Wed
Aug 18 2010 11:13am

First Juvenile: Robert A. Heinlein’s Rocket Ship Galileo

Even Spider Robinson admits that Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) is the weakest of Heinlein’s juveniles. It’s the story of three boys of school-leaving age who have a rocket club in which they have learned just exactly the technical and scientific skills appropriate for them to help a scientist uncle build a moon rocket. They do this and go to the moon, where they discover Space Nazis and ruins of ancient Lunar civilization—“Blowups Happen” also mentions a potential Lunar civilization, I didn’t know it was considered possible that late.

The Patterson biography gives quite a lot of information about the way this book was written—deliberately as a juvenile, aimed at boys, with no romance, focusing on the details. Heinlein wrote it quite quickly, and really he taught himself how to write juveniles from the experience. There are no girls, and the boys are sketchily characterised compared to his later books. Also we have an adult directing everything—a mad scientist, admittedly, but still an adult.

The good bit of Rocket Ship Galileo is the boys building the ship and overcoming engineering problems. I also like the way the boys approach their parents and tell them they want to go to the moon instead of going to college. Other people have talked about Heinlein’s insistence on the different ethnic background of the boys—I think the different class background is also interesting. All three boys were intending to go to college. Ross comes from a family with property and money and the expectation that going to college is what people do to get on in life. He has his own car. Art comes from a single-parent immigrant family where education is important—his uncle is a PhD rocket scientist—but the money to pay for it is difficult to find. He lives in an apartment and is expected to work. Morrie comes from a big working-class family—his father’s attitude is that he can go to college, or to the moon, or wherever he wants to. Since his Bar Mitzvah, he has been a man, and can make his own decisions.

The worst bit is the Space Nazis. I suppose people did still believe in secret Nazi bases in 1947—Werewolf and Odessa and all of that—but it sounded ridiculously implausible when I first read this in 1978, and even sillier now.

The most regrettable didn’t-happen-that-way bit is the commercial intercontinental rocket flights—why don’t we have those? I suppose jets are in some way better, but it beats me as to why. Oh well, it’s probably totally clear to an engineer. Similarly, when they get to the moon the way in which they plan to stay for weeks and immediately make a permanent pressurised shelter is very different from what really happened, and rather better. I boggle every time I read pre-spaceflight descriptions of Earth from space—they really didn’t know what it looked like, they didn’t know we lived on a blue and white planet, they thought it would look like a globe with the land significant. But I love the way they land on the edge of the dark side. There’s something just right about that.

It’s interesting that Heinlein hoped to have it made into a film. It would have been an interesting early SF film, and I would absolutely go and see it.

I hadn’t read this for a long time, and enjoyed it more than I remembered. It’s pretty thin stuff compared to what Heinlein was to achieve with the later juveniles, but it rattles along quickly enough that the flaws don’t really matter. It’s not where anyone wants to start with Heinlein, or even with the juveniles, but it certainly has its moments.


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

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72 comments
CMPalmer
1. CMPalmer
Rocket Ship Galileo was the first "real" book I ever read (as opposed to picture books and thin Scholastic book club books - RSG was my first lengthy, normal sized paperback bought off the "adult" SF shelves at my local bookstore). I'm always amazed that of all the Heinlein juveniles, so many people started with this book.

I'm not sure it would have any commercial appeal, but I've always been fascinated with the idea of filming one of Heinlein's juveniles as an exact anachronistic adaptation - slide rules, 40's and 50's dialog and sensibilities, Martians, Venusians, commercial spaceflight by the mid-60's and all. Play it completely straight with realistic special effects as if all really worked and happened that way. I know there have been recent movies that attempted to look like period SF movies and there have been a few "modernized" adaptations of classic SF (including Red Planet and, of course, Starship Troupers), but with works like the Heinlein juveniles, by the time you bring the science and tech and social changes up to date, you've lost the whole point. I think filming them as alternate reality period pieces would be perfect if done right.
David Dyer-Bennet
2. dd-b
RSG was the last Heinlein book I reread (not the most recent; the one of his books which I read for a second time at the latest date). I, too, found it better than I remembered, which was nice.

Possibly the least of his books (though not the worst; there are several stronger candidates for worst).

I would have first read it more than a decade before you, but Nazis in Space was funny then, too.

The casualness about fissionable materials is strange to read today. Also the gun laws have changed a lot -- you can't legally buy a handgun outside your home state since 1968, for example, which makes going to town near their test site and buying handguns when they have some trouble impossible now.
Tony Zbaraschuk
3. tonyz
This was the first Heinlein I read (maybe Between Planets) and a lot of it has stuck with me. I wanted to do that...
CMPalmer
4. Bill Patterson
Of course, in a sense, there was a movie made from Red Planet, as he "adapted" the story materials of Red Planet into the Destination Moon story. Part of the reason the two may not seem all that close is that he deliberately changed the "fudge factors" from story to story to bring the whole project into the compass of what he thought he could reasonably tell as one straight-through story.
Mitch Wagner
5. MitchWagner
CMPalmer - I think that "Have Space Suit, Will Travel" would be the best candidate for that kind of treatment. The novel's idealized, 1950s, "Leave it to Beaver," small-town America is a kind of fantasy kingdom now, like Middle Earth or the United Federation of Planets. Maybe it was a fantasy even back in the 50s when the book came out.
Clark Myers
6. ClarkEMyers
My first book read written by Mr. Heinlein; I read it when it was current, picking it up mostly because it was on top there at a friend's house and finishing it fairly quickly.

I was not much impressed by the literary quality - not that I was of an age and education to appreciate quality but I did know what I liked then - more Burroughs and Baum than Mr. Heinlein - and only after reading much more by Mr. Heinlein did I even associate the name -

I'd class Rocket Ship.... with say the as by Paul French books from Asimov as offering something to the completist but a poor place to start even for the target age group.

Soon after the quite different Puppet Masters and then shortly after again Revolt in 2100 moved me to the more absorbing tales by Mr. Heinlein.

I'd say the Space Nazis verged on wish fulfillment at a time when the V2 was the emblem and the picture of space travel - frex everything from the Winston endpapers to the Clifford N. Geary illustrations for Heinlein seem to me to derive from the lines of the V2.

If Bumper WAC (first launch May 13, 1948 White Sands - two stage liquid fueled V2/WAC Corporal) was to be the road to space then maybe, and as I say I think hopefully, there was more than we knew out there to speed the process.

a potential Lunar civilization, I didn’t know it was considered possible that late.

