the document after a convoluted set of dealings with Hofmann and the Mormon church, and the church’s “World Conference” canonized it in the historical appendix of the Doctrine and Covenants during the 1982 sessions, thereby essentially assigning it the force of revelation. Church leaders, the scholarly historical community, and the media were caught up in the euphoria of this document, granting the Reorganized Church a measure of respect it had not usually enjoyed before.

Unfortunately, the document was a forgery. Instead of a vindication of the Reorganization’s succession process, the church ended up with a Hofmann original. This became clear in 1986 as a result of an investigation into two grisly murders in Salt Lake City in October 1985. Hofmann had committed them in cold blood to prevent the exposure of his forged documents scam. While I do not think it necessary to go into this episode in detail, I would comment that the result was as embarrassing to the Reorganized Church as any event in its history.

This was true for two major reasons. First, the forged blessing document was not a particularly convincing product. Supposedly in the handwriting of Thomas Bullock, one of Joseph Smith Jr.’s scribes, the blessing’s handwriting was not consistent with the numerous handwriting examples of Bullock. A forensic examiner should have raised red flags about its authenticity on the basis of these inconsistencies. Perhaps they did not do so because they were comparing handwriting on high‑quality photocopies rather than in original documents.

The forged Joseph Smith III blessing document from the Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri.

The forged Joseph Smith III blessing document from the Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri.

Although some tests were conducted on the paper and ink used in the blessing, the only thing they verified was that both were of the type used in the period it was presumably written. From these paper and ink tests, which indicated that there was no evidence of forgery, and the handwriting analysis, which was at best of questionable veracity, many church officials as well as the membership made the leap of faith that the blessing was inviolate. The Reorganized Church wanted to believe in the blessing too much, and was willing to ignore countervailing evidence. The impression that it carried the force of revelation to the church further clouded the succession question. It required additional action in 1986 to remove the blessing from the Doctrine and Covenants, in what could only be termed a giant “oops” on the part of the Reorganization.

As important as Joseph Smith III considered his blessing/designation under his father’s hand, he recognized that it was only one aspect of the succession question. Lineage and the revelatory process—manifested in ways other than in a specific blessing—also figured significantly into the succession equation. As Joseph grew older he became increasingly concerned about providing for the church’s continuation beyond his death. He desperately wanted to ensure that the controversy surrounding his succession were not repeated at his death. In his last years Joseph Smith III took blatant action to ensure that his oldest son followed him as president of the church.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Cowboy Hero”

The Cowboy HeroThe Cowboy Hero: His Image in American History and Culture.
By William W. Savage Jr. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979.

The cowboy became a staple of popular American culture in the nineteenth century and has remained so until the present, with some morphing of perceptions about him over time. In this broad overview, historian William Savage explores several aspects of these perceptions in the twentieth century. He finds that seldom are cowboys viewed as what they really were, young laborers having basic skills, very much like day laborers in more recent times. Someone might do this job for a short time, but usually moved on to other work.

But that is ancillary to the image of this group of people. Cowboys are routinely depicted in every aspect of popular culture as gun-fighting, self-reliant, often heroic, ever-free men that live both exciting and envious lives. Of course, that is so much nonsense. This characterization of the cowboy has been celebrated in song and emulated by singers, has been depicted in Wild West shows and cinematic recreations, and has been glorified as a symbol of masculinity as companies have used the image to sell everything from clothing to trucks to cigarettes and liquor.

In a tightly packed, compellingly written, and easy to understand 164 pages of text Savage analyzes the impact of the cowboy on modern America. Much of that impact, of course, has little to do with the actual experience of those who worked on trail drives in the period after the Civil War until the completion of railroads close to cattle ranches in Texas, Wyoming, and Montana, the heyday of the American cowboy. That image was created by dime novelists, the predecessors of Owen Wister, Zane Grey, and other writers of westerns. It was honed to a fine point by the Wild West shows of Buffalo Bill Cody and others. And it was locked in the memory of the American public through an unending series of movies that featured cowboy heroes catering to children (Hopalong Cassidy and Gene Autry) and to adults (John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and many others).

