AE 124

Manned Spaceflight Statistics

55 years of men and women in space

The dream came true

“The dream came true” (print from Zazzle)

On this year’s anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering orbit of the Earth, we publish bar charts showing manned spaceflight statistics over the first 55 years of space travel.

The three key indexes I have chosen are:

  • Man-days spent in space on orbital flights per calendar year
  • Number of launches to orbit per calendar year
  • Number of astronaut seats to orbit per year.

It should be clear that no spacefaring civilisation worthy of the name can even begin to be constructed until all three charts show sustainable growth.

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.


AE 123

When Will Jan Wörner Get His Moon Village?

Is it yet time to return astronauts to the Moon?

One of the great formative experiences of my childhood was following the news about the Apollo Moon missions. I waited up all night to see the live TV of the first moonwalk in July 1969. So do I want to see a return to the Moon? Of course I do!

ESA’s concept for a lunar base

ESA’s concept for a lunar base (Science Photo Library)

And as I am the author of a full-length science fiction novel partly set in and around the future lunar base of Selenopolis in Mare Foecunditatis, as well as in Sinus Medii at the centre of the lunar nearside, you can believe me when I say I’ve given these matters some thought!

Now Jan Wörner, Director General of the European Space Agency, has been speaking about his plan for a Moon Village – a permanent, manned base station on the Moon… much as I would love to see astronauts walking on the Moon again, I have to conclude that Professor Wörner is going out on a limb here, pushing his dreams way beyond any realistic political or entrepreneurial support.

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.

AE 122

Interstellar Travel and Straw Men


Kim Stanley Robinson talks about his novel Aurora on YouTube

A bizarre article appeared on the Scientific American website on 13 January under the byline of well-known science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson, entitled What Will It Take for Humans to Colonize the Milky Way? Bizarre, because it shows a failure of imagination from someone whose imagination is his main professional skill, contains factual errors, and discusses only the Earth-to-Earthlike-exoplanet model of interstellar travel despite the fact that the literature, going back to the 1984-1985 worldship papers in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, shows this to be a straw man.

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.

AE 121

A Strategic Goal for Humanity on Earth and in Space in 2061

What should we be telling our schoolchildren during and after Tim Peake’s flight to the ISS?

In my previous post I was critical of the UK space strategy’s focus on Tim Peake’s mission to the ISS. But what should we offer in its place?

It’s time to stop being timid about what spaceflight means for the human future. Any strategy needs a well-defined goal in order to draw up an efficient plan of work towards that goal. So let us state where we could be in 2061, the centenary of Yuri Gagarin’s first flight into space, if we address the question of our legacy to future generations with the robustness it deserves.

By 2061 this view could be experienced by a hundred people a month. (NASA Goddard)

By 2061 this view could be experienced by a hundred people a month. (NASA Goddard)

In 2061, just 45 years in the future and within the working lifetime of today’s schoolchildren and university students…

  1. 10,000 people visit low Earth orbit every year – some for microgravity research and manufacturing, most for space holidays – staying at one of a dozen commercial space stations.


Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.

AE 120

Britain Takes the Wrong Approach to Manned Spaceflight

I’m sorry to rain on everyone else’s parade. But I cannot feel any enthusiasm for Tim Peake’s upcoming six-month mission to the International Space Station.

Tim Peake

Tim Peake: trailblazing progress, or running into a dead end? (Marie Schmidt for the Guardian)

Government-led astronautics has got itself into a blind alley and slowly ground to a halt. The peak in terms of space travellers flying per year was reached fully thirty years ago. The annual man-days in space peaked in 2010, as six-person occupation of the ISS coincided with the last few Shuttle flights. A small increase in time spent in space would be possible with a seven-man crew on the ISS and more activity on the Chinese Tian Gong station. But that would be the absolute limit under present conditions.

What about exploration? The new focus of space agencies on exploration beyond low Earth orbit will certainly reduce the number of opportunities for government astronauts to fly, and increase the cost per astronaut seat, making space travel even more exceptional than it is today.

The socialist ideology that manned spaceflight must remain a government monopoly is slowly being broken! Progress now lies in the hands of the commercial companies in the USA tasked with taking over transport services to and from low Earth orbit. While their immediate goal remains the ISS for the present, only they can develop an independent, economically sustainable passenger spaceflight industry. This is the pattern that Britain needs to emulate!

Accordingly, at the Royal Aeronautical Society’s one-day conference on Britain’s manned spaceflight policy on 1 December, I contributed the following five-minute talk…

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.

AE 119

“Drowning in Process” – The great space slowdown

I’ve always found it hard to understand exactly why NASA’s rocket and spacecraft building programmes are so much slower and costlier today, after half a century’s accumulated experience, than they were in the glory days of the 1960s.

The small fraction of the SLS that doesn’t consist of paperwork (Boeing)

The small fraction of the SLS that doesn’t consist of paperwork (Boeing)

Wayne Hale has been describing some of the problems of doing space engineering at NASA. With his 32 years of experience at NASA before his retirement, including positions as Space Shuttle Program Manager or Deputy Manager for 5 years and Space Shuttle Flight Director for 40 missions, he has an intimate acquaintance with what it takes to get into space.

From his latest post: “I have a cheap seat view of the Orion/SLS development. My basic observation: those efforts are drowning in ‘process’”.

There is no engineering perfection, nor is there such a thing as 100.000% reliability or safety.

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.

AE 118

Does Intergalactic SETI Make Any Sense?

The Breakthrough Listen project is proposing to extend its search for artificial radio and optical signals to include the 100 nearest galaxies.

The 70-metre radio telescope at Yevpatoria, Crimea

The 70-metre radio telescope at Yevpatoria, Crimea

But should we expect to find a beacon from a technological civilisation that is bright enough for us to detect over intergalactic distances?

The Andromeda Galaxy, number 31 in Messier’s catalogue, will be a good test case. It is the brightest of those shown within the 100 nearest galaxies, hence is presumably the largest, has a good line of sight from the Solar System, and is only one quarter of the distance of the most distant of the 100 to be observed in the Breakthrough Listen programme. It is closely similar to our own galaxy. If we can’t find extragalactic aliens in M31, we’re not likely to find them anywhere else.

Let’s ask what sort of transmitter power levels are expected of our alien pen-friends…

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.