The Last Action Hero Governor

Thoughts on the rise, and disastrous fall, of the Governator:

One man has the right to toast to a case of schadenfreude. California Congressman Tom McClintock, running against Schwarzenegger in the 2003 recall, warned voters before the election that Arnold was a liberal wolf in conservative sheep’s clothing. McClintock predicted that a Governor Schwarzenegger would be far and away from the second coming of Governor Ronald Reagan.

McClintock’s prophecy proved to be more true than even he most likely thought possible. To the shock and dismay of sensible government advocates around the state, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leftist metamorphosis paved the way for California’s incredible decline. Like a script from the several horrible Terminator sequels, Governor Schwarzenegger started strong only to end up on DVD shortly thereafter.

And we get stuck with the residuals.

If The Republicans Supposedly Filibuster So Much…

…there’s a reason:

the GOP’s historic number of filibusters is the only viable response to Sen. Harry Reid’s unprecedentedly authoritarian rule of the Senate. Senator Reid has blocked the minority from amending bills more than any Senate majority leader in history — and more times than the last four Senate majority leaders combined.

How does Senator Reid do this? He uses his right to be recognized first by the chair to offer just enough amendments to bills to block any further amendments. These amendments are usually meaningless, like changing a word or a date, but they effectively block the minority’s opportunity. This is a clear abuse of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Senate’s rules, and that is one reason why we have witnessed Republicans’ frequent use of the filibuster.

Well, we’ll have an opportunity to fix that in a couple years. And even if Reid had lost, I wouldn’t lay long odds that Schumer wouldn’t have behaved the same way.

The Weirdness Of The Human Mind

Often, when I mistype, unless I’m in a huge hurry and just sit on the backspace, I’ll be careful to not delete letters I’ve already typed, but move the cursor around them if they’ll be useful in the fix, because I don’t like to waste them.

Just so you know. I’m a child of parents who were children of the Depression. What can I say? I’m just frugal, if not always rational.

In Which The Truth Is Revealed

There are a lot of comments over this post at Space Politics (over a quarter of a kilocomment, at last count) from last week. As is often the case, they are rife with reading miscomprehension and straw men — I guess people only read, or hear, what they want to read or hear. Hint: just for the record, I don’t think that anything NASA does to go back to the moon is intrinsically Apollo redux. I think that Apollo redux is Apollo redux.

But what’s fascinating is, finally, an implicit admission by some of the most vociferous opponents of the new policy that they had no concept of what it actually was, and that their opposition to it was based entirely on the (politically stupid) decision by the White House to make a big effing deal out of the fact that we aren’t going back to the moon as the first destination (allowing people not paying attention to nuttily spin this into the notion that we weren’t going back at all or were ending the American human spaceflight program). (I should note, though, that there are also some people like the troll “amightybreakingwind” who seem to sincerely believe that Constellation was the greatest concept ever conceived by the human mind, and continue to hold out hope for its resurrection).

But Ferris Valyn managed to finally elicit the truth after posing the question: if the policy had been rolled out simply as a faster-cheaper-better way to get back to the moon (and yes, despite the false lessons of the nineties, there really are faster, cheaper, better ways to do space than NASA has been doing them), would you have supported it? And the answer, in more than one case, was essentially “yes.” Which is interesting, of course, because that’s exactly what it is.

But as I noted over there, it remains frustrating that so many people are basing their opinions about the new direction totally on emotion, determined to remain ignorant of what it actually is, and primarily based on the speech of a president whose every statement comes with an expiration date, and who is likely a one-termer, so it doesn’t matter where he says we’re going to go first or ever in space. It is a tragedy, from a policy standpoint, that it was this politically incompetent White House that came up with the smartest space policy in the history of the program, in terms of finally opening up space (not that that’s a high bar), because it poisoned the well in selling it, particularly with the incoming Congress.

It’s going to take a lot of work to undo the policy damage, but I’m hoping that I’ll be properly funded soon to start to try.

Finally, A Football Game Worth Watching

in Detroit:

The game between the New York Giants and the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis already had been postponed because of heavy snow. When the Metrodome’s roof collapsed early Sunday morning, the NFL moved the game to Detroit.

…“We hope it’s a great event,” Lions president Tom Lewand said. “It’s free. Obviously that’s something that was important to us. This is an opportunity for Detroit fans to come out and enjoy another NFL game. We think that we’ll have a good crowd, and that’s why we tried to make it as accessible as possible.”

