Monday, December 28, 2009

How a 'Real' Public Option Could Reduce Deficits, Create Jobs, & Save the US Economy!

by Marcel F. Williams

America has the best hospitals, physicians, nurses, and medical technicians in the world! Unfortunately, the US also has the worst health insurance system of any first world country on the planet! And the extremely expensive and inherently inflationary public and private health insurance systems that exist in America today is a frighteningly dangerous and continuously growing cancer upon the US economy!

The State of the American Health Insurance System

In 2007, the U.S. spent more than $2.26 trillion on health care, or $7,439 per person, up from $6714 in 2006-- even though nearly 50 million Americans have no health insurance at all! Despite the fact that Americans spend more per capita on health care than any other nation on Earth, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) ranks the US below most other first world nations when it comes to the rate of infant mortality and the longevity of its citizens. Amongst 14 major first world economies, the US ranks 1st in infant mortality with 7 infant deaths per 1000 live births and ranks last in average life expectancy for its citizens.

Himmelstein, an associate professor at Harvard and doctor at Cambridge Hospital determined that 31 cents out of every dollar spent on health care in America is for administrative cost. So out of the $2.26 trillion spent on health care in the US in 2007, approximately $700 billion a year is spent on administrative cost. In Canada, administrative cost account for only 17 cents per dollar. So its obvious that our complex health insurance system in the US is costing Americans several hundreds of billions of dollars annually in administrative waste.

It is estimated that private health insurance and other worker benefits add $1,000 to $1,500 to the cost of manufacturing a car in America, while it only adds approximately $150 per car in Japan. GM, however, claims health care costs added between $1,500 and $2,000 to the cost of every automobile it manufactures. The Business Roundtable, which represents the largest U.S. corporations, released a study showing that for every $100 spent in the United States on health care, a group of five of our leading economic competitors (Canada, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and France) spend only 63 cents! Furthermore, it has been estimated that illness and medical bills contributed to 62% of all bankruptcies in the US in 2007!

Most single payer advocates view Medicare as a public health insurance model that the whole nation should emulate. However, Medicare cost were over $477 billion in 2009 while covering only 45 million people, that's over $10,000 in cost per individual-- higher than the already extremely high per capita cost for health care expenditures in the US in general. Of course, the elderly usually have significantly higher health care expenditures than the younger segments of a society. But Medicare cost have almost always risen faster than the rate of inflation since its inception-- and is expected to be insolvent by the year 2017. So no matter how much some people love the US Medicare system, its continuously escalating and unsustainable cost could cause the system to collapse in less than a decade.

Medical Savings Accounts have been proposed by some advocates to be a means for significantly reducing health care expenditures. It is argued that such a system eliminates excessive administrative cost and makes consumers more price conscious when it comes to medical services. Medical savings accounts are also a major component of the Singapore health care system. And medical savings accounts have been introduced into some provinces in China who intends to expand them into other provincial areas in China. The nation of Singapore spends more than six times less per capita than Americans do for health care yet they have a lower infant mortality and a longevity for its citizens higher than in the US and most other nations.

However, medical savings accounts (Medisave) are only one component of the Singapore health care system which also consist of catastrophic national health insurance, subsidies for public hospitals, and required out of pocket cost for consumers, and some government . Thus it has been argued that the Singapore system would be rather difficult to replicate in other countries. But what Singapore does tell us that it is possible to dramatically reduce health care expenditures with the proper subsidies and incentives. And if the US had a health care system as efficient as the one in Singapore, America could reduce its private and public health care expenditures by a whopping $1.9 trillion annually!

But could America ever develop a health care system as efficient as some other nations with annual health care expenditures less than $3000 per capita such as Japan, Italy, New Zealand, Israel, or Singapore?

I think it is possible that we could dramatically reduce health care cost in the US if we utilized some of the basic components of the Singapore system: medical savings accounts, subsidized out of pocket cost, and a viable not for profit health care system to compete against the profit based system. And I believe that the best way to do this is with a simple health insurance-- medical savings debit card/credit card system!

Federal Deposits to a National Health Insurance Debit Card System

The US Federal government spent more than $808 billion in 2007 on health care (medicare, medicaid, Federal workers, VA hospitals, etc.). States spent another $143 billion in expenditures for Medicaid. So that's $951 billion in annual Federal and State government expenditures on health care in the year 2007. But if the Federal government deposited $100 a month ($1200 per year) into medical savings debit card accounts for every American citizen (man, woman, and child), that would cost the Federal government only $355 billion a year in health care expenditures.

This would instantly provide $1200 in annual health care funds for all American citizens to be used for any doctor, dentist, hospital, clinic, or doctor authorized prescription drug anywhere in America or within any country authorized by the HHS (Health and Human Services). If you include the children of permanent residents then Federal health care savings deposits would rise to $359 billion annually.

