Category Archives: Space & Campaign 2004

The Moral Equivalent Of A Space Program

On the day before the election, my analysis of the two candidates’ space policies can be seen at TechCentralStation.

[Update a few minutes later]

For what it’s worth, the Washington Times largely agrees with me.

[Update at 9:40 AM EST]

I should add that there are some more space policy and election pieces over at The Space Review this morning. Mark Whittington vigorously fisks one of them, in which Greg Zsidisin says that it’s basically immoral to vote for Bush, despite his better space policy.

And Jeff Foust has written the article on Hubble Servicing that I’ve been intending to write, but haven’t yet gotten around to. But he probably did a better job than I would have. Bottom line, with which I fully agree:

While a replacement spacecraft has the highest expected value in this study, it doesn

Still Asking the Wrong Questions

Keith Cowing has gotten his hands on a draft space policy document that’s apparently been floating around inside the Beltway. He thinks that it may provide some insight into potential Kerry space policy. If so, it sounds like business as usual (in terms of the continuing notion that NASA must remain in the lead of developing new human transportation systems).

As Keith writes:

I am struck by the rather superficial nature of the analysis being done. The paper either skims over important details or simply regurgitates technical descriptions gleaned from news reports and NASA documents. No obvious attempt is made to systematically compare and contrast various technical risks and then prioritize them in a fashion that offers a chance for larger conclusions to be derived. This document is just a laundry list. The only clear recommendations made by the authors have to do with their views on national space policy – something which would seem to be beyond the scope of what they were tasked to do in the first place.

There is also the issue as to the level of expertise in place at GWU to fully understand the technical operations of the shuttle and ISS. Looking at the project staff listed on GWU’s website no one seems to have any experience working with human spaceflight operations or systems or risk and safety analysis associated with human spaceflight. Of course, I have not seen the proposal they submitted – one which might list additional personnel with that expertise who are assisting in this project. None the less, this apparent lack of expertise in the area of human spaceflight and risk analysis is evident in many places in this paper.

Yes. John Logsdon is a great historian of the space program, but his policy prescriptions are often wrongheaded, because he fundamentally doesn’t understand the technology issues.

What I found most disturbing was this section:

The paper leaves a clear impression that the authors think that the shuttle system is very risky – perhaps too risky to continue flying. The paper goes on to make a broad observation that the shuttle should be flown much less often than NASA plans to fly it:

“Some individuals, although a small number of those interviewed by the GW team on a confidential basis, have gone so far as to assert that the Shuttle program should be permanently halted, the Orbiters permanently grounded, and the ISS limited in scope with certain elements not completed because of the risks presented by the ambitious launch schedule required to complete the ISS. These individuals with major safety concerns have also said that

Space Flip Flops

No, that’s not the footwear inside a space hotel–it’s more vacillation and issue straddling from the Kerry campaign, this time in the person of Lori Garver, his space advisor. Keith Cowing (a Kerry supporter) has the story. And as Jeff Foust points out, this just demonstrates how unimportant space is as a political issue, even to strong space supporters like Keith–despite the fact that a Kerry presidency would probably be disastrous on the issue, he remains a Kerry supporter, due to other issues that he thinks more critical.

Space Policy Presidential Debate

With no presidential candidates, ‘natch. It was Lori Garver representing the Kerry campaign vs Frank Sietzen representing the Bush campaign, and specifically Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration.

Jeff Foust has a brief summary, but there are lots of comments. Keith Cowing has a report as well.

I’ll have some thoughts of my own, and maybe even a column or two, after I get my computer and bandwidth problems sorted out, later this week.

Still Wishful Thinking

Here’s the web site of a group that claims to want to influence Senator Kerry’s space policy. I don’t really know what they have to say, though, since they make one fill out a form to even look at their site. It turned me off, and I suspect I’m not alone.

Dumb.

Keith Cowing has further thoughts on their apparent ignorance of (or indifference to) campaign finance laws. Of course, to be fair, many Democrats seem to think that such things only apply to the other side. You know, free speech for me, but not for thee.

Fair And Balanced

Keith Cowing has dug up some old pics of the president’s father in a bunny suit, too, from way back in 1981 when he was VP.

See, I run a non-partisan website here.

Kerry’s are still funnier, though.

[Update a few minutes later]

Keith says in comments that he cast a broad net, but that this was the only fish that turned up.

Note to Karl Rove: I think that it might be very effective for the president (in the interest of “changing the tone” and compassionate conservatism) to go down to the cape and have some bunnysuit shots taken of himself (though without the giant hose suppository shot). He could then make a speech honoring all the technicians and others who have to wear those outfits every day, but don’t normally get praised, and to use it (unlike Kerry) as an occasion to actually talk about space policy. It would look classy and be hard for the press to make fun of, while making Kerry’s response to this look even worse.

