KLYDE MORRIS.COM was contacted by a SpaceX senior engineer, who requested to remain anonymous, and given the inside information on the rumored SpaceX Falcon 9 Bravo-Alpha launch vehicle said to be in the planning stages.

“What’s really important here at SpaceX,” the source said, “is how bad-ass a project is, or as we like to say- how Bravo-Alpha it is.”

Recently rumors have been floating around in the SpaceX fanboy community, of a new huge and amazingly powerful booster being designed called the Falcon 9 Bravo-Alpha.

“The Bravo-Alpha launch vehicle has been undergoing a lot of study,” the source confirmed, “just because it’s so Bravo-Alpha.”

According to fanboy sources on internet spaceflight forums, the Falcon 9 Bravo-Alpha will be a standard Falcon 9 1.1 booster with eight more Falcon 9s strapped around it in a cluster.

“It’ll be sort of like a Saturn IB,” the source explained, “only way, way more Bravo-Alpha. I mean we’re talkin’ 81 engines here, that’s 11.7 million pounds of thrust. Now that is so Bravo-Alpha that Elon tweeted us to just do it.”

KLYDE MORRIS.COM asked if making such a rocket was even possible?

“Who cares if it’s possible,” the source quipped, “at SpaceX we don’t even consider what is or isn’t possible all that’s important is how Bravo-Alpha it is.”

When KLYDE MORRIS.COM asked how soon SpaceX expected to have the new mega-booster ready to fly, the source explained that it should take five to seven years to fully design, build and test the vehicle, so Elon gave them eight months to get it done.

“Each of the nine cores will be fly-back, reusable stages.” the source told KLYDE MORRIS.COM.

When asked where SpaceX planned to land these nine returning rocket stages, the source simply shrugged and stated that they would probably just bulldoze and cement over a couple more of those old Atlas launch complexes at Cape Canaveral.

Of course the question remains, what would such a huge booster be used for?

“Like that matters?” the source chuckled.

Asked how SpaceX will fit this Falcon 9 Bravo-Alpha into their perpetually overloaded launch schedule, the source replied,

“We’ll probably do it the way we do everything else. We’ll fly a few more Falcon 9 1.1s, then scrap that vehicle in favor of the Falcon 9 Heavy and after a few flights we’ll scrap that for the Falcon 9 Bravo-Alpha.”

As KLYDE MORRIS.COM asked the source if the real reason for having the huge Falcon 9 Bravo-Alpha was to loft all of the heavy payloads needed to assemble a real Star Wars Millennium Falcon in space that Elon Musk can fly himself, our source suddenly vanished in a brilliant flash of light before he was able to answer.


The day the first Klyde appeared

February 14th, 1978, the day that the first Klyde Morris cartoon appeared in the Avion newspaper at Embry-Riddle. It was a day that I remember quite clearly. I had gotten the go-ahead to submit the cartoon the previous Thursday and now, less than a week later it was coming out in print. This was Avion day on campus and the papers were set out at assorted locations at about noon. For the rest of the afternoon everyone had an Avion and was intently reading it. Klyde would be on page 2, the Editorial Page and located in the bottom left corner, so when people opened the paper, there it would be. There were no other cartoons done by students in the Avion at that time- especially on page 2.

As a second term freshman I rode to campus that day on the rickety powder blue bus that transported us from the over-flow housing at the Royal Scottish Inn (the “RSI” in Riddle speak), which was anything but “Royal” to the main campus. ERAU had expanded enrollment that year and effectively doubled the student population from 2,500 to 5,000 the previous fall. Some 50% of which had dropped out by Thanksgiving and less than 15% of us returned for the spring term. So, the university brought in another few thousand and kept the population at around 5,000. To say there were growing pains would be more than an understatement. Classrooms were packed, dorms were filled, extra sections of courses were created on the fly and registration was a nightmare. Students began dropping out as soon as classes started. Many had come to ERAU for quite the wrong reason, such as the beach, parties (that were beyond rare), girls (which were even more rare- I think they numbered about a dozen when I started) and the “fun of flying” (at ERAU, flying is a profession- it’s serious- it ain’t just for fun). One guy who was in the RSI with me never attended classes, only flew a little bit and used most of his time spending his dad’s money customizing his van in the RSI’s parking lot. At the end of our freshman year, he got in it and simply drove away, never to be seen again. Thus ERAU was ripe for some cartoon satire and I just happened to have been born with the cynic/satire gene… now, it would be in print.

As each of us stepped off of the bus at the University Center (“UC” in ERAU speak) we each nabbed an Avion out of the rack. I opened mine on the spot and there was my cartoon. It didn’t look too bad either- considering that it had been drawn in ballpoint pen. Stuffing it into my book pouch I trotted off to the GRW complex and my NAV 1 class. I sat in the back and watched as the other guys came in, sat down and opened their Avions.

