Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Posted by John Keller
Everyone remember Skylab? You know, that orbiting laboratory that NASA operated as America's first space station from 1973 until, neglected, its orbit decayed in 1979 and Skylab burned up in the Earth's atmosphere before its remains crashed in the Southern Hemisphere -- some of it on Australia.
Such a waste.
Yes I know, there were REASONS that Skylab met such an ignominious end, most of them involving money, or the lack thereof. Skylab was a victim of NASA's success in the Apollo program that landed men on the moon for the first time. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, 1969, Apollo 11? Of course you remember all that.
What evolved from that summer day in 1969 when Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon in the lunar module, within several years, was a collective yawn from the public after the first few moon missions. Everyone wondered what was next. Well what was next was the Skylab space station, but after the first moon landing even Skylab wasn't all that exciting anymore.
So for Skylab, funding ran short, and the orbiting lab was mothballed. The plan was for the yet-to-be-developed U.S. space shuttle to refurbish Skylab and reinvigorate that space station program, which fallen into disuse.
The problem with that plan was the space shuttle didn't get developed in time to save Skylab. NASA couldn't boost it to a higher orbit, and the Earth's gravity eventually sucked the orbiting lab to its doom.
Now are you wondering why I brought this up? Well, indications are that we're ready to go through Skylab Part II. The International Space Station, the multi-nation legacy of Skylab and an early Russian space station called Mir, is ready to be abandoned. Space experts are starting to fret that chances are increasing of losing the newest Space Station.
The latest chapter began with the crash of a Russian rocket that was supposed to resupply the Space Station recently due to malfunction, leaving the International Space Station short of food, water, fuel, and other essentials.
The Space Station's current crew most likely will have to leave it before another resupply mission can be attempted. Now where do we see this going? Is it sounding familiar?
I'm wondering if, due to federal budget cuts here and around the world, the International Space Station could share the same fate as Skylab. What a coincidence that would be; can't you see the scenario unfolding? Lack of money, lack of interest, lack of a way even to get to the orbiting lab.
I wish I didn't see it happening like this, but I do. Here's another delicious twist on dwindling government money. On 20 July 1969 I was a 10-year-old kid on vacation at McGrath State Beach, a campground in California, listening on a transistor radio as Armstrong and Aldrin maneuvered the Apollo 11 lunar module to the lunar surface.
This campground where I listened to history in the making is scheduled to close permanently this fall. The reason: not enough money to operate it and fix a crucial sewer line.
Launch of 737 MAX restores competitive balance between Boeing and Airbus for narrow-body jetliner market
Posted by John Keller
So Boeing's finally done it; they've introduced a fuel-efficient narrow-body jetliner -- the 737 MAX -- in response to the Airbus launch last December of the A320neo family of single-aisle medium-range passenger jets. It had been anticipated for a while, and was seen as an imperative for Boeing to come up with an alternative to the Airbus A320neo, and fast.
Airbus introduced the A320neo -- short for new engine option -- less than a year ago, and at the Paris Air Show last June absolutely wiped the floor with Boeing in the perpetual two-company struggle for a dominant share of the global airliner market.
Normally the big international air shows like Paris and Farnborough see roughly equal aircraft sales among Boeing and Airbus, but this past June it was different. Airbus took orders at Paris for 730 aircraft worth a total of $72.2 billion -- 667 of those orders for the A320neo. Boeing, by contrast, sold 142 commercial aircraft at Paris.
One of the big reasons for the lopsided sales performance at Paris was the lack of a Boeing offering to counter the A320neo, which at the time was promising to be the most fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly single-aisle medium-range aircraft available in the world. by the end of the show, orders for the A320neo family had reached 1,029, making it the best selling airliner in the history of commercial aviation, Airbus officials claimed.
The sales showing at Paris was so lopsided, that experts believe Boeing had to come up with an alternative, or continue losing sales to Airbus. That alternative was announced on Tuesday, but with strikingly few details about the 737 MAX. We know it will be a variant of the venerable Boeing 737, with three different versions, but no details on lengths or seating configurations released, as of yet.