Cowboy music has become both an exemplar of this life and a product to be consumed by others. From Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers to the outlaw country musicians of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and David Allan Coe. After all, “My Heroes have always been Cowboys,” bespeaks this sentiment. And so have the clothes to support the image.

At sum, everyone may be a cowboy. Everyone has played at it as a child. Many continue to do so in various ways as adults. It suggests a sense of honor, a respect for and defense of those less able to protect themselves. It signifies a path unique from others, an ability to deal with adversity, an individual who walks (or more likely) rides alone.

This is an entertaining and enlightening reading experience.

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My Top Ten Teams at the Start of Spring Training in 2015

The opening ceremonies of the Washington Nationals and the Miami Marlins in 2013.

The opening ceremonies of the Washington Nationals and the Miami Marlins in 2013.

We are now at the point where the 2015 Spring Training is underway. I love this time of year, the majority of the off-season moves have been made, the endless speculation is about to be met by actual performance, and we fans get to see how well our respective team’s General Managers did in putting together the 2015 version of their rosters. Accordingly, I feel the need to offer my rankings for the ten best teams as everyone prepares for the season. Some of my favorite teams remain on the list, including the Washington Nationals and my beloved St. Louis Cardinals. I have included the Kansas City Royals largely on the strength of their showing last fall, but I’m not confident that they will be able to come anywhere close to performing as well as they did last year in 2015. I also have the Oakland Athletics on this list because of both sentimentality and my belief that Billy Beane will be able to pull rabbits out of his hat once again. I also added the Seattle Mariners because they are definitely a team of the future and a window of success may be opening for them. Finally, the Baltimore Orioles look to remain in contention in the AL East and if that is the case I can still wish for a Baltimore/Washington World Series. Wouldn’t that be fun!

I have also left off a lot of teams with promise. The Cleveland Indians are strong and will challenge in the AL Central, I am sure; that division seems to be one of the strongest in Major League Baseball. I am also not giving the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays the love that many others are. They will both be respectable throughout the season, but I doubt they are playoff bound. Finally, while there is a lot of activity in Chicago and both the Cubs and the White Sox appear to be building toward major relevance, I think this is still a couple of years away, at best. Regardless of whether I am right or wrong, just for fun here are my top ten teams in Major League Baseball for the beginning of spring training.

