Me Versus Neil

In which I express my disappointment with Neil Armstrong and other Apollo-era NASA heroes, over at AOL News..

[Update a few minutes later]

Representative David Wu attempts to defend the status quo:

In testimony before the House Science and Technology Committee on Feb. 25, NASA administrator Charles Bolden admitted that his agency had not conducted a single market survey on the potential costs of privatizing space exploration. Instead, the administration relied solely on information provided by the aerospace industry when formulating its plans for privatizing the human spaceflight program. While these estimates may indeed be accurate, we cannot know for sure what the potential costs associated with this dramatic move will be without independent, unbiased estimates.

Simply put, the president’s vision lacks clearly defined objectives and metrics for measuring success. The administration cannot adequately explain where the space program’s shifted focus will lead. And the president’s justification for privatizing human space exploration relies on the proverbial fox guarding the hen house. The American people deserve better.

You don’t get costs from a “market survey.” If you want to get independent cost estimates, that’s the kind of thing that Aerospace does. And, hey, what do you know? They did that.

And as for foxes and chicken coops, yeah, let’s let NASA, that has wasted untold tens of billions in failed attempts to make serious progress in human spaceflight, and seems to be getting worse by the decade, have fifty billion more, with no oversight.

The American people do deserve better. Finally, there’s a chance that they will get better, rather than a certainty of continued expensive stagnation.

Meanwhile, over at Popular Mechanics, I set the stage for the president’s speech today.

[Update a few minutes later]

Over at Public Radio International, Warren Olney’s To The Point is talking about the new space policy today. They were going to have me on (I’ve been on Warren’s shows before, but only “Which Way LA“), but I suggested that Jeff Greason might be even better (not that I would have been bad) so I think he’ll be on. Check your local NPR listings. It’s on at noon, PDT in LA (the same time as the speech, unfortunately). But you can stream it from KCRW’s site. And they’ll archive it.

24 thoughts on “Me Versus Neil

  1. ken anthony

    Are you being too enthusiastic about the new approach? While it’s definitely better as you have well indicated in the article, it’s not like we can trust them to get it right.

  2. Mark R. Whittington

    Yeah, it is certainly not Neil’s space program. His had a goal and accomplished it. Aside from vague visions of thousand of people flying in space, Obamaspace has no goal and certainly no means to accomplish one even if it had one.

  3. Coastal Ron

    I think Charles Miller and Jeff Foust stated it well in their June 2008 Space Review article (before the 2008 election), that what the country needs to achieve the Vision for Space Exploration is to “Build an Industry, Not a Program”.

    Constellation, as a massive government program, was sucking the life from programs both inside and outside of NASA. It was not doing anything to lower the cost to access space, and it was not doing anything to instigate new uses of space by our commercial space industry.

    The proposed direction starts the hand off of space access responsibility from the government to U.S. private industry. Just as the government still retains overall control of our water, ground & air transportation system, so too will they over space. I have no doubt they’ll create the space equivalent of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, which will guarantee their ability to use commercial assets in a time of need.

    We can get to the Moon faster with an entire industry providing new innovation, rather than NASA trying to decide everything. It’s like the Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. It’s time for NASA to be the teacher, not the doer, and let the students flourish.

  4. ken anthony

    Just as the government still retains overall control of our water, ground & air transportation system

    The FAA was designed to provide a service, not be a controller (even air traffic control doesn’t control aircraft, it applies FARs to separate them to a specific standard. Pilots have the final responsibility to control the aircraft.)

    Getting away from government control is one of the most appealing things about settling space.

  5. ken anthony

    Can you imagine the EPA telling settlers on a moon of a gas giant (around another star?) what quality controls they must follow?

  6. Chris L.

    “Can you imagine the EPA telling settlers on a moon of a gas giant (around another star?) what quality controls they must follow?”

    I can’t, but my guess is someone from the EPA could. Never underestimate the ability of a bureaucrat to imagine such things. These are the same people who have classified carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

  7. Ed Minchau

    Aside from vague visions of thousand of people flying in space, Obamaspace has no goal

    Such a goal is worthy by itself, because once reached it would be self-perpetuating. That allows NASA to concentrate on its next step, and the next one after that. If you’re going to have a NASA, you may as well have it doing something useful.

  8. Coastal Ron

    Ken Anthony said “FAA was designed to provide a service…” and “Getting away from government control is one of the most appealing things about settling space.”

    I have a couple of thoughts, but I also wonder if you read much history or science fiction? The history of exploration is that when enough people get far enough away from the center of power (i.e. a government), then they are likely to form their own local government. That’s what happened with the U.S., and is one of the possible outcomes when enough people get to space. I’d say that this issue would be a wonderful problem to have, since that means we’re moving around the solar system doing stuff. This will only happen with a robust commercial space industry.

    Regarding government control, you’re forgetting the more elemental points of control like vehicle registration and certification. Without it you can’t provide a service, and that is the initial point of control for any government. That’s the point where the U.S. can instigate a CRAF requirement, which should alleviate the concerns of how the government can get to space on-demand. They would have to pay for the service, but everyone knows that you could get bumped from your tourist flight in a “time of need”.

