11 December 2001
News - General (Bad)
Max Hunter Dies
Pioneering rocket engineer, dead at 79
by Patrick Collins
Maxwell Hunter, one of the America's most experienced rocket designers, died on November 10 at the age of 79, joining the sadly long list of people who should have been able to visit space for themselves.

Unlike so many others in the space industry, Max, as he was known to friends, was open to the idea of space tourism. He agreed that operating rockets like aircraft would create a sufficiently large market to bring down launch costs. As part of this, in recent years he wrote about the need for cost analyses to be extended out to "the far right-hand end of the demand curve". That is, most cost analyses consider at most tens of flights/year, since they are based on so-called "realistic" views of the launch market satellites. But passenger launch vehicles, like aircraft, will start with hundreds of flights/year and go on up to tens of thousands.

Such support from a figure as truly authoritative as Max was very welcome to Space Future and space enthusiasts everywhere. As one of very few people with experience of the rocket industry from before the "space race", he bore witness to how low-cost rockets can be. In the early 1950s even large missiles were developed on very small budgets.

Max told a classic story of how things changed once the arena became political and the US government started to "throw money at the problem". At the time he was working on a project that was estimated to cost $30 million or so; his boss came back from Washington and said they had been allocated more than $100 million. Max's advice to his boss was, "Don't let the team know how large your budget is." However, within just a few weeks, word leaked out and costs started to rise left and right - eventually exceeding even the huge new budget.

Sadly, rocket development has continued in this way to this day - the culmination being the farce of Nasa's ' X33' and ' X34' which cost $1.3 billion despite never even flying!

The problem arises because politicians are concerned with two things: that money should keep flowing to their districts - so higher costs are better than lower - and that whatever they do should *appear* as a success. Businesses of course are different: typically they're keen to earn profits, and so they have to perform. If they don't give customers what they want, then they disappear. But space agencies go on getting funded so long as they don't embarass the politicians who sponsor them.

Max Hunter visited Japan a few years ago to receive an Honorary Membership of the Japanese Rocket Society, to whom he was friendly and supportive of their pioneering work to realise space tourism. He was extremely disappointed at the degeneracy of Nasa and the huge waste of money and time it has caused in recent years - thereby ensuring that he too was unable to visit space as he should have.
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Patrick Collins 11 December 2001
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