[Update a minute or so later]

D’oh!

A commenter beat me to the thought (I saw Keith’s comment in email, not by reading the comments).

Once again, it’s nice to have readers smarter than me.

The Kerry Space Bunny

…just keeps going, and going, and going

Here’s the latest from Florida Today. The Kerry people didn’t just shoot themselves in the unlucky rabbit’s foot on this one. They kept reloading:

Kerry’s campaign team asked for the pictures and helped pass them out to reporters, NASA said. Once the photos surfaced on Web sites and in newspapers, becoming joke fodder for pundits at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Kerry’s campaign got defensive.

The Kerry team hinted at dirty tricks. Campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said the pictures were not meant to go public.

NASA routinely photographs touring dignitaries and posts them online. Kerry’s group included four current or former U.S. senators. Two of them, Glenn and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne, flew in space. So there was nothing unusual about publicizing the photos…

…NASA did not elaborate on whether lawyers deemed the Kerry campaign event Monday was an improper use of the Visitor Center. Nor did the agency say how it differed from the ways other politicians have used NASA locations and high-profile space events for political purposes.

It’s wabbit season!

That’s what irritated me about this. There was no “high-profile space event” here. It was simply using a NASA center as a prop to talk about things that had nothing to do with space. It was purely a campaign event, and despite Lori Garver’s flimsy defense of him (and I like Lori), the senator continues to strike me as someone who is as profoundly unserious on the space issue as he is on all others, except for achieving his lifelong dream of being the second JFK.

Just A Stage Prop

I predicted in comments in this post that Senator Kerry would have nothing to say about space policy during his visit to Kennedy Space Center today.

I was right.

Well, at least it’s consistent with the party platform. There is zero evidence that he has any interest in space, and the president’s vision, such as it is, is almost certainly dead if he’s not reelected. At best, it appears that a Kerry space policy would be a return to the Clinton policy, based on the few things that he has said about it. As I said at the time, Democrats who are space enthusiasts are going to face a very tough choice in the voting booth this fall.

[Tuesday morning update]

Keith Cowing and Frank Sietzen have a relevant passage from their new book, on Kerry’s views on space.

What A Shock

There’s no mention of space policy in the Democrat Party platform. It mentions Apollo, but only as an example of how the nation can accomplish great (non-space-related) things when it sets its mind to it. As I noted in a comment there, it’s the old “if we can send a man to the moon, why can’t we solve world hunger?” platitudes.

No shock–there’s been no visionary space initiative on the part of any Democrat president since Kennedy (and I’d argue that even Kennedy’s wasn’t that visionary, since the vision was mainly to beat the Russians to the moon).

I would expect to see the president’s new vision in the Republican Party platform. It would be a monumental screwup, and indicative of its true priority, if it’s not.

Clueless Critics, Revisited

Jeff Foust points out a comment by Paul Spudis at Friday’s RTTM session, to the effect that people who think that the president made his announcement in January for political purposes in an election year are political ignoramuses.

I noted this myself at the time, and even named names of those ignoramuses. (Note that the article at the link says that Dwayne Day was on the Challenger Accident Investigation Board–that was a bit of brain flatulence that I’ve never been able to get Fox News to fix–it should read “Columbia.”)

New Thinking?

I noted a while ago that Kerry’s space policy sounded as though he wanted to return to the nineties. That may still be the case, but Jeff Foust says that there may be some new blood coming into his kitchen cabinet for space:

…one wonders if the briefing on SpaceShipOne may have influenced some of the language in the Kerry campaign’s technology policy released last month that advocates increased use of prizes by government agencies, mentioning the X Prize by name.

If so, a Kerry presidency might not be as disastrous for space policy as I previously feared. Which is not to say, of course, that I’ll vote for him.

Still Interested

President Bush is planning a speech in the next month or two addressing the new space policy (probably after the Aldridge Commission reports in early June).

Sources said Bush has been briefed on the hearings held by the commission and is awaiting its report to help frame his forthcoming remarks. Despite the approaching presidential election, the speech, which will reiterate Bush’s call for advanced human exploration of space, will not necessarily be made “in a political context.”

But you can bet it will be interpreted that way by people who don’t know any better.

Sources said although there has not been widespread support for the space plan since its debut, the president has felt no need to rush to make additional public comments. Bush has remained “highly enthusiastic” about his space proposal and his lack of additional mentions of the idea should not be taken as a cooling of interest, they said.