Depositing $300 additional per month into the medical savings accounts of the 40 million American senior citizens in the US, 65 years and older, would give seniors $4800 per year ($400 per month) in medical savings account deposits from the Federal government, increasing Federal health care expenditures by $144 billion, raising Federal health expenditures to $503 billion a year.

But I'd also deposit an extra $200 per month into the medical savings accounts of the nearly $3 million active and reserve US military personal (the folks that volunteer to risk their lives to defend our country). This would add an additional $7 billion to the budget. Add $50 deposits per month into the medical savings accounts of a soldier's spouse and two children, and that would add another $5.4 billion. I'd also add another $100 per month ($1200 per year) for the 24 million veterans in the US ($29 billion).So in total, this would increase annual Federal health expenditures to approximately $544 billion a year.

If you add another $100 per month ($1200 per year) for nearly 2 million civilian Federal employees plus $50 each month for three family members that would add almost $6 billion more. That now comes to $550 billion in annual Federal health care expenditures.

An additional $100 per month ($1200/yr) for the $40 million disabled Americans, would add another $48 billion. That brings us up to a grand total of $598 billion in annual Federal health care expenditures!  These Federal deposits would serve as the-- base funding-- for a Federal debit card medical savings account system that would cover all American citizens plus the children of all permanent residents. Senior citizens, soldiers, veterans, disabled citizens and Federal workers would be the primary beneficiaries of these Federal deposits into such a medical savings account debit card system.

Yet these Federal health care expenditures would be far lower than the current $808 billion spent annually by the Federal government, saving the Federal government $210 billion annually in health related expenditures. The US national debt currently stands at approximately $12 trillion. Democrats argue that their version of health insurance reform could reduce the national debt by $780 billion over the next 20 years. Under this medical savings debit card plan, over $210 billion could be saved in just one year, over $4.2 trillion over a 20 year period in deficit reduction!
But this does not include the $143 billion in State contributions to the Medicaid fund. Since Medicaid recipients would now be largely funded by Federal medical savings account debit card deposits, Medicaid expenditures by the States could be eliminated. That would mean over $143 billion a year in annual savings to the States currently struggling with budget deficits!
Employer Deposits to a National Health Insurance Debit Card System

But, again, Federal contributions to medical savings debit card accounts would only be the base level of contributions. The average employer based health care premiums cost $4,386 per individual per year. $3,504 of that cost is payed by the employer while $882 of that cost is payed by the employee. The average employer based health care premium for a family of four averaged $12,700 in 2008. Employers paid $9300 of that cost while the employee paid $3400 out of their wages.

Under the Federal Medical Savings Debit card plan that I envision,
employers would have the option of depositing monthly funds into an employee and family member's Federal medical savings accounts-- instead of providing private health insurance to its employees. For full time employees, for instance, an employer who decided not to provide private health insurance to its employees would be required by the Federal government to deposit $100 per month ($1200/yr) into the medical savings debit card accounts for each employee. On average, that would be a 66% reduction in health insurance cost for the employer per employee with no cost to the employee which would also save the average employee about $882 per year!

Additionally, the Federal government would require employers to deposits  $50 per month ($600/yr) into the Medical Savings debit card Accounts of up to three family members of the employee (spouse, children, or legal wards). So for a family of four, the cost to the employer would be $3000 per year-- a whopping $6300 a year reduction in annual health care cost per employee!

For part time workers, I would only require employers, who refused to provide employees with private insurance, to deposit $50 per month ($600) per year into the Medical savings debit card accounts of their employees. But the Federal government would not require employers to deposit any funds into the accounts of family members of part time employees.

There are approximately 140 million civilian employees in the US. So we're talking about perhaps $800 billion in annual savings to private industry and $476 billion in annual savings for American families. That's over $1.2 trillion in total savings per year in health care savings for the American economy! Such business and worker savings would serve as a titanic annual stimulus to the US economy that would increase the purchasing power of the average employee while reducing the cost of products and services provided by private US businesses both domestically and around the world. A $1.2 trillion annual stimulus should also create tens of millions of new jobs while also significantly increasing tax revenues for Federal, State, and local governments which should help to increase government revenues while helping to lower government deficits even more!

But what if you're not a US citizen but a permanent resident?

Well as earlier noted, the children of permanent residents would still receive monthly Federal deposits of $100 per month ($1200 annually) in to their Child Care medical debit card accounts.
However, no Federal funds would be put into the accounts of non- US citizen adults, under this plan, unless these legal permanent residents are in the US military or work for the Federal government. However, non-citizen adult permanent residents in the US could still receive deposits into their Guest Care medical Debit Card accounts from private employers ($100 per month/$1200 per year full time) and from the employer of their spouse ($50 per month/$600 per year) under this system.