The twin-engine 737 MAX will have will have LEAP-1B engines from CFM International S.A. that will be optimized for the new Boeing aircraft. The A320neo, by contrast, will offer a choice of the CFM International LEAP-X or the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G PurePower engines. The A320neo is scheduled to enter service in 2015 or 2016, while the 737 MAX most likely won't enter service until 2017.
Boeing's announcement Tuesday of the new 737 MAX claimed orders for the new jet, but gave no details on which airlines might be most interested in the new aircraft. At least one tantalizing possibility for the future 737 MAX might be Southwest Airlines, which operates versions of the Boeing 737 exclusively, and by 2017 might be ready to replenish its hard-working fleet.
We know something more about the A320neo than we do about the 737 MAX. The A320neo will consists of variants of the Airbus A320, A321, and A319, seating from 124 and 220 passengers in a variety of seating configurations. No details yet about seating configurations for the 737 MAX. We'll learn more as time goes on.
On hindsight, it seems Boeing had little choice in offering up its 737 model for upgrades to the 737 MAX configuration, given time constraints and intense pressure from Airbus. Still, I had been hoping for something a little different, and perhaps much bolder.
Boeing has been heavily touting its latest all-new passenger aircraft design, the 787 Dreamliner, for years. The composite-design, fuel-efficient 787 is a long-range widebody aircraft designed to compete on international routes. For an answer to the A320neo, I had hoped for a narrow-body version of the 787, with composite construction and those large passenger windows that Boeing makes so much of on the 787.
We may see a miniature single-aisle version of the 787 yet, but probably not for a while, if ever. As it is, however, we've see a restoration of the competitive balance between Boeing and Airbus for the future single-aisle jetliner market.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Posted by John Keller
I don't know whether to be amused or frustrated over political rhetoric coming out of Washington about these so-called "automatic" cuts in the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) budget over the next decade if Congress doesn't either reduce projected spending or raise taxes.
First, talking about "required" defense budget cuts right now anywhere beyond federal fiscal year 2013 is just silly, empty, political fluff. I get tired of beating this dead horse, but I'll say it again: Congress does whatever it wants to do on a year-by-year basis. There are NO "required" cuts in the future because every Congress acts on its own, regardless of promises made in the past.
Nothing's binding; it's all just a bunch of talk. Rather shocking behavior to see from Washington, don't you think?
Look at the stories making the rounds over the past few days containing dire predictions of hurting our national defense due to potential "automatic cuts totaling an additional half a trillion dollars" ... "if Congress fails to enact additional deficit reduction legislation by the end of the year." You can read rhetoric like that in a story today in the Los Angeles Times entitled "Pentagon says projected spending cuts could undermine security."
Take a close look at these stories. They all contain caveats like "unless Congress decided to overturn the cuts." IF Congress were to overturn the cuts? They actually mean WHEN Congress overturns the cuts, as lawmakers, in their wisdom and calculation, undoubtedly will do.
They always do.
Every Congress acts on its own every federal fiscal year. They're bound by nothing in the past. They start every year out with a clean slate. Overturning commitments made in the past is just part of the routine, and can be predicted like the sun rising in the east.
So, with this in mind, every dire prediction you read about "automatic" defense cuts over the next 10 years is all just political theater performed to exert pressure for the perceived need to do something now. In this case the pressure being applied is about raising taxes, and the rhetoric is intended to hold the DOD budget hostage to make that happen.
The budget will be cut drastically in the future unless Congress enacts new taxes, we hear from Washington. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta trotted out a statement this week warning these deep cuts in the defense budget would hurt national security, and that the American people should accept higher taxes, rather than deep cuts in the defense budget.
It's right off the Obama Administration script. Panetta delivered his lines like the Democrat party pro he is. I remember years ago interviewing Panetta in his Capitol Hill office when he was a congressman representing Monterey, Calif. He was a skilled, experienced political infighter then, and he's a skilled, experienced political infighter today. Same party, same script, different job.
So, if you find yourself starting to get worked up over future military budget cuts based on what you're hearing out of Washington, just take a breath and remind yourself that this is only a movie.
Because that's all it is.