Good News, Bad News

The new national space policy is out. Jeff Foust has some related links and initial thoughts.

First, the good news (and this is assuming that the people I’m linking are correct — I haven’t had time to read through it myself). As Clark points out, the policy to support NASA’s chartered requirement to encourage maximize the use of commercial activity now has a lot more detail. As Gary Hudson notes in comments, any sane reading of it kills the Orion lifeboat, at least as a sole-source Lockmart cost-plust ($4.5B?!) program.

The bad news, as related in this discussion kicked off by Neil Halelamien at NASA Spaceflight, is that the overall human spaceflight goals have been weakened considerably (per the comment from Bill White). I didn’t expect (and don’t care all that much) that the moon is no longer a goal (as I said, we’ll probably have a new policy in a less than three years anyway, and the old one wasn’t getting us to the moon). But it looks to me like the main thrust of the VSE has been lost, if true. The 2006 policy (which was based in part on the 2004 VSE), said that the goal was to “implement and sustain an innovative human and robotic exploration program with the objective of extending human presence across the solar system.”

The new policy deletes this and apparently replaces it with: “Pursue human and robotic initiatives to develop innovative technologies, foster new industries, strengthen international partnerships, inspire our Nation and the world, increase humanity’s understanding of the Earth, enhance scientific discovery, and explore our solar system and the universe beyond.”

From the standpoint of extending humans into space beyond earth, this is pretty weak tea in comparison. It in fact doesn’t require it. “Human and robotic initiatives” could mean having people in the space station monitoring robots exploring Mars. It doesn’t require humans on Mars, or anywhere beyond LEO (and perhaps even that). It could even just mean that humans at JPL will mind the robots. It all comes back to the outdated and useless notion that NASA is only about “science” and exploration. The old policy contained the word “explore,” but it was clearly much more than that, in its extending human presence language. The new policy has reverted to the exploration goal as an end in itself, rather than a means, and is a huge step backwards.

I don’t know whether this was deliberate or not (but given Holdren’s ideology, I’m assuming the worst), but clearly the goal of extending humanity into the solar system, which to me was the key element in the VSE missing for, well, forever in previous space policy has been abandoned. I am open to hearing an explanation from an administration official (most likely in the White House) as to why this language was changed, but for now, I consider it a betrayal of what much of the space community has been fighting for for decades, and thought we had won six and a half years ago.

Since the beginning of this administration, despite my strong disagreement with it on almost every other policy, I have been giving it the benefit of the doubt, defending it against many with whom I agree on other issues. I will continue to fight for the technologies needed to expand humans beyond the earth, and the needed commercialization of earth-to-orbit transportation for both crew and cargo, and I remain glad that we’ve killed off the parasitic monstrosity of Constellation, but I cannot, and will not defend this new policy document, at least in regard to that goal statement.

[Update a while later]

Well, that will teach me to post without Reading The Whole Thing. “Major Tom” says it contains these words:

The Administrator of NASA shall:

– Set far-reaching exploration milestones. By 2025, begin crewed missions beyond the moon, including sending humans to an asteroid. By the mid-2030s, send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth;

So that’s pretty clear. I’d still like to know when the wording changed, though. “Extending human presence across the solar system” wasn’t an explicit advocacy of space settlements, but it clearly implied more than mere exploration, at least to me. The solar system is sufficiently large that it implies people living in space, far beyond LEO and even Greater Metropolitan Earth.

No Sex Please

We’re middle class. Thoughts from la Camille. I thought this relevant to the new movie production venture:

The elemental power of sexuality has also waned in American popular culture. Under the much-maligned studio production code, Hollywood made movies sizzling with flirtation and romance. But from the early ’70s on, nudity was in, and steamy build-up was out. A generation of filmmakers lost the skill of sophisticated innuendo. The situation worsened in the ’90s, when Hollywood pirated video games to turn women into cartoonishly pneumatic superheroines and sci-fi androids, fantasy figures without psychological complexity or the erotic needs of real women.

Maybe it’s not too late to change that.

Our War Crimes

Some thoughts:

I relate a story told by Judge Mukasey, George W. Bush’s last attorney general. He was down at Guantanamo in February 2008. He looked at “high-value” detainees — the worst of the worst — on video monitors. He did not see Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, however. (Remember that “KSM” is the guy who “masterminded” the 9/11 attacks, which killed 3,000 people. He’s also the beauty who beheaded the Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl. Etc.) KSM was not in his cell; he was off having his Red Cross visit.

Mukasey did see the exercise room adjacent to KSM’s cell, however. And he remarked something: KSM had the same elliptical machine that he, the attorney general, did, back in Washington — at his apartment building, the Lansburgh. Only there was this difference: Mukasey had to share that elliptical machine with the other residents of the building; there was a scramble in the morning to get to it. KSM had an elliptical machine all to himself.