I don't know that it was strictly speaking but I do know that the conventional - that is uninformed - wisdom was that the asteroid belt was likely the remains of a civilized planet gone wrong - from the origin myth of Superman to as depicted in a color graphic SF comic strip in the American scouting magazine (and Heinlein market) Boy's Life at about that time.
Jo Walton
7. bluejo
The asteroid belt as a destroyed planet appeared in SF even fairly recently.

I now find myself desperate to write something about an ancient civilization of Selenites.
j p
8. sps49
I'm pretty sure my first Heinlein was Have Space Suit Will Travel, and this was second.

Odessa and South American Nazi sanctuaries were real, and they were very advanced with the rocketry. It isn't totally ridiculous.

The reactor physics is very questionable, but the story isn't. Even that young, I could enjoy ERB's rocking fun, but the coincidences after coincidences were a lot to swallow. This book holds up just fine, and a lot of authors could add some RSG to their literary recipes.
CMPalmer
9. Egad
IIRC, the ship took off from the surface of the Earth using a nuclear thermal rocket employing *mercury* as the working fluid. Don't wanna be downwind of that!
David Lewis
10. dglewis
Jo asks, "The most regrettable didn’t-happen-that-way bit is the commercial intercontinental rocket flights—why don’t we have those? I suppose jets are in some way better, but it beats me as to why."

Any question that begins with the word "why" can generally be answered with the word "money."
David Dyer-Bennet
11. dd-b
dglewis@10: In this case, the fuel cost of pushing a vehicle that fast. The Concord was never more than a super-luxury flagship vehicle for the same reason (and cramped; space costs weight which eats fuel).

Egad@9: Ideas on pollution have changed. I remember hearing occasional news stories that fallout clouds were sweeping over parts of the USA, too, from test shots (nearly always our own).
CMPalmer
12. Captain Button
Egad @ 9:

As I recall it, the ship used lead as reaction mass, but the boss did comment that mercury would be even better, but was too expensive. But lead is a toxic heavy metal too, so the basic objection stands.

But to the limited extent that I understand rocket science, he was wrong. For the best performance in rocket engines you want a reaction mass that has a low atomic weight, not a high one. So it looks like he had it backwards.

And apparently someone told him this in between RSG and Space Cadet because in SC he has the ships using "monatomic hydrogen" in both chemical and nuclear rockets.

(Don't ask me how you keep hydrogen monatomic.)
Tony Zbaraschuk
13. tonyz
Actually, what you want is something that carries a lot of kinetic energy with it. mv^2, so something you can accelerate to really high speed (which is easier to do with something light) is best. But if you can accelerate a heavy working fluid to high speed, that m factor kicks in.

Deep-space ion engines use xenon as a propellant, for instance.
William S. Higgins
14. higgins
Jo writes:

The most regrettable didn’t-happen-that-way bit is the commercial intercontinental rocket flights—why don’t we have those? I suppose jets are in some way better, but it beats me as to why. Oh well, it’s probably totally clear to an engineer.

Yes, it is clear to an engineer (I will spare you the disquisition).

But it was much less clear in 1947; the first jet airliner was still some years away, and the war years had just seen fantastic advances in rocketry. So it was quite plausible at the time-- even to an engineer-- that jet travel would eventually be superseded or supplemented by rocket travel.

Also, Heinlein desperately needed commercial rockets to exist in order to make his plot work at all, so he may have been deliberately optimistic about how soon they would appear.

Dr. Cargraves appears to have worked on the Manhattan Project circa 1945, and he does not appear to be an elderly man, so the novel must be taking place between World War II and maybe 1970 or 1975. Yet he purchases a surplus commercial-rocket airframe to build the Galileo, so there has been time for rockets to be developed, come into everyday service, and become surplus.

That seems like a mighty fast timescale for a new industry to mature, but I suppose that during Heinlein's lifetime automobiles and aviation grew up just about that quickly, so rocket-liners might have looked like a safe bet from where he was sitting.
William S. Higgins
15. higgins
Egad writes in #9:

IIRC, the ship took off from the surface of the Earth using a nuclear thermal rocket employing *mercury* as the working fluid. Don't wanna be downwind of that!

Zinc. Vaporized zinc.

"You remember Heron's turbine in elementary physics? Little boiler on the bottom and a whirligig like a lawn sprinkler on top? You heat the boiler, steam comes up through the whirligig, and makes it whirl around. Well, my drive works like that. Instead of fire, I use a thorium atomic power pile; instead of water, I use zinc. We boil the zinc, vaporize it, get zinc `steam.' We let the `steam' exhaust through the jet. That's the works."


Even so, Egad is probably right about not wanting to be downwind of it.
Mitch Wagner
16. MitchWagner
Red Thunder by John Varley, published in 2004, is a terrific update of the Rocket Ship Galileo story -- a diverse group of talented kids build a spaceship using a revolutionary new-technology engine combined with off-the-shelf product. Wonderful book.

Jo Walton: The most regrettable didn’t-happen-that-way bit is the commercial intercontinental rocket flights—why don’t we have those? I suppose jets are in some way better, but it beats me as to why. Oh well, it’s probably totally clear to an engineer.

higgins: Yes, it is clear to an engineer (I will spare you the disquisition).

I'd love to know why intercontinental passenger rockets are impractical. Can you explain it in small words, understandable even to a former English major like me?

higgins again: But it was much less clear in 1947; the first jet airliner was still some years away, and the war years had just seen fantastic advances in rocketry.

I think Heinlein used intercontinental passenger rockets again in [i]Friday in the 80s, didn't he?
David Levinson
17. DemetriosX
Intercontinental passenger rockets are only impracticable at current technology levels. A number of X-projects are looking at single stage to orbit approaches that would eventually lead to that sort of thing. The Delta Clipper and a couple of others that lost out to the highly questionable Lockheed (I think it was) design for the next-gen project a few years ago. Many of them also involve vertical take-off and landing for the rocket, just as (as Jerry Pournelle put it) God and Mr. Heinlein intended.
Jo Walton
18. bluejo
Mitch: It really didn't work for me, and the sequel really *really* didn't work.
Mitch Wagner
19. MitchWagner
Jo - Red Thunder didn't work for you? I thought it was brilliant. What did you dislike about it?

I agree with you on the sequel, though. I disliked it a great deal.

It's a trilogy. The third book came out a while ago, actually. I just found out about it and have downloaded the free sample from Amazon.
CMPalmer
20. ofostlic
Captain Button @12:

It turns out to be more complicated than that. You want a high exhaust velocity, where low density helps, but also a high propellant density (according to John D Clark's classic 'Ignition'). Also, mercury makes a nice monoatomic exhaust gas, which helps.