The guy in front of me looked at the front page, opened to the second page, scanned it, flipped to the Fraternity page! Nothin’! Not a laugh or a giggle… nothin’.

Another guy opened his and simply went right to the sports page!

The next person went right past too!

Again and again and again everyone either went right past my cartoon or had zero reaction! I’d expected a laugh or two or perhaps even a snicker, but there was just nothin’!

After class I shuffled around the UC to see if anyone there may have a sense of humor, but it all looked the same. Apparently no one thought much of a dumb cartoon drawn by an oddball freshman. On the bus ride back to the RSI people were reading the Avion, yet again no one said anything about my cartoon. I took a little comfort that at least no one was making fun of it. Later that day it began to rain one of those depressing Florida February rains… how fitting. Riding the bus back to campus for dinner that evening I pondered whether it was worth doing another cartoon. It may be better to save myself the embarrassment. One of the sayings in the ERAU flight department was, “death before embarrassment.” As we arrived at the UC and the bus door opened I made my way down the steps. There, sitting soaked in the gutter was an Avion, turned with my cartoon face-up. The guy ahead of me stepped on it!

Of course the folks at the Avion wanted more cartoons and insisted that they were “great” although I thought that the staff was just trying to make me feel better. What I did not know, and I would not figure out until the following autumn term, was that in places where I was not around, the cartoon was actually an instant hit- especially with the university staff and faculty. Of greatest importance, and again unknown to me was it was a hit with the Dean of Student Affairs Jeff Ledewitz and it was a major hit with University President Jack Hunt. In fact, shortly after the first cartoons I got a message in my box saying that Dr. Ledewitz wanted to “speak to me.” Then I got word that President Hunt was “Looking for me.” I was terrified! Here I was the son of two parents who had never finished high school, going to a prestigious university and I thought I was going to get kicked out because of a cartoon that drew! My folks would surely kill me.

For the better part of two weeks I dodged Ledewitz until one day his secretary came up to the Avion office with a copy of my ID with my picture and looking around the office spotted me. “You!” she said pointing to me- the most pail one in the room, “Dr. Ledewitz wants to see you, come on with me.” As it turned out he simply wanted to compliment me and say that he loved the strip. A couple of decades later he told me, “I expected to meet this wild and crazy guy, but you were really quiet and humble.” I explained that it was because I thought he was gonna expel me!

In or meeting, I did not say much and as I was leaving, Ledewitz said, “Oh, by the way, President Hunt is looking for you.” Oh GREAT, so the axe is gonna come from the top I thought. Fortunately, I did not see much of President Hunt for the rest of that term. We all knew that Jack Hunt knew EVERY student on our campus either by name, face, reputation, or all of the above- so there was no place to hide. One day, just before final exams I was coming down the stairs in the UC leaving the Avion office and across the dining room on the far right side, through the doors comes President Hunt! Holy shit! I got to the bottom and ducked around the corner into the hall pinning myself up against the wall as if escaping an assassin. After a few moments I peeked around the corner and Hunt was apparently gone. Gathering my wits I strolled toward the cafeteria entrance just beyond the pillars. As I walked past the last pillar something grabbed my left arm, “GOTCH!” President Hunt said jerking me around… he had been lurking behind the pillar in wait of me. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am not difficult to surprise- I am damned near impossible to surprise, but Hunt got me for sure. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was trying to live on one meal a day and had not eaten that day I’d have shit my pants. Of course President Hunt simply wanted to tell me how much he loved my cartoon strip and then he invited me to stop into his office anytime to just sit and talk about anything, “You’ll find that my door is always open to you.” he said. Some 30 years later, Dean Rockett would inform me that I was one of only TWO students to which President Hunt ever afforded that privilege. Rockett would not tell me who the other student was.

Of course I took President Hunt at his word and often rode my bicycle to the administration building and simply walked in to sit and talk. His secretary would just wave me on it. In one of those conversations, President Hunt really made it clear what my position was in his eyes and what my responsibility was as the cartoonist of the now quite popular strip. To this day I recall the exact words of that conversation;

“I don’t think you realize how much power you have.” Hunt said to me as I scoffed at the prospect. “If you were to draw a cartoon saying that the students should break out all of the windows in the University Center, the next day I would be getting calls from security telling me that windows in the UC were broken.”  I was stunned. “Oh God President Hunt,“ I gasped, “I’d NEVER do anything like that!” He just leaned back in his chair and looking at me over that huge snifter of iced tea that he always had on his desk he smiled and said, “Exactly. That’s why you’re the right person to be doing what you’re doing. Our university is going through growing pains, and we’ll be going through them for a long time to come. It’s better to have the students taking out their frustrations by seeing you lampoon me and things in that cartoon strip rather than taking it out on our property or my security staff.”