But what if you're self employed?

Under this system, all adult US citizens and permanent residents would have the right to deposit $50, $100, $150, or $200 per month into their Federal medical savings debit card accounts by allowing the Federal government to automatically withdraw money from their private checking or savings account each month with the consumer having the option of-- terminating-- these automatic Federal withdraws at any time! Adult citizens and permanent residents would also have the right to of have automatic deposits of $50, $100, $150, or $200 deposited into the Medical Savings debit card Accounts of their spouse, children, or legal wards. So, potentially, up to $4800 in additional funds could be added to your Medical Savings Account or to a family member's account per year for a legally married individual.

Health Care Credit Card System

But what if you have serious medical problems and your health care expenditures eventually deplete and even exceed the savings that you accumulated in your medical savings account?

Under such a scenario, you'd now be taking more out of the system than you're putting in! However, when you are in debt to the system, your health care card would no longer function as a debit card but would instantly function as a health care-- credit card! Since you would be borrowing from the deposits of other depositors in order to pay your medical bills, the Federal government
would charge you a temporary premium of $50 per month ($600/yr), if your total debt to the fund is under $5000, until your debt to the system is payed off. Since you would still be receiving monthly deposits into your account from the Federal government and from your private employer, your medical card would function as a heavily subsidized health care credit card. If your debt to the system exceeds $5000, then your temporary premium would go up to $100 per month! Both monetary denominations would still be much lower than the premiums you would pay for private health insurance.

Such temporary premiums for excess expenditures for this debit card/credit card system would be an-- essential incentive-- for health care consumers to be cost conscious and to seek out the best medical care, dental care and prescriptions drugs at the most reasonable prices.

The importance of seeking out the best health care at the most reasonable price is is clearly illustrated below:

In the State of Maryland, for example, the delivery of a baby can cost $3893 at Washington County Hospital but cost you $7676 at Johns Hopkins. In Southern California, a C-section delivery can cost $11,000 at Hoag Memorial Hospital while the same procedure can cost $31,000 at UC Irvine. A MRI of the neck cost $2003 at Camden Clark Memorial in West Virginia while the same procedure cost $3709 at Raleigh General. A hysterectomy cost $8116 at Mountains Community Hospital in California while the same procedure cost a whopping $82,612 at Olympia Medical Center in LA-- a 1000% difference in cost! A coronary artery bypass cost $58,564 at Beverly Hospital in California while the same procedure cost $318,000 at Doctor's Medical Center in Modesto, California. So we're talking about 50 to 1000 percent differences in cost for similar procedures in the same local areas of the country! Such extreme variations in prices of medical procedures are insane-- if not criminal!

But unlike a premium based system, Medical Savings Accounts with the penalty of out of pocket premiums if expenditures exceed savings, would finally make consumers fully conscious of the real cost of medical care and medical procedures, allowing them use their medical debit/credit cards at any hospital or clinic anywhere in the country in order to seek out the best medical care at the most reasonable cost. Such as system might also favor and revitalize not for profit hospitals who are disproportionately burdened with the uninsured, since they tend to charge significantly less than profit based hospitals and clinics. This would also put pressure of profit based hospitals to lower their prices.

Additionally, a central online data base derived from Federal medical account payments to doctors, hospitals, and clinics (without revealing the identity of the individuals who were charged) should help to assist consumers in seeing how much doctors, hospitals, and clinics all over the country are charging for test and procedures. Many States are already requiring hospitals to post the cost for medical procedures. So this should also help the consumer to dramatically lower medical cost in all areas of the country!

If your total debt to the fund is over $10,000, then you will still have to pay $100 monthly plus 3% of your annual income. The extra 3% would be payed as part of your annual income tax. Such an income tax fee would be essential in order to keep wealthy individuals from exploiting the system. A poor person making only $20,000 a year would only have to pay an additional $600 per year in additional taxes under such a scenario while a wealthy person pulling in a million dollars a year would have to pay an additional $30,000 a year in additional taxes. This would be a strong incentive for the wealthy not to attempt exploit the system with excessive medical expenditures. Of course, any attempt by individuals to defraud the medical debit/credit card system could result in significant fines and jail time!

Since parents or guardians would be responsible for managing the medical savings accounts of their children or wards, parents or guardians would be charged only $25 per month if the child's debt to the system is under $5000, $50 per month if over $5000, and $50 per month plus a 1% of a parent's or guardian's income tax if the child's medical debt is over $10,000. Temporary premiums related to the medical debt of children would continue to be charged to the parent or guardian even after the child has reached adulthood and acquired an Adult Care card until these debts are payed completely payed off. So the real owner of a Child Care card would be the adult parent or guardian of the child. However, any accumulated savings in a child's medical savings account would be transferred to son or daughter's Adult Care Debit Card once they've reached 18 years of age.