Dr Clark describes attempts to use mercury in chemically-propelled rockets as late as the 1950s, either by using mercury compounds as fuels or by injecting liquid mercury into the reaction chamber. It turned out not to enough better than standard fuels to be worth the effort and the toxicity. (Eastman Kodak sensibly refused his attempt to order 100 pounds of dimethylmercury.)
CMPalmer
21. Viadd
The reason Heinlein thought you wanted something heavy like mercury as reaction mass is that it gives you the most thrust per unit energy.

The reason you actually want to use something lightweight like hydrogen in a nuclear thermal rocket is because that gives you the most thrust per unit mass at a given temperature. The engineering limits turn out to be set by having a rocket engine that doesn't melt.
Nancy Lebovitz
22. NancyLebovitz
I read the book once when I was a kid, and then (unlike most of the other Heinlein I had access to) I don't think I read it again for thirty years or so.

I don't know why I wasn't crazy about it the first time, but I appreciated the Nazis. It seemed to me that having Nazis in abandoned alien tunnels on the moon was a very satisfying sort of exuberance.

When I read it again, I knew more history and took things more seriously, and I could see how much it was shaped by being so soon after WWII. I also suspect that the bit near the beginning about how to do science instead of just playing with rockets shaped a lot of careers.

I think the Heinlein juveniles I didn't like much as a child were the sadder ones, and there's background grimness to Rocketship Galileo. The other book I didn't like much (though I did reread it) was Time for the Stars-- I didn't put it together till much later, but that one is almost New Wave in terms of how little choice or pleasure the main character has.
john mullen
23. johntheirishmongol
I dug this one off my shelf a few weeks ago, and reread it. It still has a little fun factor, the kids are pretty good if a little sketcy, and its a good yarn, especially for the day.

I think the only women were a cpl of moms, and today that would be changed a lot. I seem to remember these stories were originally written to be serialized in Boy's Life which was scoutings magazine and I gather they were fairly strict on what went in those pages. However, besides the payday, RAH was interested in getting kids involved in math/science/engineering/scifi in general and I think you could say he accomplished that goal.

When I was young, anyone who read scifi was pretty much alone except for a few other afficianados (sp) and itwas a pretty small category of interest to the lit world. Movies were B category, or worse, and it was considered pretty outre' if you were a scifi buff.
CMPalmer
24. James Davis Nicoll
almost New Wave in terms of how little choice or pleasure the main character has.

"Protagonist struggles for a goal through book only to be forced to abandon it in favour of a more important goal" doesn't happen in every Heinlein juvenile but it's a fairly common pattern in those books.

Poor Thorby has it happen to him, what, four times? Loses his mentor, loses his adopted family, loses what he replaces them with and finally ends up having to play CEO.
CMPalmer
25. OtterB
CMPalmer, Mitch

I agree with Mitch @5 that Have Spacesuit, Will Travel would be a good candidate for the kind of anachronistic ("retro"?) film treatment that CMPalmer proposes. I thought of it when I read the first comment, and I think it would hold up. I'd go see it.

Poor Thorby has it happen to him, what, four times? I never liked Citizen of the Galaxy as much as some of the other Heinlein juveniles for exactly that reason. It's a strong and well-written book. I just don't like it, at least not once he reaches Earth.
CMPalmer
26. CMPalmer
After this discussion, I re-read Rocket Ship Galileo last night. I hadn't read it in years. These conversations focused my attention on some parts that I'd forgotten.

Overall, it held up much better than I expected. The dialog was a little hokey, mostly due to 1940's slang. The science held up surprisingly well. The standard Heinlein mini-science and math lectures were great. I'd forgotten how much I learned from them about physics, ballistics, rocketry, astronomy, and math. Even details on electronics hacking and building a machine shop are dead on. He gets more things right than I expected and his extrapolation of atomic rockets was quite learned and reasonable for the time. Considering it was written the year the transistor was discovered, I'll cut him some slack on the development of digital computers, although they do use an analog ballistics computer to calculate their flight-path and transfer it to a cam driven autopilot similar to the V-2 and its successors. The idea of building amplifier vacuum tubes on the moon without having to enclose them in glass was, IIRC, actually used on satellites.

Since it was published about 2 years after WWII ended and wasn't set much farther in the future (around 18 years, assuming the German-American kid was born in America), the Nazi part didn't bother me. I appreciated the irony of having the Nazi moonships built on commercial American rockets from Detroit. And, face it, even though I liked the engineering aspect of the first 2/3s, he had to throw some about of action in there and bad guys on the moon preparing to drop nukes on the Earth was a pretty good one (and one he would revisit, in a way, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress with moon rocks instead of nukes). The almost throwaway inclusion of the Selenite underground tunnels and cities worked for me since it hinted of even greater discoveries and more mysteries ahead.

This time I was explicitly looking at the ethnicity of the main characters. Given the Nazi part, giving two of the boys German and Jewish ancestry was appropriate and quite subtle. Morrie's dad had a slight Jewish cadence to his speech and mentioned his bar mitzvah, but not by name.

One of the main things I think about now reading the juveniles (and reading Red Thunder - which I also loved, but disliked the sequels) is how much they resonate with current Internet subcultures that I follow, such as the "free range kids" and Make/Craft folks. I wonder if many of us get these views from growing up reading Heinlein and other SF, or if people with that particular bent just like these kind of books?
David Levinson
27. DemetriosX
CMPalmer @26:The dialog was a little hokey, mostly due to 1940's slang.

I'm old enough that the 40s and 50s slang in the Heinlein juvies was familiar to me through old TV show syndication and old movies - the sort of thing you got on TV outside of prime time in the 60s and 70s - but I wonder how kids today would perceive it. Might it not be as strange and unusual to them as Manny's Loonie argot in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was to us?
CMPalmer
28. James Davis Nicoll
People who like the amateur rocket stuff may want to hunt down a copy of Bertrand Brinley's 1960 classic, Rocket Manual for Amateurs.

Home built rockets were part of the zeitgeist back then: a couple of decades earlier, kids (like my father) built their own scratch built rockets (In Bill's case, with comparatively little property damage, considering ).

SF was almost changed greatly by one rocket test carried out by a guy named Sykora. The rocket exploded after high enough take-off that only a few innocent by-standers were injured and only slightly.

If the rocket had exploded earlier, Sykora and the person standing next to him could have been seriously injured or killed. The person next to Sykora was Donald Wollheim, founder of DAW books and one of the several Futurian members whose work had a profound effect on US F&SF (among other things, he's the guy who did the unauthorized MMPK of Lord of the Rings).