As I say in my column, how much more tenderly do America’s critics expect us to treat these people? Are we to administer abdominal massages, the kind that recently made ex-vice-presidential news? (Wouldn’t the “world community” call that “torture”?)

Of course not. It’s Obama now, not Bush.

Flawed Logic

I often see this “argument,” and it doesn’t become any more logical from repetition (it is repeated ad infinitum by “Gary Church” over at Space Politics). This one is from “orionContractor” over at NASA Watch:

This continual argument over the huge waste of government spending that NASA does confuses me, only someone with NO understanding of how our government works and the enormous sums of money which are blown daily on worthless projects that add no value to anything other than pet spending plans could make that statement with a straight face.

There is no relationship between government waste in other programs, even if it’s much greater, and government waste at NASA. Even if the Pentagon really does waste hundreds of billions of dollars (and note that in this context, the accuser generally simply means “spending money on defense items that I don’t personally think we need”), that doesn’t make it all right for NASA to waste tens of billions on Ares.

A Victory For Liberty

People have a right to bear arms in Chicago, too.

The Second Amendment: it’s not just for “wingnuts” any more. It even applies to Richard Daley.

Though I have to say that I am disappointed that we have a court with four justices who oppose this.

[Update a couple minutes later]

A nice excerpts of Alito’s smackdown of the clueless minority in this comment:

First, we have never held that a provision of the Bill of Rights applies to the States only if there is a “popular consensus” that the right is fundamental, and we see no basis for such a rule. But in this case, as it turns out, there is evidence of such a consensus. An amicus brief submitted by 58 Members of the Senate and 251 Members of the House of Representatives urges us to hold that the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental.

Third, JUSTICE BREYER is correct that incorporation of the Second Amendment right will to some extent limit the legislative freedom of the States, but this is always true when a Bill of Rights provision is incorporated. Incorporation always restricts experimentation and local variations, but that has not stopped the Court from incorporating virtually every other provision of the Bill of Rights.

Somehow, this piece by Michael Barone seems relevant:

…we still live in an America like the America of the Founders, and unlike the America of the Progressives and the New Dealers, in which a majority of citizens are or have every prospect of becoming property owners.

And a desire for the right to defend that property, and their lives.

Since she’s unlikely to have to rule on it now, I wonder if someone will ask Kagan her opinion on the ruling this morning, and if she’ll answer. And if so, if she’ll do so honestly?

[Update a while later]

More thoughts from (law professor) Instapundit:

…it really is interesting how much emphasis the majority, and Justice Thomas’s concurrence, put on the racist roots of gun control. See this article and this one by Bob Cottrol and Ray Diamond for more background. And isn’t it interesting that this is happening on the same day the Senate’s last Klansman went to his reward?

I can’t imagine it hasn’t been done, but if not, someone should put together an essay on the racist roots of most of the “progressive” project (recall that Woodrow Wilson was one of the most racist presidents in history, at least in the twentieth century), from gun control, to minimum wage, to Davis-Bacon and birth control and legalized abortion, and “affirmative action.” I’ve seen essays on each one of them, but no comprehensive one.

East Germany

…on the Potomac. I think that the phrase for the Journolisters is “hoist by their own petard.”

[Update a few minutes later]

Dave Weigel comes clean:

I was talking, largely, to liberals who didn’t really know conservatives. So I assumed they thought Hugh Hewitt was “buffoonish.” I said Gingrich had a “screwed-up tenure” because Republicans I admired, like Sen. Tom Coburn (R, Ok.) and Dick Armey, had serious problems with how Gingrich ran the House.

But I was cocky, and I got worse. I treated the list like a dive bar, swaggering in and popping off about what was “really” happening out there, and snarking at conservatives. Why did I want these people to like me so much? Why did I assume that I needed to crack wise and rant about people who, usually for no more than five minutes were getting on my nerves? Because I was stupid and arrogant, and needlessly mean. Yes, I’d trash-talk liberals to Republicans sometimes. And I’d tell them which liberals “mattered,” who was a hack, who was coming after them. Did I suggest which strategies might and might not work for liberals, Democrats, and the president? Yes, although I do the same to conservatives — in February, for example, I told many of them that Scott Brown’s election hadn’t killed health care reform, and they needed to avoid dancing in the endzone, because I was aware of what liberals were saying about how to come back.

Still, this was hubris. It was the hubris of someone who rose — objectively speaking — a bit too fast, and someone who misunderstood a few things about his trade. It was also the hubris of someone who thought the best way to be annoyed about something was to do it publicly. This is the reason I’m surprised at commentary accusing me of misrepresenting myself.