Failure to pay monthly premiums if your health care expenditures exceed your savings will result in a suspension of Federal deposits into your account, a cancellation of your card, and possible liens on your paycheck and property. For adult permanent residents with Guest Care Debit cards and permanent residents with children or wards with Child Care Debit cards who fail to pay monthly premiums due to expenditures exceeding health care savings, liens on their paycheck and property could also possibly result in being deportated from the US and permanently banned from reentering the US. And, again, any fraud or abuse of a Guest Care Debit card either by a doctor or patient could result in felony prosecutions .

A typical employed individual might have $2400 to $3000 deposited into their medical savings account every year. Most working individuals are not $2500 to $3000 sick every year and probably not even $300 a year sick. So most of the time, consumers will be probably be adding at least $2000 or more to their medical savings accounts every year. That's $10,000 over a 5 year period. So by the time you reach the age of retirement, you may may already have over $100,000 in your medical savings account to deal with the more frequent medical problems of old age. Plus, once you receive your Senior Care card, you'll be receiving three times the rate of monthly deposits into your medical savings account from the Federal government.

Obviously, some individuals will have such high medical expenditures that they will never completely pay off their debt to the system before they die. However, in theory, many more individuals would probably die without exhausting their Federal deposits which could then be deposited into the general fund in order to keep it solvent.

What if a debit card holder wants to use their card for cosmetic surgery or even an abortion?
If Congress bands the use of Federal deposits into your medical savings account for abortions or cosmetic surgery, consumers would still be allowed to use the portion of their medical savings deposits that were contributed by non-Federal government sources (employers, wife's employers, parents or guardians) for cosmetic surgery or abortions.

So, in theory, you should be able to take your health care debit card/credit card to any doctor, dentist, hospital, or clinic in the US or to any health care facilities outside of the US (medical tourism) certified by the HHS (Health and Human Services) or purchase doctor authorized prescription drugs at pharmacies anywhere in the world.

The advantage of a Federal government and private employer funded medical savings account is that it would cover all adult American citizens whether you are employed or unemployed and the children of American citizens and permanent residents. A premium based public option, on the other hand, is funded by your employer-- only if you are currently employed! So if you're unemployed, you would have to pay the monthly premiums to the Federal government (out of your own pocket) in order to keep the health insurance for yourself and for your children-- at a time when you currently have no current income or are only receiving unemployment checks! Also, the Federal government might make it illegal to use Federal health insurance for an abortion or for cosmetic surgery. However, under a medical savings account plan, non Federal deposits into your account from private employers or yourself could be utilized to fund such procedures.

But what if everyone in the US were simply covered under the current Medicare system? Well, as earlier noted, the Medicare program spends approximately $477 billion annually to cover seniors 65 years or older, some disabled people under the age of 65, and people of various ages with permanent kidney failure treated with dialysis or a transplant. If you prorate those cost to cover a population of 308 million people in the US, that comes out to be a Federal health care expenditure of approximately $3.2 trillion annually! Obviously, this number is significantly skewed by the higher medical care cost of seniors, the disabled, and the seriously ill that is currently covered by the Medicare system. But even if you generously cut this prorated expenditure in half ($1.8 trillion), it would still be at least a trillion dollars more than the Federal government currently spends on health care. But in the medical savings account system presented here, the Federal government only spends approximately $550 billion annually which actually significantly reduces Federal health care expenditures!

As a health care debit card, such a Federal medical savings account system would make medical care and prescription drugs free (no out of pocket expenditures) for most reasonably healthy Americans who prudently shop for their health care services. And as a subsidized health care credit card, such a system would also make health care-- affordable-- for those Americans who are not so healthy, seriously ill, or not so prudent with their health care expenditures! Such a system would greatly enhance an individual's freedom and financial ability to see a doctor or doctors at any hospital or clinic anywhere in the country. So this would finally put pressure on doctors, hospitals, and clinics to provide the best medical care at the lowest or most reasonable cost. And such a system could finally give consumer's the peace of mind that they no longer have to be worried about the possibility of being bankrupted or denied health care because of high health related cost or expenditures.

But equally as important, this system would substantially reduce Federal and State health care expenditures-- helping to significantly reduce Federal and State deficits. Additionally, such a system would also dramatically reduce employer based health care expenditures for both the employers and the employees. So as US citizens and patriots we might also find solace in the fact that such an efficient health insurance system won't bankrupt our Federal and State governments while also creating millions of jobs by making domestically produced US products and services a lot less expensive!