1: OK, one small catastrophe involving an accidental detonation of fuel. Bill had taken full safety precautions - he was cooking the stuff in his friend's parents basement.
Robert James
29. DocJames
It is not Heinlein's best book. It is not his best juvenile. Heinlein publicly admitted that. One of the dedicatees was Leslyn's nephew, who read the book before it was published; his comment to me when I asked him about it was "Too Tom Swift." But it is the book through which Heinlein found the economic engine that would finance his freedom as a writer, AND it was the book that led him to realize he could produce a learning engine to train an entire generation to think more clearly, dream of space, and long for freedom and self-reliance. I read it first in high school, all mixed in with everything else of his I was reading for the first time, and I remember enjoying it. The space nazis didn't seem that odd, since they were so often the villains in popular culture (look at what Lucas and Spielberg did with them in the Raiders movies). And the book has remained in print, with rare exception, for over 60 years. The test of time is the only true objective meter for artistic merit. Flawed, but critically important for Heinlein's career, the development of science fiction, the development of the Young Adult novel in SF, and as one of the roots of the US space program of the sixties.
David Dyer-Bennet
30. dd-b
A book standing the test of time seems to me to objectively show that people find something in it -- education, entertainment, enlightenment, even rage; but something.

I would not go so far as to equate that with "artistic merit" (although one could make an operational definition of artistic merit that ended up meaning about that).

I haven't read any Tom Swift in years, but yes, this book is better than they are in so many ways. And yes, this book is historically important (and it was interesting being reminded of some of it and learning a bit more in the biography).
CMPalmer
31. Foxessa
The first Heinlein I read must have been at about age 9 or 10 -- I know it had to be then because my memory (which cannot play me false Ha!) is imprinted with a particular scene, which I read outside, on my swing, while my parents were packing up the house to move us to the new farm they had bought. A girl had cosmetic flowers on her face instead of flat powder and rouge. This was not my world! I sat in my swing for a very long time attempting to digest this image.

This novel was The Star Beast (1954), the first science fiction work I read. Needless to say it came from the public county library, one of the precious 4 titles a child was allowed to check out at one time, for two weeks.

I imprinted upon that female character with flowers on her cheekbones -- and cheek in her attitude -- even though she was only 'the girlfriend,' not the boy protagonist. It was many years before one was able to find a 'girl' in the center of any sfnal work. But there was a girl in the center of this one, the first sf novel I read, the Lummox Beast herself.

Love, C.
Robert James
32. DocJames
There are subjective evaluations of artistic merit -- we make them all the time, on varying grounds.

But if a book stays in print, and is read by generation after generation, then that is an objective marker that I think marks artistic merit. Bestsellers rarely remain in print after an author's death; ALL of Heinlein's work is in print, or about to be so again.

I apply the same test to music. One can still purchase almost everything Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong recorded in the studio; Paul Whiteman, on the other hand....

If a book is still in print over 60 years, continuously, then it is a fair candidate for the term art rather than disposable literature. This yardstick may promote a few surprising candidates, but then, few people expected science fiction to ever be discussed in terms of art at all sixty years ago.
Jo Walton
33. bluejo
DocJames: Not to rain on your parade, but _Rocket Ship Galileo_ is not in fact in print.
John Adams
34. JohnArkansawyer
I apply the same test to music. One can still purchase almost everything Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong recorded in the studio...


True, and there's a range of quality in those recordings*. I imagine (I haven't tried**) one could pick out certain tracks that aren't as good as the others.

I suspect some Heinlein books stay in print because they're Heinlein than because they're individually deserving.

*The ones I'm familiar with range from exceptionally good to really great and range from the twenties to the forties. I don't know their later work well at all.

**I'd sure like to, though! Wouldn't that be a fun project?
Robert James
35. DocJames
Well, as my professor used to say, bad Hemingway is still better than most writers....

Actually, you make a very valid point -- which leads me to the idea that it is a body of work by an author or musician which, as a whole, retains the artistic merit. People tend to own every one of the Beatles albums, but it takes a wrenching effort for me to sit through "Revolution #9" more than once a decade. I don't find myself listening to the mind-numbingly repetitive live recordings Armstrong made the last 15-20 years of his life, but Duke Ellington's live recordings always sizzle with new variations. I despair because new live recordings from obscure sources get released every so often, and I am sure I have missed some -- and I want to own them all. There are a few moments I find in Ellington that aren't thrilling on a revisit, but most of them have to do with his vocalists. I have a 40-cd set of Ellington that covers his entire career, along with over 200 others, and I find that track for track, no American composer or bandleader produced higher levels of sheer pleasure on such a massive scale or long career.

I hope you find the time to listen your way through.

As an interesting parallel, many listeners find the later Ellington as confusing and off-putting as late Heinlein....
CMPalmer
36. CMPalmer
This may be straying off topic a little, but the talk of books that stand the test of time (SF or otherwise) makes me think of how many "lost" or nearly lost books there are.

If you go to a used or antique book store, you see hundreds of books published in the last two centuries that you haven't heard of. Granted, I'm sure most of them probably follow Sturgeon's Law (and I think Sturgeon was a wild optimist), but I always wonder which of them might actually be some really great book that didn't get reviewed, had a limited run, got a bad review from an influential critic, or whatever and then sold a few dozen copies and vanished into obscurity. Every once in a while one surfaces (I'm thinking of Lud in the Mist as one example), but I'm sure there are many more. Think of authors like Harper Lee or John Kennedy Toole who have reputations based on one book (and in the case of Confederacy of Dunces, one book that was only published by sheer good luck ten years after his death). Any book like that could have fallen between the cracks.

Even if Google Books manages to digitize a copy, it doesn't mean someone is going to read it and re-publicize it.

Back to the topic, a few Luddite authors aside, there are fewer and fewer excuses for any author's body of work to stay out of print with e-books. All of the lofty claims for print-on-demand being the solution to out of print works are doubly true for ebooks, but only 3 or 4 of Heinlein's books have e-book editions and they're all ones that are currently in print. I know of a few SF authors (Steven Gould comes to mind) who are actively scanning and preparing ebook editions of their out of print books (assuming they don't already have digital manuscripts). Does anyone know how much effort on the part of publishers or author's estates it would take to prepare ebook versions of out-of-print books? Is Google Books (which is scanning in copyright works, but not necessarily making them available as full text) working with any authors or their representatives to use their work as the basis for e-books?
CMPalmer
37. RandolphF
"I'd love to know why intercontinental passenger rockets are impractical. Can you explain it in small words, understandable even to a former English major like me?"

As far as I know it's technically feasible--though those craft have not been built--, but so expensive in fuel that it's not likely to ever be common. It takes much less energy to fly a jet through the atmosphere than to fly a rocket on a suborbital trajectory. As if that is not enough a spacecraft must carry more weight in fuel, since there is no way to burn anything in vacuum; the fuel will not burn without a reactant which must also be carried, and which takes yet more fuel to lift.