I also found this interesting:

Nobody told me this in journalism school. Seriously, though, nobody did! The fact that one part of journalism in Washington was a give-and-take of gossip, and that sources learned to trust one another by bitching about people and projects they didn’t like, was a total mindfuck.

Do they teach anything useful in journalism school?

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I wouldn’t hire someone with a journalism degree as a reporter (I actually have good friends, and even relatives, so encumbered), but I’d need to know a heck of a lot more about them, and it would be despite, not because of it.

[Update a while later]

Why do major media feel the need to have a “conservative” beat? And if they do, why not hire a conservative to do it, instead of someone else sent in like Diane Fosse to study “conservatives in the mist”?

In the past several years, newspapers have assigned reporters to specifically cover conservatives, but they haven’t done the same thing for liberals. It started in January 2004, when the New York times chose David Kirkpatrick to cover the conservative movement. The goal, as Times editor Bill Keller told then-ombudsman Byron Calame in 2006, was to identify “the [conservative] thinkers and the grass roots they organize” and explore “how the conservative movement works to be heard in Washington.”

“We wanted to understand them,” Keller said of conservatives.

If you were trying to craft the most concise statement of the distance between mainstream media figures and conservatism, it would be hard to do better than that.



…to the friends and family of Senator Byrd.

My only immediate thoughts are that while they may miss him, the nation should not. For all of his posturing about his love of the Constitution, he was one of the prime architects of the fiscal ruin that lays ahead, and he served far too long.

[Update a few minutes later]

Related thoughts from Nick Gillespie:

“As the encomia mount like rotting, fly-buzzed piles of the pork-barrel spending he so systematically shoveled back to his West Virginia home, let’s not forget the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s most undeniable legacy: Undermining belief in politicians as little more than self-serving glad-handers on the hunt for more and more taxpayer money for their constituents.”

Perhaps if he’s really done that, he’s done the country a service. We’ll find out this fall.

[Update a while later]

Speaking of this fall, if his seat is declared vacant this week, there will be an election for it, with whoever the (Democrat) governor appoints as his replacement as the incumbent. But if there is (for some mysterious reason) a delay in such a declaration until next week, then the replacement will have the seat until 2012.

Did I mention that West Virginia’s governor is a Democrat?

The Lunar Contretemps

I’ve been reluctant to weigh in on the latest back and forth between Paul Spudis and Clark Lindsey.

I have a couple quick points. First, in his lead sentence:

The space community has fractured since the disastrous roll out of NASA’s “new direction.”

The community has been fractured since 2005, when Mike Griffin and Scott Horowitz ignored all of the recommendations of the CE&I contractors, and foisted the Scotty rocket on it. It’s not something that happened in February. What happened in February was that people who wanted a more sane approach became ascendant, and there has been understandable resistance to it from those whose rice bowls are being broken.

Second, I was slightly astonished to read this in one of his follow-up comments:

As for propellant depots, I think that they make sense if we can supply them with propellant made from space resources, in this case, propellant derived from lunar water. If we end up launching all the propellant from Earth, then nothing is fundamentally changed, except to eliminate the need for a heavy lift launch vehicle.

Oh, really? Is that all it does? It merely eliminates the waste of tens of billions of dollars on an unnecessary vehicle that could instead be invested in a few dozen lander programs from the likes of Masten and Armadillo? Yeah, I guess that’s no big deal.

Look, I feel Paul’s pain, and as I’ve said, my biggest disagreement with the new policy direction is that it is so dismissive of the moon as a goal. But as I’ve also said, specific destinations, other than BEO, are irrelevant right now, and as the Augustine panel pointed out, descending into gravity wells wasn’t affordable any time soon with any of the plans on the table. Paul is concerned about the lack of an explicit goal (indeed, a seeming contempt of such a goal on the part of both the president and the administrator) of establishing any sort of lunar surface capability, but the reality is that it was never a realistic or affordable goal with the trajectory the agency was on. This president (at least given the trajectory he’s on) will no longer be president three years from now, and we’ll almost certainly have a new NASA administrator as well. There was no plan for serious money being put into a lander prior to 2013, so realistically, I don’t understand what Paul thinks that he has lost, at least in any irretrievable way. From the standpoint of getting back to the moon, we won’t even have slipped the schedule. And that point remains even if the nation is unfortunate enough to have to put up with this administration until 2017. He has plenty of time to persuade people in a new administration that the moon remains a worthy goal, and to identify more practical ways to make it happen. And at least with the new direction, we’ll be a lot closer to doing it affordably, having stopped wasting so many billions on vehicles that weren’t going to get us there, and started spending money on a more robust ETO infrastructure that will get us much closer to everywhere.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!