A Feminine Space Policy?

Dwayne Day says that this is what we seem to have.

It’s an interesting thesis, I guess, from a sociological standpoint, but I’m not sure how relevant it is to those of us trying to influence things for the better (i.e., in the direction of vastly larger numbers of people in space).

As I wrote to him when I saw a draft of this a couple weeks ago:

While “colonization” is clearly politically incorrect these days, I don’t think that leadership is, and there would have been no (or at least no more than he received anyway) negative repercussions from its usage.

The real problem with “leadership” as a goal is that it’s such a low bar. If there really were a race, and there really were one or more robust spacefaring nations on the planet, then leadership would be important, but sadly, as pathetic as the program has been for the past three decades, it’s still number one by almost any measure. The only real hope is for the private sector to go out and start kicking some butt.

Anyway, I wonder how necessary such language really is. It seems to me that the goo goos who go for this kind of language (“cooperation,” “exploration”) probably are unlikely to support space programs anyway. It might be better to use more robust language to get stronger support from those who do support it.

One of the disquieting things to me about the January 14th speech was that, after hearing it, I still wasn’t sure why we were doing it. Given that the Europeans aren’t going to like us regardless of what we do (short of castrating our economy with Kyoto, signing up with the ICC, etc.), we might as well state some clear economic and national security goals that are complemented by the exploration initiative.

Of course, I think that this is all orthogonal to our actual future in space, since regardless of the presidential justifications for it, government space programs are doomed to mediocrity by their nature, and we’ll have a sufficiently robust private sector in the next couple decades such that NASA will become superfluous.

[Thursday update]

As Dwayne notes in comments here, he expanded on this topic quite a bit in comments over at Jeff Foust’s place a few days ago.

I should also note that the discussion took an interesting side turn when the question was asked “What is exploration?” particularly as opposed to “science.” This is a very key question on which current policy rests, and I’m going to give it some thought, and its potential implications in a future post.

And Now For Something Completely Different

A partisan Mars blog.

I think that the notion that a Democrat president would be better for space than Bush is blindly wishful thinking. Based on the logo, much of this hopefulness seems based on the myth of Jack Kennedy as space visionary, when the record shows otherwise. Apollo was a unique event born of its times, and to think that just putting another JFK in the White House will somehow resurrect it is to misunderstand history. And in fact, the last thing that we need is a new Apollo, which there is unfortunately some danger that the president’s new initiative will become.

Neither party is very attuned to a vibrant space policy. They don’t even know, or are able to imagine, what one might look like, but at least we have made some progress under this administration, in terms of rationalizing FAA licensing rules, and starting a process that may get NASA out of the way of human flights to LEO.

While I’m not a single-issue voter when it comes to space, if I were, I’d probably vote for Bush, because Kerry has said nothing to indicate that his policy would be an improvement on the present one, and the natural inclination of Democrats is to fund things perceived to be closer to home. Walter Mondale is certainly more typical of potential Democrat space policy than is John F. Kennedy. If Yudel feels for whatever reason compelled to support the donkeys, then he should do so, but he shouldn’t fool himself that they’re going to get him, or anyone else, to Mars any time soon.

Full NASA Funding?

Frank Sietzen says that Congress is coalescing about a plan to do just that.

With the rapidly dwindling calendar — fewer than 60 legislative days actually remain before Congress recesses for the fall political campaign — next year’s federal spending may be wrapped into a continuing resolution that funds all non-defense and homeland security agencies at 2004 spending levels.

There is one exception to this outcome, sources said. That would be NASA, receiving the funding requested by Bush for 2005.

The breakthrough emerged during negotiations over the new Senate budget resolution, which sets a ceiling on federal spending. A bipartisan effort managed to amend the original NASA amount adopted — only a 1.4 percent boost for the space program — to restore nearly all of the $866 million the administration was seeking.

And for those who think that the administration’s silence on the subject, in the State of the Union and elsewhere, indicated that support for the new initiative was wavering, this explanation makes more sense:

According to congressional sources, several House members complained Bush has failed to say anything more about the moon-Mars plan since his Jan. 14 speech, and his silence has been interpreted as a cooling of support. The group was told the White House was silent, not because Bush was rethinking his grand space plan, but was instead trying to avoid further politicization.

One source told UPI that Bush would “keep his powder dry until the myths, legends, and political barbs on this strategy subside,” and the president probably would speak again about his space plan sometime late in his re-election campaign.

It’s not an obvious big vote getter, and the myths and legends about it (particularly the costs) have been well documented here and elsewhere, so it seems like a reasonable strategy to me. People shouldn’t infer support or lack of it from speeches by the president. Everything that I see going on at NASA, to the degree I have any visibility of it, indicates that plans continue to move forward.