I suppose it is rocket science, but, as I understand it, it isn't very complex.
Mitch Wagner
38. MitchWagner
Tying together this discussion of Great Books Now Forgotten: Patterson's biography cites two writers who were powerfully influential on Heinlein as a young man: James Branch Cabell, and the author of Caleb Something-or-other-that-Sounds-like-Catlun's America. The latter author is so much forgotten that he's not turning up on a Google search.

RandolphF - In Heinlein novels, passenger missiles were ballistic, IIRC. They burn all their fuel at launch, although presumably they also carry a load of fuel to land the thing. And I presume they land on their tails (as God and Hugo Gernsback intended), although that seems highly impractical today. More likely if they came to pass today they'd take off like rockets and land on runways like the Space Shuttle.
David Dyer-Bennet
39. dd-b
I've digitized half a dozen books for my own use, research or some special stuff on a web site. Here's my opinion on how much work it takes.

The steps are: scan or photograph images of the pages, OCR, proof-read, format for suitable ebook format(s).

The first step becomes VASTLY easier if you are willing to sacrifice a copy of the book (cut off the binding, leaving loose pages) and if you have a scanner that will feed pages automatically. (I don't; I did it all hand-fed, but then my scanners have been bought primarily for image work. I was spending probably 30 seconds per page just on scanning.)

The OCR time is negligible, unless you use an OCR product that interacts with you to clarify things it's having trouble reading (in which case that time should be charged to "proof reading" really). The quality of the result depends on the font and paper of the original and the quality of the scan. Photographs of Amazing Stories pages from 1928 (the pages; photos were modern digital) are hard to OCR (a better jig to hold them flat while photographing them would have helped; or sacrificing the magazine of course, but that was out of the question, far too valuable).

Abby Finereader, incidentally, is a very fine product, and does very useful interactive things like showing you the original scan as well as its interpretation, making it MUCH easier to know what's right (you almost never have to go page through the paper to find the source of what you're reading).

The proof-reading time depends on the quality of the OCR and the size of the book and how good you are at it -- and how perfect a result you're aiming for.

Using a modern trade paperback as the original (fairly good type, smooth paper, so easy on the OCR), cutting the binding off to scan the pages loose, and doing one pass of moderately careful proof-reading heavily dependent on technical tools, it takes me a bit over three hours for a normal-sized novel. My tools were nowhere near the best, so it could be significantly speeded up. One might demand better proof-reading, which would slow it down considerably.

Conversion to the formats I care about was pretty trivial from there (I produced DOC out of the OCR I believe, and then exported that to HTML).

So there's a benchmark point -- anything much beyond four person-hours of work for a normal-size modern book is excessive, or else aiming for a VERY high quality text. With proper investment in the scanner, it could be reduced significantly. If the originals are very old and delicate, it's much harder and slower. In extreme cases, the font (or calligraphy) would be beyond current OCR, and transcribing it would be MUCH MUCH more work than this.

(My page photos and OCR of the magazine version of The Skylark of Space became the basis for the Gutenberg release, but it went through the whole Distributed Proofreaders process; the good quality of the result is much more due to them than to me. The magazines were loaned to me by local collector and largely-gafiated fan Denny Lien.)
Robert James
40. DocJames
33 Bluejo: I am shocked that this is out of print. I know Ginny was holding back the reprint rights on the juveniles, because she wanted to put them out as a boxed set, and I have to think this is some leftover from that.

It is coming out in the Virginia Edition, if it hasn't already.

I will go and ponder this fact, and discuss it with those who know better.

Thank you for bringing it to my attention.
CMPalmer
41. Captain Button
Another pedantic nitpick:
There are at least 9 Heinlein books available as ebooks now, plus any others that may be out from publishers other than
Baen. Granted one of those is nonfiction and another is just an excerpt, but that's still 7.
CMPalmer
42. RandolphF
"In Heinlein novels, passenger missiles were ballistic, IIRC. They burn all their fuel at launch, although presumably they also carry a load of fuel to land the thing."

For heaven's sake, what happens if there's bad weather at the destination? What if the missile has to divert? Some maneuvering in flight might also be necessary.

But I still think the basic problem is the energy required on launch and reentry.
CMPalmer
43. Captain Button
I vaguely recall some stuff in Friday with the pilot talking about how satellite communication was essential to his job because he would absolutely not launch unless he had real time data that his landing ramp is empty and ready at his destination because he only had one shot at landing.
CMPalmer
44. Michael S. Schiffer
Re ballistic travel, possibly stupid question: suppose we put together Clarke and Heinlein, and take the craft up a space elevator partway and then release it to fly ballistically to the destination? (Choosing release height according to what starting velocity they need to have.) Could that ever be practical?

It seems like it would be good for energy use and fuel costs, at least starting from places near the beanstalk. (Though that would be the rub, I guess-- it's mostly useful if you're starting relatively near the equator.) I'm not sure what the travel time is like compared to jet flight, given reasonable estimates for elevator speed on a beanstalk plus a ballistic path to the destination.
CMPalmer
45. James Davis Nicoll
42:

As long as the rocket isn't given a circularizing burn to put it in orbit or enough delta vee to escape Earth entirely, the perigee will be within the Earth so there's no need to spend energy getting it back down. Gravity is your friend in this.

In fact, it's much cheaper in terms of delta vee to lob a rocket halfway around the planet than to put it in orbit. This means that a rocket able to put a small beeping satellite into orbit can also place a somewhat larger payload anywhere on the surface of the planet (within the Oval Office, say). This was a popular topic of discussion in certain circles in 1957, I imagine.

Some maneuvering in flight might also be necessary.

Steely eyed rocket men don't do do-overs!

You can use an idea that goes back at least as far as the Sanger-Bredt Antipodal Bomber and use the air as a medium to provide guidance. That will give some ability to alter ones course, although not as much as powered flight.
CMPalmer
46. James Davis Nicoll
37: An equation and some numbers:

delta vee to lob a payload fast enough to send it around the world: 4 km/s

Exhaust velocity of a H2+LOX rocket: ~4.5 km/s

Exhaust velocity of a kerosene+LOX rocket: 3.5 km/s

The rocket equation:

M/m = e(delta vee/exhaust velocity)

M = mass including fuel

m = dry mass


e is *e*! Sorry, channeled Ayn Rand for second. Base of the natural logs.

Mass ratio for H2+LOX: 2.4

Mass ratio for kerosene+ LOX: 3.1

LOX is actually extremely cheap (although NASA has to pay a bit of premium because they don't use enough for economies of scale to kick in) but H2 is both kind of pricey ($4.00 kg the last time I looked) and an incredible pain to work with.

kerosene is something like a buck a liter and a liter is around 800 grams

We pause for "there are huge error bars on this"

so we're talking maybe a $1.25 per kg f kerosene.