1 Nationals / 96-66 +131 The Nationals look like they are poised for a repeat in the NL East in 2015. With a starting five that includes Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister they look unstoppable. Moving Ryan Zimmerman to 1st base solves several problems in the infield, and the acquisition of Yunel Escobar should help at 2nd base. I would like to see them in the World Series, and I might well get my wish.
2 Angels / 98-64 +143 Could this be the year that the Angels take another World Series? I loved the team that won it all in 2002. I think they have a shot again. With the return of Garrett Richards the Halos have a solid starting pitching staff and a good everyday lineup. If the defense holds and the boppers—especially Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Albert Pujols—return to form they will be formidable in the AL West.
3 Cardinals / 90-72 +16 The Cardinals are the classiest franchise in the National League; perhaps in all of MLB. They have played in four World Series since 2004, and won two of them, and they have made the playoffs 11 times since 2000. They have also shored up several weaknesses exhibited by the team in 2014, even though they went deep into the playoffs, by acquiring Jason Heyward, Jordan Walden, Matt Belisle, and Mark Reynolds. Adam Wainwright remains their ace, but Michael Wacha, John Lackey, and Lance Lynn offer excellence across the board. I expect them to win the NL Central again in 2015.
4 Dodgers / 90-72 +101 The free-spending Dodgers have stacked their team with great talent for the last two years but have yet to play far into the postseason. Perhaps 2015 will be their year. They have a one/two punch of starters is Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke that is as good any in baseball. The major question is will the rest of the rotation hold up; I’m thinking probably not. Getting rid of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez was addition by subtraction, and acquiring Jimmy Rollins will help middle infield defense as well as enhance the offense. Don’t measure fingers for World Series rings yet, but the Dodgers should once again be a force in the NL West.
5 Pirates / 88-74 +51 As I said concerning the Angels, could this be the year that the Pirates return to the World Series? I loved the team that won it all in 1979. I regretted the losses of those great teams in the latter 1980s-early 1990s. I think the Pirates have a shot although I doubt they will take the Division championship. The Bucs have a solid starting pitching staff and a good everyday lineup. It will be anchored once again by Andrew McCutcheon, and he will be ably assisted.
6 Orioles / 96-66 +112 This is another sentimental favorite for me. I would really like to recover the excitement in Camden Yards during the latter 1990s when the O’s repeatedly made the playoffs. They are not probably going to win the division, but I sure hope they take a wild card slot. But then, I would root for anyone in the AL East other than the Yankees and the Red Sox.
7 Royals / 89-73 +27 The Royals took us on quite a ride in last season’s playoffs. I was really rooting for them in the World Series, and they came so close! Although they lost James Shields, the Royals starters still look pretty good. The question is whether or not Yordano Ventura will become the true ace that he showed in flashes in the World Series. I would like to think so. The addition of Edinson Volquez will also help the rotation, but he is not James Shields and cannot be relied upon in quite the same way. The everyday line-up seems intact; it has a year more of experience and perhaps the players ready to enhance their postseason excellence. Let’s hope so. I’d like to see another Royals championship; just watching George Brett cheer the team’s success will be a true joy, as it was last year in the World Series.
8 Mariners / 87-75 +80 I’m delighted to see the Mariners back in the hunt for a playoff berth in 2015. I would like to think they could make it. With the addition of Nelson Cruz and J.A. Happ they look to be capable of wins in the upper 80s. But, the AL West is pretty well stacked with other excellent teams and this might mean the Mariners will not make the postseason.
9 Athletics / 88-74 +157 Regardless of whether or not he has stars on his team and lots of money to pay them, Billy Beane seems to find a way to put a competitive team on the field every year, and usually to make the playoffs. Go figure. How come the A’s do this most years and other teams, also claiming small market status, have no success whatsoever? Over the winter Beane has remade the A’s, once again. He obtained Billy Butler, Ike Davis, and Ben Zobrist. Those guys should help, but with the departures of some others this team will be problematic in terms of making the postseason this year. I still like them, and live by the motto, “never underestimate Beane’s machinations.”
10 Tigers / 90-72 +52 I know the Tigers are all-in for the championship this year. They allowed Max Sherzer to walk, probably a mistake, but still have a rotation consisting of David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Alfredo Simon, and Shane Greene. The everyday line-up will be as ever, still productive but getting older. The window for a championship in Detroit may be closing. We’ll see what happens in 2015.


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Joseph Smith III and Lineal Succession Claims to the Mormon Presidency

Joseph Smith III, president of the RLDS church between 1860 and 1914.

Joseph Smith III, president of the RLDS church between 1860 and 1914.

Perhaps no issue has been more controversial than presidential succession in the Latter-day Saint movement. Joseph Smith III, son of the Mormon founder, buttressed his ascension to the presidency of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1860 through several methodologies. One of those, and a powerful one for many Mormons of the nineteenth century, was Smith’s legitimacy based on lineal priesthood succession.

But lineal succession was never really sufficient; historians have found that the issue was far from “cut and dried” at the time of Joseph Smith Jr.’s death. Succession might be legitimately based upon prophetic declaration, organizational evolution, priesthood authority, and scriptural precedents. These suggested at least eight ways in which an individual within Mormonism could legitimately claim leadership.