© Marcel F. Williams
New Papyrus

Links and References

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mini Hydro at a Nuclear Facility

Mini-hydropower generation at nuclear power plant

FUKUOKA, JAPAN --The Sendai nuclear power station operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co., Inc. has recently started a power generation experiment by installing a water turbine at its water outlet...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Cost of Cleaner Energy

Der Spiegel has posted a very interesting chart on the cost of reducing excess CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere. I appears that nuclear energy is easily the cheapest method for reducing global warming. What a surprise!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Alvin Weinberg on Global Warming

Nuclear energy pioneer, Alvin Weinberg, greets John and Jacqueline Kennedy during a visit by the President to Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Alvin Weinberg, Prophet of CO2 Driven Global Warming

Friday, November 27, 2009

U.S. Air Force Space Plane to launch next April

The U.S. Air Force plans to launch the unmanned X-37 OTV next April on top of an Atlas V booster.

X-37-OTV. Credit: U.S. Air Force

X-37-OTV. Credit: U.S. Air Force

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Road: A Storm Warning for Humanity

“It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species,” Stephen Hawking

Actors Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee play a father and son attempting to survive in the harshest and most terrifying post-apocalyptic world ever imagined

There is no film that illustrates the foolishness of confining human civilization solely to our planet of evolutionary origin than John Hillcoat's brilliant motion picture 'The Road' based on the Pulitzer prize winning book of the same title by Cormac McCarthy.

The audience is quickly introduced to a post- apocalyptic world where a father and son attempt to survive in a cold gray overcast environment devoid of other living animals and plant life. What caused this global apocalypse is not clear (nuclear war, asteroid impact, super volcanoes, global warming?). But what is clear in this hauntingly beautiful yet devastating film is that we are witnessing the possible total extinction of humanity!

Equally as terrifying as the environmental disaster is the human response to it: with most organized groups of humans apparently turning to predatory cannibalism in order to appease their relentless hunger!

The basic theme of the movie is how a father, played by Viggo Mortensen, tries to teach his son, who was born right after the apocalypse, how to retain his humanity in an absolutely horrifying world largely devoid of it!

But the lessons our current human civilization can learn is to do whatever is necessary to avoid putting all of humanity into this predicament in the first place!

Yes. We need to do all we can to avoid another nuclear arms race in the future where perhaps Russia and the US could be joined by China, India, Pakistan, Japan, Iran, Israel, and the EU in having the power of life and death over the entire planet. Yes. We need to locate all NEOs that could potentially destroy the Earth. Yes. We need to deal with global warming and other environmental hazards. Yes. We need to deal with human overpopulation in relation to the Earth's resources.

But we also need to start expanding human civilization beyond the Earth starting with the Moon then Mars and then finally using asteroid materials to manufacture hundreds if not thousands of rotating solar orbiting artificial worlds with Earth-like environments all over the solar system. That's the key to the long term survival of our species. But confining our civilization solely to the surface of the Earth and just hoping for the best will eventually doom our civilization and our species to extinction.

Marcel F. Williams

Daily Kos: Storm Warning

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The 150th anniversary of Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species'

"It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows."

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. "

Charles Darwin
On the Origin of Species

November 24, 1859

Monday, November 23, 2009

Senator Jeff Bingaman on the future development of small nuclear reactors

“I plan to introduce a second bill, to complement Senator Udall’s bill. My new bill would require the Secretary of Energy to develop and demonstrate, in partnership with the private sector, two designs for small modular nuclear reactors – less than 350 megawatts electric in size. The Department would help demonstrate the ability to license these reactors by funding applications to obtain design certification by 2018, and to obtain a combined operating license for each of the designs by 2021. Having certified and licensable designs for small modular nuclear reactors would be a significant boost to the field of nuclear power, and would help nuclear energy be a cost-effective contender for a broader array of carbon-free electric generation needs in the future."

Jeff Bingaman U.S. Senator from New Mexico
November 16th, 2009

New Papyrus strongly supports such forward looking legislation from US Senator Bingaman. The development of small commercial nuclear reactors in America could be a major game changer as far as carbon free energy production in our nation.

The lower initial cost of small nuclear reactors should be economically attractive even for the smallest utilities in the US. And economies of mass production could potentially dramatically reduce the capital cost of such small centrally mass produced nuclear reactors which could also reduce the cost of electricity and even the electrical production of carbon neutral synthetic fuels and industrial chemicals such as: ammonia, methanol, methane, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and dimethyl ether. Small centrally mass produced nuclear reactors could be transported by rail or by ship to practically any energy producing site anywhere in the world while potentially producing millions of manufacturing jobs right here in the USA !

New Papyrus urges you to express your support to Senator Bingaman's for his bill at:

while also contacting your local Senators to express your support for the Bingaman bill.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Live Interview with AVATAR special effects master!

Jennifer Chan informs me that: Actor Kevin Pollak is hosting on his weekly show today with guest Robert Legato, the Academy Award winning Visual Effects Director of“Titanic,” and upcoming “Avatar” – the biggest film of the year. Kevin will interview Robert and discuss the visual effects behind “Avatar" today starting at 5p PT.