That day I came a long way from that depressing Valentine’s Day when the first strip came out and ended up soaking wet in the gutter.



Cartoon by John Atkinson

Standing on the upper deck of my home and looking out across Chesapeake Bay toward the Atlantic I spotted a tiny orange pinpoint of light screaming across the clear winter sky. Traveling from south to north and elevated just about where a Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS) should be (back in the days when we had a shuttle), I was sure that I was watching the SpaceX Falcon 9 boosting the Cargo Resupply (CRS) 5 mission. Freezing my tail off at just before five o’clock in the morning I did my best to keep my eye on that pinpoint of orange light. Suddenly it flashed bright white! I thought to myself, “that must be MECO” or Main Engine Cutoff. The pinpoint was gone for about as long as it took for me to whisper that thought to myself and then there was a second flash that was about three times brighter. Stepping back into the house I heard over my computer that MECO had taken place and the Dragon spacecraft was on its way to the ISS. The CRS-5 mission had been successfully launched.

That is what this launch of this Falcon 9 was actually all about; the CRS-5 mission. Yet for many in the SpaceX fan club, the CRS-5 mission took a back seat to something that seemed way more “cool.” That something was an attempt by SpaceX to soft-land the Falcon 9’s first stage on a barge positioned out in the Atlantic Ocean. For months there has been an Internet orgy of drooling speculation and fantasy about how awesome that first landing was going to be. Often, without a single consideration of the complexity involved in landing a huge rocket stage on a floating barge, the rabid fans raved on from behind their keyboards. Indeed this was not only going to be awesome, but SpaceX, according to their fans, was going to make it look easy. In the end the stage ended up crashed in pieces all over the barge and the fans were left to mumble, “bummer.”

Yet this was not a “bummer” at all- in fact it was an amazing accomplishment. Sure the true mission of the launch was to place in orbit the CRS-5 Dragon spacecraft, which SpaceX successfully did. That said, a secondary developmental aspect of the flight was to attempt to soft land the Falcon 9 first stage- something that could be considered nearly impossible.  On a previous attempt, they managed to hit the Atlantic Ocean and gained data on how to further advance effort. This time they actually hit the barge. Again they have gained a large volume of data and what this means is that SpaceX is now much, much closer to actually solving the equation and accomplishing the soft landing of a spent first stage.

Of course they are still nowhere near routinely landing these stages on dry land as if they were Thunderbird 3. The local political and especially environmental roadblocks will likely be more difficult to overcome than the engineering of the landing itself. Additionally it is important to keep in mind that SpaceX is struggling to consistently get their Falcon 9 version 1.1 off the ground on a routine basis and thus their demonstrating the ability to get the stages landed on a routine basis is probably nowhere in sight. Add to that the fact that SpaceX is planning to launch their Falcon 9 Heavy, which consists of three Falcon 9 boosters strapped together, and return them in a fly-back landing. Now they will have three huge thrusting boosters headed for Florida’s space coast simultaneously. Not the sort of thing that the owners of the huge cruise ships docked at nearby Port Canaveral, or the owners of expensive hotels and condominiums really want to mention to their insurance companies.

So, was Saturday morning’s crash of the Falcon 9 first stage on its target barge something to be gloomy about? No. That is, unless you would look at an encyclopedia of data filled with clues on how to accomplish the near-impossible and be bummed out about it. My bet is that as you read this SpaceX engineers are eagerly sifting through that data so they can apply changes to their next attempt as Elon Musk breathes down their necks.



I’m not sayin’ it’s impossible

A few days ago I was reading a spaceflight forum and one of the SpaceX super-fans had started a pole asking others of his ilk “How many (Falcon 9) cores will SpaceX recover in 2015?” Of course by “recover” the question addressed the new fly-back first stage configuration of the Falcon 9 version 1.1 and the term “core” was a new-space term for that same first stage.

For those of you who have not been following SpaceX closely, the plan is for the Falcon 9’s first stage to, after staging, fall away and then re-ignite  and use its engines to slow it to the point where landing legs can be deployed to allow it to soft-land and be used again. The first of these sorts of recoveries is supposed to take place on a specially designed barge out in the Atlantic. It is an operation that has never been done previously.

Reading the comments in the SpaceX super-fan’s thread I kept seeing the other fans answering and predicting that the number of recovered cores in 2015 would be “4” or “5.” Over and over again these two numbers were in the replies. It reminded me of that old Saturday Night Live sketch by Comedy writer Robert Smigel of the Chicago Bears super-fans, “Da Bearss,” where the question may be how many Super Bowls will “Da Bearss” win? And the answers from the super-fans, over huge mugs of beer, would be something like, “4” or “5” or “25” or, “minimum 50” all without a shred of reality applied. That was the joke, and it made me laugh- just like the SpaceX super-fans vote of 5 recovered Falcon 9 cores in 2015; there’s not a shred of reality. To me the more plausible vote would actually be one or maybe even zero.