  9. Coastal Ron

    I can imagine Mark R. Whittington saying 100 years ago about the U.S. buying airplanes “Aside from vague visions of thousand of people flying in the air…” ;-)

  10. bbbeard

    Rand, I don’t know where you found this faith in Obama’s veracity. Obama, like many liberals, hates the space program and would prefer to spend the money on social programs. When did Obama first tell us he planned to cancel Constellation? It was in his position paper on early childhood education: he planned to pay for his expansive vision for child care by cancelling the manned space program. The cancellation has nothing to do with the technical and economic merits of government vs private space exploration. Between then and now the administration has concocted a storyline about investment in R&D in order to co-opt New Space advocates such as yourself, and you have fallen hook, line, and sinker for this pipe dream. Once Constellation is dead and archived, I think you will see that increased funding for New Space will evaporate as quickly as campaign promises to raise taxes only on the rich.

    This decision is about “fundamentally changing America”, which in this case means renting space on Russian launch vehicles so that everyone can understand the superiority of the communist system.

  11. Rand Simberg Post author

    Rand, I don’t know where you found this faith in Obama’s veracity.

    Who said I have faith in Obama’s veracity?

    When did Obama first tell us he planned to cancel Constellation? It was in his position paper on early childhood education: he planned to pay for his expansive vision for child care by cancelling the manned space program.

    I doubt if he even knew about that. It was just a clueless education staffer.

    Between then and now the administration has concocted a storyline about investment in R&D in order to co-opt New Space advocates such as yourself, and you have fallen hook, line, and sinker for this pipe dream.

    I haven’t “fallen” for anything. I just think that it’s better to have a good stated policy than a terrible one.

  12. wintermuted

    If the president hates the space program so much, why would he propose a budget increase for NASA? If he waned to use the money for something else, wouldn’t he at least just keep the budget the same, if not cut it? I can understand if you would prefer a different direction for the space program, but what you said just doesn’t make any sense.

  13. gs

    From the linked AOL News article: Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., is chairman of the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation.

    The House Science and Technology Committee’s Subcomittee on Space and Aeronautics is chaired by Gabrielle Giffords (AZ).

    I wonder whether or not Wu is speaking for Giffords.

  14. Bill White

    Buzz Aldrin in USA Today (today)

    Broadly supportive of Obama’s plan, with differences, such as:

    I also differ with the president’s plan in a few critical ways, one being that we should keep the space shuttle in flight while we develop a heavy-lift launch vehicle. This should be a national priority. These investments will give us a solid basis for the civil space program for decades to come.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2010-04-15-column15_ST2_N.htm

    Buzz was on Air Force One with Obama when they landed at KSC a few minutes ago.

  15. Robert Horning

    Perhaps Neil Armstrong is also supportive of returning NASA to 5% of the federal budget? That is not going to be the case, and for those who are insisting that NASA have defined goals and destinations in mind for vehicle development, two things I’d like to point out:

    1) Been there and done that. The “Moon, Mars, and Beyond” program was precisely that sort of defined goals that never really happened for a whole bunch of reasons, including the costs. Nearly every U.S. President since Nixon has had at least as a long term goal of getting to Mars… eventually. It could be argued about how serious these men were about that goal, but it was and still is stated as the eventual goal.

    2) Neither I nor 99% of all Americans see any real pressing national interst in pushing for a goal of like going to Mars in such a way that we must restructure the economic fabric of the country in order to meet that goal. The Manhatan Project was one such engineering/R&D task that simply had to be done. Either Nazi Germany would have atomic weapons first, or it would be America. With stakes that high, dumping billions and in inflation adjusted money trillions of dollars on such a project was certainly worth the effort. As for going to the Moon in the 1960’s, in spite of all of the wishful sentiments like “we came in peace for all mankind”, the real purpose was to get to the Moon first so that nobody else could claim that hunk of real estate over our heads. While what ended up happening was that the U.S. State Department took the Moon out of everybody’s hands, the Apollo project was precisely a race to establish territorial jurisdiction over the Moon. There certainly is no similar kind of need or even desire on the part of any nation to claim or assert territorial jurisdiction over Mars. Why should we re-create the Manhattan Project for going to Mars this time?

    I suppose if some sort of alien species threatening to destroy the Earth unless we got to Mars in the next five years could provide such motivation, but that is purely a science fiction story and not something realistic. Besides such motivation, why should we dump another quarter to half a trillion dollars into Constellation over the next several decades?

  16. John Marshall

    I know how you came to your opinion. It was in your self decribing title ” business consultant, and serial entrepreneur”. You stand to make money off the deal. Even at the expense of our country. Didnt change my mind a bit, think I’d rather trust Mr. Armstrong and Mr. hawking’s opinion rather than yours.

  17. Paul D.

    Even at the expense of our country.

    John, you can stop pretending to admire the NASA emperor’s clothes. There was no “there” there.

  18. Art

    Finally, a space plan based on what we are going to do, not on how much money we can spend.
    Now we start to hear from engineers and entepreneurs rather than accountants.
    50 years of NASA control has left us with tight government control over everything concerning space, including thought. Free the private entities who have an idea of profit from space, and we will never look back. With any luck, this new direction from NASA will finally open up space, rather than the constricted use we have seen so far. At least, I hope so!

  19. Stephen Fleming

    Robert Horning: “Trillions”? Please. The Manhattan Project cost $2 billion in 1945 dollars, which equates to about $24 billion in current dollars. Inflation is bad, but not THAT bad.

    To put it another way, Ares I plus Orion would have cost the equivalent of TWO Manhattan Projects.

Comments are closed.