Let's pretend the rockets use only the expensive fuel and not the cheap LOX because I am lazy and lets assume each kg of passenger is accompanied by 9 kg of rocket (their share of the engine, frame and so on): that means your typical 50 kg passenger and the 450 kg of rocket they come with needs 700 kg of H2 or 1050 kg of kerosene. That works out to fuel costs of $2,800 for the H2+LOX rocket and $875 for the kerosene rocket.

Now you may ask "Say, that works out to less than sixty bucks per kg payload for H2+LOX and less than twenty for the kerosene+LOX rocket; where does Arianespace get off charging me tens of thousands of Euros per kilogram to launch my entirely innocent communications satellite over the city in which those people who will rue the day they called me MAD! happen to live?" Who among us has not asked something like that? The answer is that while rocket fuel is dirt cheap, the engineers to operate them are not and current rockets use a startling number of them on the ground teams. If I recall correctly, it can run up to one highly paid engineer per two kilograms of vehicle. *That's* why rocket flight is expensive.

Math errors are just a test to see who is actually paying attention.
Robert James
48. DocJames
In regards to the book not being currently in print, it seems that this is just one of the periodic times between contracts; there is no question but that it will back into print in a reasonable amount of time.
CMPalmer
49. James Davis Nicoll
*That's* why rocket flight is expensive.

Well, one reason. Another reason is that rockets costs about the same per kilogram to make as a good airplane and you get to re-use the airplane. And making re-usable rockets turns out to be harder than it looked in 1970.
Jo Walton
50. bluejo
The rockets in the book are not only reusable but recyclable for other uses. (I still think they'd be a good idea.)
CMPalmer
51. James Davis Nicoll
Everywhere would be potentially 45 minutes or less away from anywhere else. If we imagined some sort of ultimate rocket where ticket costs were priced the way airplane ticket costs are (a few times fuel cost), the trade off between time and money could look attractive to people who want to visit antipodal regions, at least for the kind of people who buy first class tickets now .

I seem to recall during one discussion of ultimate rockets that there's a lunchtime effect: once a business person can reach a destination by lunch and return home by dinner, trade between the two regions increases.

At some point we should talk about the problem steep re-entry angles pose for issues like not killing the meat with high acceleration forces. On the whole it's better not to kill the paying passengers, esp when they are rich and people - lawyers - will miss them.


1: Yeah, you'd think that would have applied to the Concorde. It wasn't fast enough to make the North America - Europe flight short enough to justify the extra $$ for most people and it didn't have the range to reach Asia from the US (Not counting Alaska).

Clark Myers
52. ClarkEMyers
Dr. Pournelle wearing his non-fiction hat while talking about half way to anyplace has pushed for access to low earth orbit for fuel costs lo these many years with many worked examples of the rocket equations.

Speaking of steep re-entry maybe that can be avoided by making all trips full circle - sort of analagous to a great circle route - but of course heat is a killer that demands either the mass of a heatsink - why the FB111 survived so long in Australian service long range high speed low altitude - operating as a maritime patrol power projection - needed a big aircraft to handle the heat - or up and down in a hurry and so it goes.

One of the interesting things about a Concorde follow-on is the aversion to uncertainty forced on short time horizon public corporations (viz The Man Who Sold the Moon)

Boeing put a good deal of its own money - perhaps more considering the alternative costs associated with letting some of its best play with long term ideas and perhaps benefitting from the blue sky thinking - and a good deal of U.S. government money (as a made in U.S.A superior follow-on to the Anglo-French Concorde) into blue sky work on the high speed civil transport.

Some of that will I think go directly into semi-ballistics when the time comes - when it's time to railroad everybody does it - frex making practical a design that puts the flight deck well inside the envelope with only the illusion of seeing out - and so avoids the drooping snout of the Concorde and the reconfiguration of the B70 - can't see the horizon from the flight deck of the B70 in flight and so level flight is an exercise. Placing the flight deck well aft of the nose wheel is not so much an issue when flying the panel in flight but a real nuisance in swinging the nose around on the ground without running into things.

Reverting to the point - Phil Condit (then Boeing CEO) said of the high speed civil transport (from recall and paraphrasing freely): the great difficulty is forecasting demand - if they were free everybody would have one. At the current cost and performance the market is saturated at a dozen and everything between those two points is a great unknown. So who's going to sell the moon and who's going to take the gamble?
CMPalmer
53. James Davis Nicoll
With all due respect and acknowledging that I myself have convoluted sentences beyond comprehension, I have no idea what

Dr. Pournelle wearing his non-fiction hat while talking about half way to anyplace * has pushed for access to low earth orbit for fuel costs* lo these many years with many worked examples of the rocket equations.

is supposed to convey. I've circled the problem area with * * .

Although rockets are constrained by the characteristics of their fuel - as a rule of thumb and ignoring cunning tricks, delta vees more than three times the exhaust velocities get into heroic mass ratios pretty quickly - fuel costs as such are so low compared to the other costs that if fuel was free, it wouldn't make a different. I mean, $9,980/kg isn't that much cheaper than $10,000/kg.
Clark Myers
54. ClarkEMyers
It means that for those interested much further and extended discussion will be found in books,articles and web postings by Dr. Pournelle Ph.D (twice) - in those books articles and web postings Dr. Pournelle frequently mentions fuel costs and LEO meaning low earth orbit not law enforcement officer (Google JerryPournelle.com on fuel costs

Low cost access to space is a matter of technological development, not of breakthroughs. It takes about the same amount of fuel to fly a pound from Los Angeles to Australia as it does to put that pound in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). There is no intrinsic reason why space lift costs should exceed airlift costs by more than a small multiple, if at all.

frex from http://www.jerrypournelle.com/slowchange/SSX.html:
The intuitively obvious way to get to orbit is to build a rocket ship that will go there, fly around in space, and return to Earth for refueling and reuse. It's what Buck Rogers did. This is so obviously the 'right way' that people have to be taught why we don't do it.

Explaining why we have not yet built that kind of ship, and why we can and ought to build one now, is going to take a little work. Not a lot. Fortunately the math is simple: there's only one actual equation in this paper. It's presented in a couple of forms, but it's still only one equation, and it's a pretty simple one. It's called the classical rocket equation, and studying it can teach us a lot about what has happened to the space program. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to follow the argument.


frex
...an orbiting ship that can take about 10000 pounds payload up, and do it for probably 3 times fuel costs or about $3 million a flight, or $300 a pound to ...


use reusable rockets that work at costs of a small multiple of fuel costs. ...


you can operate rockets at airline ops costs. You just have to build them that way.