Even Elon Musk admits that the odds of recovering the first of these fully fly-back able boosters, which currently sits at Cape Canaveral after having its launch scrubbed, is about 50/50. Yet, personally, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am saying that getting this first attempt to land successfully on-target and intact is an incredibly complex operation involving factors that, in many cases, cannot be overcome with better software.

Additionally, before SpaceX can recover the stage, they have to get it off the ground. Scrubs seem to have become a habit with SpaceX along with schedule slips. The specific reasons are many and sometimes, such as cases where weather is the culprit, they are unavoidable. Yet when launching a resupply mission to the ISS, a simple hold in the count can scrub the entire day’s effort. The reason for this is that the Falcon 9 has a limitation in its overall power that allows the vehicle to launch to the ISS with only an instantaneous launch window. Thus it must launch precisely on time or the Dragon spacecraft will not be able to rendezvous with the station. So, a call of “Hold, hold, hold” equates to “Scrub, scrub, scrub.”

Everyone should keep in mind that the Falcon 9 series of boosters are extremely complex vehicles that are being asked to do unimaginably complex things. Thus just getting one off the ground in the first place is an amazing accomplishment. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying that it ain’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. But to add to that foundation of complexity, SpaceX has the self-implemented fault of almost never launching the vehicle in the same configuration. Instead they try to leap-frog through the development by adding new game-changing stuff as almost every launch comes along.

The CRS-5 mission that was scrubbed today, (Tuesday January 6th) and has bunches of the SpaceX super-fans betting on how many cores their favored team will recover this year, was a mission to re-supply the ISS. That is what the American tax payers are supposed to be funding. That is what SpaceX proved that they could do with the Falcon 9 Version 1.0. I doubt that there was anything in that deal that involved fly-back cores or landing legs or anything else from “Tom Corbett Space Cadet,” (perhaps “The Thunderbirds” would be closer to Musk’s era). The mission is straight forward; fly cargo to the ISS and return cargo to earth. In spite of what the SpaceX super fans may think, the mission is ISS resupply and nothing more.

“The fly-back and recovery system had nothing to do with today’s scrub” the super-fan would reflexively bark back as easily as making their vote for “5.” Correct, yet it has added to the complexity of the overall mission. The more complex that the overall mission becomes the greater the possibility that small, yet critical things will be overlooked and may fail. SpaceX would be doing the US taxpayer a better service by simply launching the CRS Dragon on a proven Falcon 9, version 1.0, but those are no longer in vogue, now are they super-fans?

Another factor in my vote of “zero” is the ever increasing and over-reaching schedule set up annually by SpaceX for launches. In 2014 they projected that they would get 12 launches off the ground, they accomplished only 6. Now, for 2015 the projection is 15 launches. When any organization has a program with such complexity, where EVERY aspect must function every time, the pressure on the people attempting to meet an over-reaching schedule is so great that through human factors alone the end goals slip farther and farther from the organization’s grasp. The schedule goes from being ambitious to being caustic.

Even if Elon Musk wins his 50/50 bet (let’s face it folks, he is a born winner) and actually succeeds in soft-landing and recovering the CRS-5 first stage or “core” as the super-fans call it. The event is a far cry from doing the same thing repeatedly  4, or even 3 more times in the next 12 months. In fact people, such as myself, who actually are looking at SpaceX and wanting them to succeed will be happy if they just get 4 launches in a row off the ground on-time and on-date. Frankly, that would demonstrate far more to some of us than playing Thunderbird 3 with a Falcon 9 first stage.

Can the Falcon 9 version 1.1 one day become a workhorse for spaceflight? Well, when considering that question also consider the Atlas Centaur. The first version of that booster sat on the pad so long that the Cape Canaveral pad rats nick-named it “the civil servant” because it didn’t work and you couldn’t fire it. When it finally launched it flew for a total of 55 seconds before it crumpled into a fireball. The fifth Atlas Centaur got up about two feet and blew itself to pieces scattering bits of Atlas and Centaur, as well as the launch tower far and wide. In all 3 out of the first 5 of those boosters failed and suffered from multiple scrubs. Eventually, however, the Atlas Centaur went on to become one of the most trusted launch vehicles in the US inventory serving the Air Force and NASA from 1962 until 2004. So, I’m not saying it’s impossible for SpaceX and the Falcon 9 boosters to do great things- including landing a fly-back booster. But I’m also not saying “Da Baress” either.