I’m not a big fan of the president’s plan, as far as it’s been described, but I do like the fact that we’ve declared it national policy to go back to the moon and the rest of the solar system with humans. There’s plenty of time to fix the specifics of how that occurs, and I suspect that after the election perhaps more hard decisions will be made.

Kerry: NASA Friend or Enemy

An examination of John Kerry’s official campaign documents reveals some clues as to his general attitude towards the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the US space exploration agenda. Kerry categorically places NASA under his, “AGENDA FOR URBAN AMERICA” on the official Kerry campaign web site. That particular categorization might be a clue that points to the candidate’s view of the role of NASA in his presidential plans. NASA is bunched there in the same “urban” priority category as the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF is primarily in the lucrative and politically interesting business of handing out money to university based researchers. In other words, Kerry may view NASA primarily as a distributor of monetary grants for university based lab research. That is a politically sensible approach in view of the fact that academia is a an important and influential part of the Democrat party base in Kerry’s home region, the Atlantic Seaboard.

Most people have never worked in a major university research environment and may not understand the underlying significance of the interplay between the federal government’s rich and powerful grant giving machinery and the university recipients. It is politically convenient to label liberal college deans and professors as “elitist phonies” The actual relationship between universities and the Democrat party is a far more practical arrangement than the perceived “elitist” conspiracy that heartland Republicans routinely rally against. The people working in academia realize that probably the quickest way to become ostracized by your colleagues is to shift over to the right of the political spectrum and start questioning the status quo of the government-university cash cow. Grants pay for campus buildings, labs, and facilities. Most significantly, research grants pay the salaries of faculty and staff. A good grant writer is a cherished university employee.

Federal research grants are essentially the academic equivalent of “pork-barrel” spending. President John F. Kennedy used the “grant carrot” to win over the support of university president’s when the late-President proposed the Apollo program. The traditional grant recipients— such as those people who count how many worms of some obscure subspecies still exist in some muddy creek in lower Kentucky– made loud noises in university president’s offices when they feared that Apollo spending would mean the end of their grant funds as Apollo ramped up and gobbled up federal grant dollars. JFK locked up the support of university leaders by promising millions of dollars to build new engineering schools, labs, and even enough funding to justify the creation of entire new universities, e.g. the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

The NSF, NASA, as well as the National Institutes for Health fit well into the urban agenda of a politician who seeks support from academics, university presidents and city politicians from those major urban areas where the bulk of research dollars wind up. Kerry states that NASA’s “technological advances (are) transferable to people with disabilities, and could enhance their capacity to work.” That position is admirable and those transfers should and must be made, but where is Kerry’s vision for NASA beyond converting existing space technology for practical use?

Kerry does not even mention human spaceflight or any program of space “exploration” to occur outside of the 1G environments of university labs. He apparently views NASA as a useful grant-generating machine. PhD researchers, school deans, school presidents, and a few thousand-lab technicians will be the primary direct beneficiaries of this aspect of NASA funding. The big losers will be the NASA centers that focus on sending “researchers” into microgravity (KSC, MSFC, and JSC) if Kerry’s space vision is limited to restoring “the government’s commitment to scientific achievement through increases in research funding for the Department of Energy, NASA, and the National Science Foundation”, through his stated urban strategy.

Kerry lists 28 priority issues on his web site. Space exploration is not in that list., Kerry claims that, “More than 425,000 technology jobs have been lost on President Bush

Howard The Red (Planet)

Emailer Alan Bryan points out this little vignette from the WaPo:

Dallas, Tex.: If elected President, what are your plans for NASA and the Space Program? Do you think it’s time to retire the Shuttle and move on to bigger and better things, such as a human mission to Mars, or returning to the moon?

Howard Dean: I am a strong supporter of NASA and every government program that furthers scientific research. I don’t think we should close the shuttle program but I do believe that we should aggressively begin a program to have manned flights to Mars. This of course assumes that we can change Presidents so we can have a balanced budget again.

[VOICE=Edna Krabapple]

Hah! A Democrat president who can balance the budget.

[/VOICE]

Well, actually, maybe, assuming that he retains a Republican congress…

Anyway, this is meaningless for two reasons. First, he’s not going to be elected (and this stance will do nothing to help–it’s more likely to hurt), and second, the last time we had a Democrat announce a mission to another world, it ended up with flags and footprints, and no sustaining infrastructure. There’s no reason to think that this would be any different.

Jay Manifold has some additional thoughts.