The short answer is, we need a $ $2 billion R&;D program to build and test fly a X vehicle that takes us toward Savable and REUSABLE rockets; after which a ticket to the Moon would cost about 10 times a ticket to orbit, which would about 5 times the cost of a ticket to Sydney from Los Angeles. And Iridium could be done right using 1999 technology. And make money.


Emphasis all added. There are those who disagree but surely Dr. Pournelle and his very extended writings on the subject are a useful addition to the conversation?
CMPalmer
55. James Davis Nicoll
Wow! If only NASA had thought of trying to make re-usable space-craft in 1970, we'd have L5 colonies by now! Why didn't anyone ever propose this?
John McMullen
56. jhmcmullen
(Careful, James, your sarcasm gland is dripping. You might ruin the floor.)

For the other folks:

While NASA has a number of flaws, thinking of building a re-usable spacecraft has not been one. The space shuttle was an attempt to do so, and the new one whose number I don't recall is another attempt.
CMPalmer
57. CarlosSkullsplitter
Do people with doctorates in psychology and political science really merit a "Dr." these days? Have they ever?

I suppose "Republic of Estonia Award of Honor winner" is a little long. But he does seem to be that award's only recipient!
Clark Myers
58. ClarkEMyers
Why didn't anyone ever propose this?

Wanted Fan

If NASA hadn't failed us we'd have cities on the moon.
If it hadn't of been for NASA we'd at least have walked on Mars.
And if I can't make orbit, then I'll never reach the stars.

Fallen Angels is sold as science fiction, but one could quibble with that: while the book is clearly fiction, the science is it real.

Item: Although the Phoenix spaceship doesn't exist yet, it or something like it could be built today for between $50 and $200 million dollars.

Once built, Phoenix would operate the way airplanes do. It takes about the same amount of fuel to fly a pound from the United States to Australia as it does to put that pound in orbit. Airlines operate at about three times fuel costs, including depreciation on the aircraft. Phoenix wouldn't run much more. The operational costs of any system depend on how much you use, it but given the low-cost regime Phoenix works in, it should be used a lot.

Of course airlines have about one hundred fifteen employees per airplane; but most airlines need to sell tickets. The SR-71 program (which didn't) ran with about forty employees per airplane. NASA, with four spacecraft, has over twenty thousand people employed to support shuttle operations. This may explain why Phoenix, which wouldn't need more than fifty people to operate, would charge less than one percent of what NASA charges to put cargo in orbit.
Emphasis added -

This is not the place to pick a winner in disagreements made personal but I suggest we can see in reality as much as in fiction efforts to build a rocket and sell the moon and those who ridicule the folks who are doing something.
CMPalmer
59. Paul D.
the new one whose number I don't recall is another attempt.

You don't recall the number because there is no such beast. NASA is not working on a new reusable launcher, or even an X vehicle that might lead toward one. They had an abortive attempt, the X-33, but it was canceled at an early stage.

Reusability sounds good, until you realize that extraordinary vehicles require extraordinary markets to justify their development. The sad fact is that the market for launch to orbit is tiny and not (at or a bit below current prices) terribly elastic. Space X's biggest breakthrough was developing its launch vehicles while spending remarkably little money. It did this by ruthlessly following the path of simplicity, not reusability (although they have made not yet very successful nods in that direction).
CMPalmer
60. Skip Huffman
jhmcmullen X-37-B In orbit right now.
CMPalmer
61. Paul D.
That's just a reusable reentry vehicle. It's boosted into orbit by an expendable launcher.
CMPalmer
62. Paul D.
I don't think the question of "why isn't intercontinental ballistic travel practical?" was fully answered.

Basically: the minimum delta-V trajectory is a high elliptical arc. The reentry deceleration at the end is survivable by nuclear warheads, but not living passengers.

You can reduce the deceleration needed by making the trajectory more depressed, but at intercontinental distances this basically means you're sending the vehicle into orbit, or close to it. So it's about as difficult (from both launch and reentry points of view) as building a passenger vehicle to LEO.

The one way to do it would be to build a vehicle that reached its destination in a series of short ballistic jumps, using lift to turn the dive into an ascent at each jump. This is Sanger's idea from WW2.

BTW: a capsule going up a space elevator is going to need a fairly hefty rocket engine on it as well, for safety. If the capsule falls off the elevator, or the elevator breaks, there's a range of altitudes where the capsule hits the atmosphere too fast and too steeply for survival. The rocket engine would either slow the capsule before a steep reentry, or boost the capsule into a trajectory for grazing entry (or even into orbit).
Clark Myers
63. ClarkEMyers
#59 - The sad fact is that the market for launch to orbit is tiny and not (at or a bit below current prices) terribly elastic.

As I tried to imply with my reference to Phil Condit, Boeing and the high speed civil transport, I think it more correct to say the market is uncertain - in both demand and supply curves for the first adapters. We have only points and though promised supply curves that didn't work out.

On the other hand the demand for satellite launches seems to be quite price elastic for commercial purposes and some folks have been willing to pay a considerable premium for military/national prestige.

#62 lift to turn the dive into an ascent is of course the fastest way to altitude (or best speed going upward for the first stage pick one max speed going up or get above more air resistance) for some hypothetical air breathing mission profiles ending in a zoom climb such as using an F15 as first stage to shoot down a satellite. Mostly seen as an example of giving up some elevation to gain time rather than taking a keep climbing approach - that is an example of perhaps counter-intuitive behavior.
CMPalmer
64. Doug M.
"the demand for satellite launches seems to be quite price elastic for commercial purposes"

To the best of my knowledge, this statement is not only incorrect but precisely opposite to reality.

I can provide cites for the proposition that satellite launches show _very low_ price elasticity of demand. Here's one: the ASCENT study (2003-4).

"Most of today's markets, both commercial and governmental, are virtually unaffected by even massive reductions in launch prices... In television broadcasting, for instance, only 0.7% of the end user price paid for TV programs is traceable to launch cost. In other words, even if launch costs zero, it would only make a difference of seven tenths of one percent in the cost of providing TV programs...

"In the case of Government sectors, there are other reasons, documented in the Study, why launch demand is virtually insensitive to launch price. Figure E 4 shows the overall effect of reductions of launch price on demand for launches for all market sectors in aggregate. Even after a 75% reduction in launch prices, launch demand has not even doubled from the Baseline level after twenty years."

N.B., there are a number of other studies pointing in the same direction. We have several decades of baseline to work with, so it's not exactly speculation.