From the perspective of the Reorganized Church, there can be little doubt that Joseph Smith Jr. believed in the right of lineage, as “Old Testament” an idea as ever there was, and numerous statements abound about this particular aspect of his belief system. An 1835 revelation to Joseph Smith Jr. proclaimed lineal priesthood: “The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen see, to whom the promises were made.” In 1841 he announced another revelation making a direct statement about the favored position of his own descendants: “In thee and in thy seed shall the kindred of the earth be blessed.” In this environment it would be difficult to argue that Joseph Smith Jr. did anticipate his sons entering the church’s leadership.

Accordingly, the justness of lineal succession, essentially a royal family approach to church leadership, was present almost with the founding of Mormon church. It evolved during Joseph Smith Jr.’s lifetime, and William B. Smith, the sole surviving Smith brother, became its most vocal advocate after Smith’s death in 1844. Even so William Smith was inconsistent about who this would allow to be president, himself or another member of the family. In spite of this, at least by October 1845 William Smith had suggested that lineal succession was the key to church leadership and that it pointed to Joseph Smith III, then a 12-year-old boy.

The Reorganized Church peace seal.

The Reorganized Church peace seal.

The strictly lineal succession position gained advocates among those who associated with the Reorganized Church in the 1850s. For example, Zenos H. Gurley Sr., a founding father of the Reorganized Church, emphasized primogeniture in picking a president. He told Alpheus Cutler, a would‑be” successor to the prophetic mantle: “This brother Cutler (tho plainly taught in the revelations of God in the order of the Priesthood) was unknown to us until revealed through the gift of the ghost to several who were tired and sick of the doctrine of men and of Devils and had by fasting and prayer sought the Lord to know from him the true and right way.”

The lineal succession doctrine was so well accepted by the Reorganization that in 1863, when some members of the Reorganized Church were demanding the replacement of Joseph Smith III with David H. Smith, his youngest brother, David responded with one of his most eloquent poems arguing that this was not appropriate. Lineal succession, he advocated, extended by order of birth. In “A Word of Advice to Those Who Look for Me to Be the Prophet” he wrote:

Joseph is the Chosen Prophet, Well ordained in God’s Clear sight;

Should he lose it by transgression, Alexander has the right.

Joseph, Alexander, David, Three remaining pillars still;

Like the three remaining columns, Of the Temple on the hill!

Joseph’s star is full and shining, Alexander’s more than mine;

Mine is just below the mountain, Bide its time and it will shine.

Alexander, the middle brother between Joseph and David, was, according to the doctrine of lineal succession, the next in line for the presidential office, not David.

Joseph Smith III did not come to accept lineal succession easily. In 1856 when representatives of the Reorganized Church approached Smith officially for the first time, they presented him with a letter urging that it was Smith’s birthright to lead the church. It stated:

we have shown the right of successorship to rest in the literal descendant of the chosen seed, to whom the promise was made,…We can not forbear reminding you that the commandments, as well as the promises given to Joseph, your father, were given to him, and to his seed. And in the name of our master, even Jesus Christ, as moved upon by the Holy Ghost we say, Arise in the strength of the Lord and realize those promises by executing those commandments.

Joseph Smith III responded that he was willing to do what God required of him, but that he had to receive the calling through divine intervention not through bloodline. Until he received a confirming testimony about his calling, Smith would not accept succession to the prophetic office as a requirement of parentage.

Smith offered a similar statement about lineal succession not being the primary means for following him. When presenting himself to the 1860 Amboy conference, he told the Reorganized Church members gathered there matter of factly that “I have come [here] in obedience to a power not my own.”

Joseph Smith III never faltered in his emphasis on personal, as well as corporate, spiritual confirmation of calling in the prophetic office. I suspect that Smith’s aversion to lineage as the sole determinant of presidential succession was related to secular monarchies that were oftentimes oppressive to their subjects. Smith’s naturally democratic tendencies, his acceptance of the pluralistic American society, his perception of the Reorganization as a dissenting tradition within Mormonism, as well as a whole truckload of other baggage all combined to make Smith wary of claiming presidential prerogatives by birthright alone.