You can view the stream at

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Duke energy boss on nuclear energy and jobs

In the November 20 Wall Street Journal Environmental Capital blog, Duke Energy boss, Jim Rogers argues that nuclear power will probably replace coal in the long run in the US by 2050. Additionally, he argues that nuclear power creates more jobs than wind and solar and at a higher level of pay:

"In an operation of a nuclear plant, there [are] .64 jobs per megawatt. The wind business–and we have a very large wind business–is .3 jobs per megawatt. In the solar business–and we’re installing solar panels–it’s about .1. But the difference in the jobs is quite different, because if you’re wiping off a solar panel, it’s sort of a minimum wage type of job, [with] much higher compensation for nuclear engineers and nuclear operators. If our goal is to rebuild the middle class, nuclear plays a key role there, particularly if coal is out of the equation."

Duke’s Rogers: Why Nuclear Power Will Probably Trump Coal
Environmental Capital blog

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ares vs the Sidemount and the Augustine Commission

by Marcel F. Williams

During Space Shuttle manager John Shannon's presentation of the Side-mount Shuttle (SD-HLV) concept to the Augustine Committee, he showed the committee figures that indicated that a SD-HLV with an EDS (Earth Departure Stage) could place approximately 39 tonnes of net payload into lunar orbit per launch. However, just a week later, a subsequent, more thoroughly analyzed NASA study, indicated that up to 47.8 tonnes of net payload could be placed into lunar orbit per SD-HLV launch with an EDS.

Unfortunately, in the Augustine commission's final report, a SD-HLV architecture that could only deliver 39 tonnes to lunar orbit was presented to the President. And this lower mass estimate led to the following conclusion by the committee:

"Among the other notable differences between the Ares V family and the more-directly Shuttle-derived launcher family is the mission-launch reliability. Since the latter requires three launches for each planned Constellation lunar mission,there would be a somewhat lower reliability in any given time window than would be provided by the Ares V, which only would require two launches in the same time window."

  • Single launch plus EDS stage
  • Net payload to lunar orbit:
  • 47.8 tonnes
  • Net payload to LEO:
  • 100.8 tonnes
  • Maximum Altair lunar lander mass:
  • 47.8 tonnes
  • Maximum Orion mass plus EDS payload to lunar orbit:
  • 22 tonne Orion plus 25.8 tonnes of EDS net payload
Credit NASA

This is clearly an erroneous conclusion by the Augustine Committee since a single SD-HLV/EDS launch can deliver a full sized Altair vehicle (45 tonnes plus) to lunar orbit, while a second SD-HLV/EDS launch could deliver an Orion vehicle plus at least an equal mass of additional payload to lunar orbit. So if anything, a two launch SD-HLV scenario (47.8 tonnes plus 47.8 tonnes) would exceed the two launch Ares I/V scenario (22 tonnes plus 49 tonnes) in total mass delivered to lunar orbit. In fact, a single SD-HLV/EDS launch could, in theory, deliver a 22 tonne Orion vehicle into lunar orbit plus a 25 tonne lunar landing vehicle (more than 50% more massive than the 16 tonne lunar module of the Apollo era).

  • Ares I/V dual launch configuration to lunar orbit
  • 22 tonne Orion plus up to 49 tonne Altair lunar landing mass
  • Ares I
  • 25 tonnes to LEO
  • Ares V:
  • 188 tonnes to LEO

Credit NASA

NASA also concluded that an SD-HLV plus EDS stage could be developed in just 66 months at an estimated cost of $9.4B which is dramatically lower than NASA's estimated cost for the development of the Ares I/V which they conclude would cost over $30 billion. (Neither of these figures include the developmental cost of the Orion and Altair vehicles.)

The committee also made an obvious conclusion about the SD-HLV concept vs. the inline shuttle derived concept (DIRECT):

"While the Committee did not examine the technical trade between the side-mount and inline variants in detail, it observes that the side-mount variant is considered an in-herently less safe arrangement if crew are to be carried, and is more limited in its growth potential. "

However, they also noted the following:

"Historically, vehicles with heritage derived from prior demonstrated systems have shown greater reliability in early usage than newly developed systems. The process of converting an established cargo launcher into a human-rated launcher results in improved reliability, as was demonstrated in the early U.S. human spaceflight programs where modified ICBMs were employed as launch systems. History has shown that the early flight period is of much higher risk than would be expected later in flight history."

The Augustine Commission declared the current Space Shuttle as the most reliable U.S. heavy-lift vehicle ever built, judging the Titan HLV and Delta IV heavy as less reliable heavy lift vehicles. Since the DIRECT concept's Jupiter rocket would be a brand new booster, this would make the DIRECT Jupiter rocket a less reliable launch vehicle than the SD-HLV-- at least in its early stages. The DIRECT concept also requires 18 new technological developmental starts while the SD-HLV requires only 8; Ares I/V requires 35 total developmental starts.