But if you have a cite for the proposition that "the demand for satellite launches seems to be quite price elastic for commercial purposes", I'd be very interested to see it.


Doug M.
CMPalmer
65. Doug M.s
"I suppose 'Republic of Estonia Award of Honor winner' is a little long."

Well, there's always "Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles". Yeah!

The bit about how it was an honorary title held only for something like three weeks? maybe not so much.


Doug M.
Clark Myers
66. ClarkEMyers
#64 - No doubt you are quite correct and Sea Launch simply misunderstood that they could have charged much much more for the same business as cost was not a factor in the launch customer's business case.

Interesting to note that Arianespace gets by with few people per Wikipedia this date:
As of 1 January 2010, Arianespace employed 323 personnel at its French headquarters, at its launch complex at the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana, and at offices in Singapore, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C.
CMPalmer
67. Paul D.
#66: There is a difference between consumers being price conscious, and demand being elastic. It could be that consumers will prefer lower cost providers, but when they find them, not increase their consumption of the product.
CMPalmer
68. Doug M.
ClarkE, if you can't produce a cite to support your statement? clumsy snark is not a good substitute.

Paul, exactly.


Doug M.
Clark Myers
69. ClarkEMyers
I'm not going to do resarch for folks more interested in scoring points and making ad hominum attacks than in sharing thoughts among friendly fen.

It beats me why the thoughts of journalists matter here.

That said here is one journalist:
Still in the future — but more likely to happen sooner — are microsatellites, some of which already have been built and placed in orbit. “It’s mostly the Russians who are aggressively moving into this market,” Caceres says. “These microsatellites will allow a university, a small company or a small researcher to get up into orbit for $10 million, which is about as cheap as you can get.”


Thomas G. Dolan is a business journalist based in the Pacific Northwest who covers a wide variety of topics.

I'd have thought reading Dr. Pournelle on Iridium with an open mind would have made the argument whether one chose to agree or disagree.

The data are mostly hard to get. Further the issue is confused by colinear factors. Demand for more satellites launched is confounded with demand for better satellites launched given the underlying demand is for satellite services.

Speaking of demand for services is the common smoothing technique that allows economists to speak as though the model of smooth well behaved continuous everywhere differentiable curves had any relation to reality. The model is not the territory and satellite demand is not a smooth continuous curve and so in reality not differentiable and so price elasticity of demand for discrete launches is a polite fiction - except some here are not so polite.

FREX in today's paper Boeing announced an order for a larger number (in lieu of a smaller number of satellites previously canceled by Secretary Gates as too expensive) of improved [b]Wideband Global Satcom satellite[s]
The previously canceled order at a higher price per satellite was to: to build five satellites and ground stations for an estimated $11 billion, Torok said notice five satellites launched and $11 billion. Compare with: Boeing has delivered three , and the Air Force is looking to order up to six more , Torok said.

As may be obvious although I never worked for Boeing I did have a desk at the Development Center on the Duwamish for some years.
Clark Myers
70. ClarkEMyers
In television broadcasting, for instance, only 0.7% of the end user price paid for
TV programs is traceable to launch cost.


One might wonder why the end user price in a competitive market makes the producer's production decision. Inefficiency maybe which makes the efficient market model complicated. What's the contribution to the cost of furnishing the TV services?

Maybe the underlying point is that the demand for satellite launches isn't an efficient market which may well be true - so?

That hardly supports the original assertion that lower prices - a shifting supply function - will not increase quantity demanded as the new supply intersects the previous existing demand curve at a point of higher quantity demanded at the new lower price.

Given the business urge to maximize profits in the face of an efficient or competitive market - that is some users buy TV programs from direct satellite services and some don't and the selling price for Dish is in a market influenced by copper and optical cable - and so any inference that the producer doesn't care to reduce costs of production is interesting.

Further using historical data for classical TV satellites the number of geosyncronous slots available for RF communication is limited - and companies have gone out of existence by merger after losing auctions for geosynchronous slots. That is geosynchronous TV satellites are not the general case.

Also see above for a mention of the smooth continuous well behaved everywhere differentiable model difficulties when the supply is very limited and very discrete.

"In the case of Government sectors, there are other reasons, documented in the Study, why launch demand is virtually insensitive to launch price.
see Boeing supra
CMPalmer
71. Doug M.
"The data are mostly hard to get."

Well, no. They're not.

I note that you still don't have a cite for your original proposition. The Dolan article you cite is from 2007, discussing how payloads increased between 2005 and 2006; it says nothing about elasticity.

Incidentally, although launch prices have been stable or declining, the number of satellite launches has actually decreased sharply in the last year. There were 65 satellite launches worldwide in 2007, 68 in 2009, and 78 in 2009 -- but there have been only 42 so far in 2010, with another 17 scheduled for the rest of the year, giving a total of 59. That's a drop of almost 25% year-on-year. In fact, the launch industry is currently suffering from a glut of capacity as compared to demand -- launch sites around the world are sitting idle.

(Mind, that's what you'd expect in a recession -- and the time delay for scheduling launches means that the 2008-9 recession is just now showing up in the numbers.)

Again: your original statement was "the demand for satellite launches seems to be quite price elastic for commercial purposes". This is just wrong. There's a large pile of evidence, accumulated over decades, that demand for satellite launches is quite _in_elastic to price. Dropping the price a little has almost no effect; dropping the price a lot has only a modest effect. There's a curve, but the slope is painfully shallow.

Not to niggle, but this is one of those stupid unkillable myths about spaceflight, like "zero gee is good for your health!" or "we can mine Helium-3 on the Moon!"

Anyway. Thread drift, off topic. Looking forward to the next entry.


Doug M.
Clark Myers
72. ClarkEMyers
On the data I've always found that even with full internal cooperation what might loosely be called error bands were large verging on huge - that is costs were only loosely known and that long after the fact. Revealed preferences, strategic behavior and internal blue sky complicate hypothetical data to fill in discrete points.

Be that as it may choose your own axes and what is the curve from Dr. Pournelle's prices to above current prices?

What is the profit maximizing price for a cartel of launch operators?

Maybe with a number for the price elasticity of demand at a dozen points along that curve?

Moving more toward building Rocket Ship Galileo in the backyard; the move from metal to composites will make amateur modification of large composite aircraft or other structures at home - or in a desert filled with retire in the sun homes - very difficult for years to come.

Rutan and others will get there over time starting small and getting bigger. Useful payloads demand large structure. But backyards with autoclaves too big for the house will I think always be rare.

Just the non-destructive testing of internal bonds on a laminated composite structure is hard. FREX modeling the water hammer effects - on amateur modified large composite structes - of moving and throttling say molton zinc around gets beyond today's hobbyists.

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