Smith’s denunciation of the absolute right of lineage was expressed in several ways. In his memoirs he wrote unappreciatively of “the cruelties and inequalities of the law of primogeniture, the oldest son became head of the family and was alone entitled to its estates, greatly to the handicap and impoverishment of his brothers.” On other occasions he commented on the need to rid the earth of tyrants, hereditary or otherwise. When the war with Spain began in 1898, for instance, Smith let his beliefs be known that he supported the overthrow of Spanish control of Cuba because of the king’s harsh domination based on his perceived “rights” as ruler.

Joseph Smith III, therefore, emphasized the divine aspects of his call to preside over the Reorganized Church. He spoke and wrote about his development between 1844 and 1860, especially about his spiritual experiences confirming the rightness of his place at the head of the church. His memoirs, his editorials in the church newspaper, and his private writings attest to the importance of these events heralding Smith’s commitment to a life of prophetic ministry.

Nonetheless, as the Reorganized Church encountered the Utah Mormon Church’s religious system beginning in the latter 1860s, the issue of primogeniture arose as a powerful argument in favor of the church’s legitimacy. If the Mormon kingdom had largely migrated to Utah in the 1840s, its line of kings had remained in the American Midwest and had taken leadership in the Reorganized Church.  In such a situation, the direct link to Joseph Smith Jr. by having his son as president of the Reorganization lent considerable credence to the church.

Smith-Wallace B

Wallace B. Smith (born 1929) served as president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints between 1978 and 1996.

It became a significant part of the Reorganization’s identity in the nineteenth century. A succession of Smiths, moreover, led the Reorganized Church until 1996, when Wallace B. Smith retired from the presidency. He was the grandson of Joseph Smith III. Primogeniture played a powerful role in shaping the Reorganized Church, renamed the Community of Christ in 2000.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Overpotential”

OverpotentialOverpotential: Fuel Cells, Futurism, and the Making of a Power Panacea. By Matthew N. Eisler. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2012. Acknowledgments, notes, index. Pp. ix – 260. ISBN: 978-0-8135-5177-7. Hardcover with dustjacket. $49.95 USD.

I have been interested in fuel cells since NASA began using them for electrical power in the Gemini program of the 1960s. They seemed so simple, yet so elegant, as a solution to generating electricity to power spacecraft. Using oxygen and hydrogen, combined with an electrochemical reaction, and the result is electricity with water as a byproduct. It’s clean, efficient, and long-lasting. Perfect for spaceflight; only it’s not and historian Matthew N. Eisler makes clear why.

There are arguably only four methods of providing the electrical power needed for a spacecraft, all of them with positives and negatives. The first method, and the one used on the first spacecraft launched into orbit, was batteries. Their wattage was limited, but even more limited was their longevity. Within a few days they always ran down and the spacecraft’s systems no longer operated. Photovoltaic solar cells emerged in the 1960s as a useful alternative to batteries; they have a long life measured in years rather than weeks, and with additional refinement they have become the critical power generation technology for most spacecraft. Solar power has one important drawback; it requires the Sun’s powerful light source to be effective. For spacecraft traveling into deep space beyond Mars, where the Sun becomes much less intense, NASA has developed to a high art the use of radioisotope power systems which have enabled deep space missions but are controversial because of the dangers of nuclear power.

The subject of this book, fuel cells, has helped to resolve power system problem for NASA. They have been used on all human spacecraft built by the United States since the space race of 50 years ago. Matthew N. Eisler tells the story of NASA’s role in developing this technology in this very fine book, but that is not his primary purpose. Instead he seeks to unpack in Overpotential: Fuel Cells, Futurism, and the Making of a Power Panacea the more complex, and infinitely more interesting, story of the intertwining of technological developments concerning electrical power and the search for new sources of cheap, safe, efficient electricity.