If the Obama administration wisely decides to terminate the development of the Ares I/V configuration in favor of the SD-HLV-- while also adding $3 billion additional dollars to the NASA annual budget, NASA should have enough money to continue Space Shuttle flights until the Orion CEV and SD-HLV are ready for flight. NASA is currently spending more than $3.5 billion on Constellation development programs; that should be plenty for the Orion and related program integration and operations development. And the additional $3 billion a year should be plenty of money to develop the SD-HLV ($6.9 billion), EDS ($2.5 billion), and Altair ($4.2 billion) over the next 6 years. Plus any delays and additional cost in developing this space architecture could be easily met by the annual $6.5 billion NASA budget solely dedicate towards developing the SD-HLV, EDS, Orion, and Altair. That's up to $32.5 billion in additional funds if it takes NASA all the way to 2020 to finish the new space architecture. Once the new launch architecture is completed and the Space Shuttle program finally retired and we're back on the Moon setting up permanent modular settlements, NASA is going to have several billion dollars a year in surplus funding on its hands-- perhaps to utilize in developing the next space architecture to get us to Mars!

Links and References

1. NASA Sidemount Shuttle Report June 25, 2009,0,7079469.htmlpage

2. NASA Sidemount Shuttle Report June 17, 2009

3. Augustine Commission Final Report

4. Daily Kos Poll (Which nation will be first to establish a permanent base on the Moon?)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sea Launch History

Could this be the way private companies launch manned vehicles into orbit someday?
  1. Private companies could take advantage of equatorial launch sites anywhere in the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans
  2. Passengers could reach an equatorial launch facility in less than two weeks via ship or a few hours via sea plane.
  3. The ocean site could also be used to recover a manned space capsule returning to Earth
  4. Cryogenic oxygen and rocket fuel could be shipped to launch sites from coastal areas
  5. Could be a boon for coastal areas in the US since the rocket booster would be shipped from coastal ports before being transported to equatorial launch sites.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

New info on the early hominin: Ardipithecus

Ardipithecus remains go back as far as 5.8 million years ago to as young as 4.4 million years ago. On Friday, Science magazine will present 11 papers detailing what we now know about this ancient late Miocene/early Pliocene hominin. It appears to have walked bipedal but with a highly divergent big toe. The only creature that I know of that also walked bipedally in this fashion was the late Miocene hominoid, Oreopithecus bambolii.

Read the latest info and watch a fascinating video on Ardipithecus at:

Credits: Illustration by J.H. Matternes

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Stephen Hawking calls for massive investment in lunar and Martian colonization

New Scientist:

David Shiga

Stephen Hawking called for a massive investment in establishing colonies on the Moon and Mars in a lecture in honour of NASA's 50th anniversary. He argued that the world should devote about 10 times as much as NASA's current budget - or 0.25% of the world's financial resources - to space.

The renowned University of Cambridge physicist has previously spoken in favour of colonising space as an insurance policy against the possibility of humanity being wiped out by catastrophes like nuclear war and climate change. He argues that humanity should eventually expand to other solar systems.

But in a speech in Washington, DC, US, delivered in honour of NASA's 50th anniversary in 2008, Hawking focused on near-term possibilities, backing the space agency's goals of returning astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and sending humans to Mars soon after that.
The Moon is a good place to start because it is "close by and relatively easy to reach", Hawking said. "The Moon could be a base for travel to the rest of the solar system," he added. Mars would be "the obvious next target", with its abundant supplies of frozen water, and the tantalising possibility that life may have been present there in the past......

New Scientist

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Funding NASA's Future

Credits: NASA

by Marcel F. Williams

The Augustine Commission testified before the Senate and the House of Representatives last week and were greeted with both praise and criticism by some of the legislators. Ironically, the commission was not criticized for reaching the conclusion that NASA would require a $3 billion increase in its annual budget since the legislators already knew that since our civilian space program has been underfunded for years-- if not decades. But they were rather critical about was the rather nebulous elevations of the alternatives to the Ares 1/Ares V architecture to return the US to the Moon-- especially since the commission appeared to conclude that all of the alternatives were almost equally as expensive as the Ares 1/Ares V architecture.

