The Coming Augustine Pushback

Jeff Manber has some thoughts on the upcoming (and inevitable) backlash against the upcoming Augustine report.

I’m not sure I quite agree on his taxonomy of the opposition. Or rather, the limited degree to which he describes and breaks it down. I absolutely agree that to oppose any policy change simply because it’s Barack Obama’s is senseless, just as opposing the VSE was senseless when it was based on nothing other than the fact that it was proposed by George Bush (though many did that, by their own admission). But the Ares defenders come in (at least two flavors): those who truly believe that it’s a great idea, or at least that nothing better is like to replace it, and those for whom it is a meal ticket. I have much more respect for the former, delude though they may be. I have little for the latter, though their actions are certainly understandable. But they should not pretend that they have anything to do with advancing humanity, or this country, in space.

In any event, nothing good will come from such a backlash. It will either result in a continuation of the current disaster, with not more money to pay for it, and just a postponement of the inevitable, or continued drift and policy infighting. My fear is that the private sector will be collateral damage, if not a direct target.

[Sunday evening update]

Jeff Krukin thinks that political inertia will reign. Sadly, I think he’s right. That’s bad news for the taxpayers, but it’s overwhelmed by other bad news for the taxpayers in general on other larger fronts. And I hope that the private sector will prevail, though I fear it will not. Either way, if he’s right, the government will continue to do little to open up space, and much to prevent it, while spending billions of taxpayer dollars on programs that purport to do so.

10 thoughts on “The Coming Augustine Pushback”

  1. Mild disagreement on one item Rand. The Aries defenders that believe it is a great idea are deluding themselves as you say. That delusion is a form of lie directed within, and that is a dangerous thing. I will worry about deluded true believers more than the mercs.

  2. John Hare,

    Rand didn’t say that he feared them less, just that he respected them more. Because crazy is less odious than premeditated deception.

    In other news, I’m sure Mark Whittington (one of the deluded) will be happy to know that there are a whole class of people that Rand respects even less than he.

  3. One battle that might be worth fighting would be in defense of the rest of NASA, which may also be collateral damage.

    The NASA manned space program seems to have very different and highly conflicting interests to that of the rest of NASA. Any chance of a split? Would this be a good thing? Is this slowly happening anyway?

  4. Well in Huntsville the whining at the public Augustine forum was about jobs and how the Ares was the one true path, so it was about 50/50 there. This was at a meeting that was about 30 feet from the Saturn V sitting in this big building. The fact that it was there and never flew (yes I know it was a test article, but there are two flight models rusting in Florida and Texas), should provide some indication that such heavy lifters, with no other customer, is not a sustainable path.

    The problem in Huntsville is that there are just too many people who made fortunes (their sons and grandsons are the mercs), or their fame (their sons and grandsons are the deluded ones), and both camps think that the only way for them to have either, is to ride Ares.

    It is truly unfortunate that the nation does not care enough to fund a heavy lifter and never truly has, as if we did have the level of commitment to sustain such a beast a robust program that would underpin it, then it would be worth having. However, wishing for what is not going to happen is no substitute for a plan and right now that is all either of these camps have, a wish for something that is not going to happen.

  5. Of course there’s pushback. We’re talking about multiple billions of contracts at risk. Anybody who thought that sweet reason was going to hold up against that is among the truly clueless in America.

    The main problem I had with Jeff’s analysis is the idea that this is “Obama’s” space policy. Obama never had a space policy and has never given any sign of having had one. He only realized he needed one when some fool in the education policy side of his campaign stupidly put Florida at risk electorally because he was totally unaware of the repercussions of something he wrote on the campaign website. Then he inherited Lori from the Clinton campaign and said something like “keep me out of trouble on this issue until Election Day.” She did a good job of that and — here she is.

    At any rate, whatever decisions are taken will be made primarily on budgetary grounds, unless the Ares faction manages to marshal enough strength in Congress to make the administration decide that they need to keep their hands of this money and take it from someplace else, probably defense. Any arguments made on grounds such as which choice best supports America’s future in space are pretty much beside the point, although the winners will mine some of the rhetoric that happens to support their side for PR purposes.

  6. Jeff Krukin also seems to say some sensible things (click my name), something like no top level impetuous for and too much internal resistance against change, so do not expect anything much. But indifference from higher up probably also infers no significant funding help, now or in the future.

    I am not sure Constellation can survive without ever increasing funding, so something will have to give. This looks like a death march. Fighting over funding scraps might get vicious, might be safest for New Space to keep well clear.

  7. The NASA manned space program seems to have very different and highly conflicting interests to that of the rest of NASA. Any chance of a split?

    There may be a split within HSF as well. Wouldn’t the people working for the space station programme be natural allies? According to the Sally charts there isn’t enough money to do exploration, ISS and SDLV all at the same time. People working the ISS would likely think ISS is sacrosanct, and then it becomes SDLV vs exploration. I’ve updated my signature accordingly.

    And isn’t there a split between Alabama and Texas/Florida as well? As I understand it John Shannon’s Not-Shuttle-C would be designed by JSC and (obviously) run by KSC. That appears to be the big difference between it and DIRECT, which is a KSC/MSFC compromise instead.

  8. The star party at the White House on Wed night might create an opportunity to read the tea leaves on Obama’s thoughts for HSF. I personally find it hard to look through a telescope at objects in the sky without thinking about visits to whatever I’m looking at.

    Proponents of “Amateur Hour” and proponents of “NASA is incompetent” might both find confirmation for their theories in this short article:
    “” or click on my name.

  9. “But they should NOT pretend that they have anything to do with advancing humanity, or this country, in space.”

    Ya left out a word there, otherwise I agree compltely.

  10. I’m not sure I quite agree on his taxonomy of the opposition.

    The opposition seems very diverse. Some of it is sincere and some of it is potentially open to persuasion. These are not disjoint categories. A large part of it is fundamentally dishonest and will go to great lengths to invent imaginary pretexts for SDLV and imaginary disqualifications for commercial launchers.

    Having watched debates on various online forums I’ve come across different groups of people who are opposed to a more rational space policy:

    Those whose income depends on Constellation or SDLV. This is itself a diverse group and includes workers at MSFC/KSC/JSC, people living in districts that are affected economically, politicians representing those districts and various alliances between them. Their support can only be bought with pork.

    Those who like HLV or SDLV. If you care for human spaceflight only because you like watching the biggest rocket in the world/in history or something with SRBs and orange foam nothing less is going to do.

    Those who prefer government owned launchers. Some people on the center left may prefer to feel they are co-owners of the biggest rocket in the world rather than customers of commercial launch services. After all people working for the military industrial complex are part of the wrong tribe. You know, the one where status and authority are at least partially determined by effort and competence rather than demographics, connections and seniority.

    Those who think human spaceflight will only be funded if it leads to enough pork and who would rather have a corrupt space program than no program at all. They may even be right there will be no space program without pork.

    Those who think SDLV/HLV is needed for exploration/commercial development of space/space settlement. These are potentially open to persuasion. Settlement seems unlikely within the lifetime of anyone alive today and likely also within the lifetimes of their children and grandchildren. Those who dream of settlement within their lifetimes may be unwilling to let go of this dream and may prefer to cling to the false hope given by SDLV.

    I’m sure there are more categories.

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