Eisler’s study begins in the 1940s when scientific investigation found that an electrochemical process could create power. The Bacon fuel cell set the standard, and its evolution led to the systems that flew on the Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle vehicles. At some level, however, the fuel cell as always was a technology in search of a mission. It has always seemed so inviting and so simple as well as so cost effective and so nonpolluting. But the costs never came down, the power was never as quite as great as promised, and success in its use has always seemed just beyond our grasp.

The author points to two great periods in which public enthusiasm outstripped any deficiencies in the technology’s capabilities. The first was during the 1960s when NASA adopted fuel cells to power human spacecraft and used its considerable resources and cache to emphasize its positives. The second period was in the latter 1990s and the early part of the 2000s when analysis and championing of the hydrogen economy emerged to press use of the technology. Advocates argued that hydrogen fuel cells could provide a substitute for greenhouse gas-producing fuels.  They asserted that the next one hundred years may become the hydrogen century.  Since hydrogen is abundant on Earth, being one of the principal elements in water, it could be used to power fuel cells. Fuel cells and hydrogen/oxygen engines, envisioned as logical spin-offs from the space program, could rapidly become cost-competitive with fossil fuels. In the same way that carbon fuels fired the industrial engines of the twentieth century, hydrogen would power the twenty-first century.

Despite this enthusiasm for fuel cells as THE next power source useful for humanity, one that was viewed as both abundant and inexpensive, it has failed to catch on. That is because, as Eisler makes clear, creating an affordable, efficient, and powerful electrical source has proven an extraordinarily difficult task. Production of electricity was not the principal problem, it was storage and distribution. There are those who still believe that this will change in the future and fuel cells will become the method of choice for powering electrical automobiles, providing electricity in homes, and offering a range of options for powering other items.

The military may be the organization that will yet make fuel cells a useful technology. The desire to reduce the logistics pipeline is a very real driver for research, and anything that can be done to make the supply chain less vulnerable deserves exploration. Without truckloads of diesel traveling through areas where they might be attacked the situation will be improved. Investment to make fuel cell technology is appropriate in such settings. If proven out, fuel cells might their way as spin-offs into commercial settings.

Matthew Eisler’s study is fundamentally one about why some technologies work out and others do not. It traces fuel cells and their ups and downs over more than 75 years of research, development, and modestly successful applications. The book is very strong on the story of NASA’s efforts to apply fuel cells to spacecraft. This is a story well worth telling and Overpotential is a strong explanation of this important theme.

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Announcing “The NACA Centenary: A Symposium on 100 Years of Aerospace Research and Development”

NACA LogoOn March 3, 1915, Congress established the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or N-A-C-A, “to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution, and to determine the problems which should be experimentally attacked, and to discuss their solution and their application to practical questions.” In 1958, the NACA’s staff, research facilities, and know-how were transitioned to the new NASA.

From March 3-4, 2015, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum and the NASA History Program Office will host a special symposium open to the public that commemorates a century of aerospace research and development. The symposium will take place in the “Moving Beyond Earth” Gallery at the National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington D.C. The NASA mirror site for this symposium is here. The National Air and Space Museum site for the symposium is here.

Dr. William P. Barry, NASA Chief Historian
Dr. Roger D. Launius, National Air and Space Museum
Dr. Richard Hallion, Florida Polytechnic University

Attendence is free but we ask participants to register by contacting Please provide your name, email address, and affiliation.