My own criticism of the Augustine Commission preliminary report was their odd treatment of NASA's Sidemount-heavy lift vehicle (SD-HLV) concept and the DIRECT concept for returning America to the Moon. For some reason, the Augustine Commission lumped them both together as so called shuttle derived concepts even though they are two significantly different concepts as far as complexity, development timelines, and cost. The SD-HLV only requires 8 new system starts for its development while DIRECT requires 18 and the Ares 1/ Ares V requires 35 new vehicle structural development starts. Secondly, they extended shuttle flights for 5 years onto the cost the shuttle derived concepts. There's nothing wrong with that since it would eliminate the gap between the old shuttle and the new manned space launch system. But no such financial burden was added to the Ares 1/ Ares V which would have inflated the cost of the Ares programs even more. Then in their budget analysis of the shuttle derived concepts, they required NASA to pay currently nonexistent commercial space companies to transport NASA astronauts into orbit even though both the Sidemount and DIRECT concepts are capable of transporting an Orion spacecraft to LEO just as the Ares 1 is capable of doing. Why?

The Orion vehicle is currently being funded at about $1.4 billion a year, a budget that's supposed to be increased to approximately $2 billion on average during the course of its development over the next 5 or 6 years starting in 2011. The Ares 1 is currently receiving over a billion dollars in annual funding with a budget that is set to increase up to another billion on average during the course of its development. Program integration and operations is supposed to add an additional billion on average to the cost of the Ares 1/Orion development starting in 2011. That's about a $2.6 billion dollar increase in the annual NASA budget with no funding for the development of the Ares V or the Altair lunar landing vehicles until the Ares1 and Orion vehicles are completed in 2015 or 2017. So that would mean no Moon landings until after 2020.

The current shuttle program cost about $3 billion annually. So a $3 billion dollar increase might could fund the shuttle until the Orion/Ares 1 vehicle is ready. Unfortunately, the Orion/Ares 1 would still be underfunded by about $2.6 billion. So only by canceling the shuttle program and raising the NASA budget by $2.6 billion could we fund the Orion/Ares 1. But if the space shuttle is decommissioned after 2010, this could leave NASA without a manned space vehicle for up to 5 to 7 years.

But NASA has argued that the SD-HLV could be developed for just $6.9 billion dollars over 5 to 6 years. An EDS (Earth Departure Stage) would be required to transport payloads beyond LEO at an estimated cost of less than $2.5 billion. NASA estimates the cost of developing the Altair lunar landing vehicle to be less than $4.2 billion. So in total, the cost of developing the SD-HLV plus EDS and Altair vehicles should be less than $13.6 billion. Over a 6 year vehicle development period, that would be less than $2.3 billion per year. So if the NASA's annual budget was increased by $3 billion and the Ares 1 program was canceled, there would be at least $4 billion dollars in extra funds. $600 million a year of this on average would go to the Orion program to raise its total budget close to $2 billion annually. $2.3 billion a year would go for the development of the SD-HLV, EDS, and Altair. That would leave over $1 billion a year of increased funding for program integration and operations. If the DOD (Department of Defense) has some interest in a heavy lift vehicle for launching larger satellites into polar orbit and maybe in having their own manned launch vehicle, maybe Obama can get even more funds for Orion and SD-HLV development from the military.

The main advantage of the SD-HLV over the Ares 1/Ares V architecture is that the heavy lift vehicle would be developed immediately and would be utilized for both the manned Orion and unmanned Altair launches. Additionally, there should be enough money to fully fund the development of the Altair lunar lander starting in 2010 instead of waiting until 2015 to 2017 to begin developing a lunar lander as would be the case with the Ares 1/Ares V scenario.

But what if these NASA estimates are significantly underestimated during the course of the vehicle development? Well approximately $5 billion a year in total funds would be annually committed to the development of the Orion, Altair, SD-HLV and EDS and associated infrastructure. Since all of these vehicles would be simultaneously under development and if one or more vehicles weren't ready by 2015 or 2016 then an additional $5 billion dollars would be available every year afterwords until all the vehicles are ready. That's up to $20 billion dollars in additional development funds if the vehicles are delayed until 2020 (the date when NASA is supposed to return to the Moon). So developing all of the vehicles simultaneously has clear timeline and budgetary advantages.

So in my opinion, President Obama and new NASA administrator, Bolden, need to:

1. increase the annual NASA budget by $3 billion
2. cancel the Ares 1 program
3. choose NASA's SD-HLV program to launch the Orion and Altair vehicles
4. begin fully funding the development of the Altair lunar landing vehicle as soon 2010

After the Orion, Altair, SD-HLV and new EDS vehicles are finally developed (perhaps as early as 2016!), the current shuttle can finally be retired and its $3 billion a year budget transferred to Orion and Altair HLV operations. But what will NASA do with the extra $5 billion a year in extra funds? Hopefully some of these extra funds will to used to build a continuously growing settlement on the Moon. But the rest should be utilized to develop the next generation of space vehicles designed for sending humans and habitat structures to Mars to begin the settlement of the Martian surface and for the exploitation of the natural resources of the moons of Mars.

NASA Budget info

Obama's NASA Decision

NASA's Ares Alternative: The Sidemount Shuttle

Blog Archive


Popular Posts