Tuesday – March 3, 2015

8:45 – 9:15  Registration
9:15  Welcoming Remarks
9:30 Keynote Address:
What is the NACA Model of Research and Development? Reflections on a Century of Flight – Roger D. Launius, National Air and Space Museum
10:15 – 11:45 Setting the Stage
Moderator: William P. Barry, NASA HeadquartersFlight Not Improbable: Octave Chanute tackles aeronautics as a civil engineer — Simine Short, National Soaring MuseumFalse Start: The Langley Aerodynamical Laboratory, 1911-1915 — Tom D. Crouch, National Air and Space MuseumThe US Military and the Creation of the NACA — Laurence Burke, Carnegie Mellon University
11:45 – 1:00 Lunch Break
1:00 – 2:30 Early History of NACA
Moderator: Stephen Garber, NASA HeadquartersBringing aerodynamics and aeronautical engineering to the American University —Deborah G. Douglas, MIT MuseumNACA, Naval Aviation and MIT: Establishing the Practice of Aeronautical Engineering — John Tylko, MITTransplanting Göttingen to the Tidewater: The NACA and German Aerodynamics, 1919-1926 — Richard P. Hallion, Florida Polytechnic UniversityThe War, the NACA and the Convention: Laying the Ideological Foundation for Federal Regulation during the Wilson Administration — Sean Seyer, University of Kansas
2:30 – 3:00 Break
3:00 – 4:30 Flight Test and Research
Moderator: Richard P. Hallion, Florida Polytechnic UniversityConducting Research in Flight: A Unique NACA Contribution to Aerospace — Robert E. Curry, NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, RetiredThe NACA, the Airplane Propeller, and World War II — Jeremy R. Kinney, National Air and Space Museum“The Real Right Stuff”: An Historical Examination of the Culture and Accomplishments of the NACA Research Pilot, 1917-1958 — James R. Hansen, Auburn UniversityFlight Test to Moon Shot: The NACA, the Astronauts, and the Culture of Experiment, 1959–1969 — Matthew H. Hersch, University of Pennsylvania

Wednesday – March 4, 2015

9:10 Houskeeping/Keynote Introduction
9:15 – 10:00 Keynote Address:
The NACA in the 1930’s – Trailblazing the Technical World of Aerodynamics — John D. Anderson, National Air and Space Museum
10:00 – 11:45 Key Aspects of NACA Research
Moderator: Michael J. Neufeld, National Air and Space MuseumThe NACA and Research Policy at the Hands of History — Robert Ferguson, Independent ResearcherEpochs of Space Technology at NASA: NACA to OART and Beyond — John C. Mankins, Artemis Innovation Management Solutions, LLCWomen of NACA: STEM Stories to Inspire Future Generations — Adrienne Provenzano, STEAM EducatorThe NACA at Lewis Laboratory, a Legacy of Ohioans Solving the Problem of Flight — Shannon Bohle, Archivopedia, LLC
11:45 – 1:00 Lunch Break
1:00 – 3:00 Transformations
Moderator: F. Robert van der Linden, National Air and Space MuseumThe NACA Transition to Space: Validating the Blunt Body — Glenn Bugos, NASA Ames Research CenterReaction Control Systems and the NACA — Christian Gelzer, NASA Armstrong Research CenterTin Soldiers and Glass Slippers: How Postwar Competition Sailplane Development Shifted from America to Europe — Russell Lee, National Air and Space MuseumTowards Victory: NACA Public Relations on the Coattails of the Cold War, 1946-1958 —Kristen Starr, Auburn University
3:00 – 3:30 Break
3:30 – 5:00 The Next Assignment: A Panel Discussion 
Chair: Peter Jakab, National Air and Space MuseumMark Lewis, IDA Science and Technology Policy InstituteMichael Gorn, Research Associate, National Air and Space MuseumJanet Bednarek, University of DaytonPeter Westwick, University of Southern California
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Something Fun for a Friday the Thirteenth: Ray Charles and Jimmy Lewis singing “If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck”

Since it is Friday the thirteenth I thought I would offer a great song by Ray Charles and Jimmy Lewis. We have all thought it; some of us have said it out loud. Ray and Jimmy sing it like it was meant to be sang. Enjoy!

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