Hard to beat the price, too. Though it’s also nice that the Lions managed to eke out a win against the Packers today.

“An Awkward Position?”

There’s a very strange article over at Wired on the Dragon flight:

…the “commercialization” of space puts the U.S. military — one of the biggest space customers and a close partner with NASA — in an awkward position, according to Eric Sterner, a space expert with the Marshall Institute. “Changes in the nature of the launch industry will present policymakers with new dilemmas when it comes to ensuring military access to space.”

I’m guessing that he talked to no one for this article other than Eric Sterner, who has his own axe to grind, continuing (as far as I know) to be a Constellation fan. Which makes the piece all the more strange. More on that in a minute.

The problem stretches back to the mid-1990s, when the Air Force began pouring billions into a new rocket for carrying military satellites into orbit. The plan was to license the same rocket to commercial launch firms. But that private market never really materialized, and the Pentagon ended up assuming the full, $100-million-per-launch cost for the resulting Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, today the military’s standard rocket.

Almost all of this paragraph is wrong. It implies that there is a single EELV, which was developed by the Air Force, and then “licensed” to unspecified “commercial launch firms,” which never materialized, and that the Air Force is now operating it themselves. It also implies that it is the sole user, and that the Pentagon uses no other rockets.

Here’s the Planet Earth version of the history. The Air Force subsidized both McDonnell Douglas (which was absorbed by Boeing during this period) and Lockheed Martin to develop new, cheaper versions of the Delta and Atlas, respectively, but both companies put considerable amounts of their own money into them as well. There is little heritage of either vehicle to their ancestral namesakes other than the Centaur upper stage. Boeing and Lockmart operated their commercial vehicles, with the Air Force as primary customer. It is true that the market didn’t turn out to be as large as initially thought, and in the early aughts, Boeing actually wanted to get out of the business because it was operating at a loss. As a solution, to keep both lines available for resiliency, both companies ended up forming a new joint venture, similar to the one they formed to operate Shuttle and station, called United Launch Alliance (a commercial company), that has consolidated production and other functions to save money while still being able to offer both vehicles to the marketplace.

It goes on:

“Some would prefer NASA to meet its [Low-Earth Orbit] human spaceflight needs with modifications to the EELV, which theoretically would increase production runs and lower the [Air Force] marginal cost,” Sterner said. But after SpaceX’s success this week, NASA might decide to base its future vehicles on Falcon, leaving the cash-strapped Air Force to maintain the EELV all by itself.

Yes, some would indeed prefer that, and have been saying it for years, ever since ESAS, when NASA decided to spend billions building its own rockets, including the Ares I for crew transportation, and the Air Force went along with it. And it’s kind of amusing to read about the “cash-strapped Air Force,” considering the size of NASA’s budget in comparison. If NASA is smart, they’ll use both Falcon and EELVs for crew transport, so they have redundancy. What the Air Force really needs is a NASA to not develop a new Shuttle-derived vehicle, which it doesn’t need, and doesn’t have the budget for, but Congress is insisting that it build anyway, for no reason other than job preservation in Alabama, Utah, Mississippi and Florida. If NASA would commit to using existing vehicles, including both EELVs and Falcons, for exploration, there would be plenty of business for everyone, and it would also open the door to more DoD use of SpaceX hardware. Sterner sort of explains this:

The military might decided to regularly use Falcon alongside EELV. “In theory, that’d be a good thing, increasing competition and giving DoD greater access to space,” Sterner said. “In practice, it may not be as easy as all that. DoD poured a lot of money into the EELV and has much more control over it than SpaceX’s Falcon 9. It may be reluctant (for both legitimate and illegitimate reasons) to make greater use of Falcon since that would mean less use of EELV, which it’s still on the hook to maintain.”

The only sense in which the Air Force is “on the hook to maintain” EELVs (not EELV) is that if ULA (which, again, is not mentioned, allowing the reader to infer that it doesn’t exist) goes under, it would have no way to get a certain class of satellites into orbit. What that means, though, is that it has to provide ULA with enough business to ensure that this doesn’t happen, and if ULA can find other customers (e.g., Bigelow) the pressure on the Air Force to continue to keep the doors open diminishes or disappears. But if we had a Space Council, whose job was to ensure that we were actually accomplishing things in space, instead of keep factories going in selected states and congressional districts, an overhaul of policy would straighten this out (though over the screams of certain members of Congress), and there would be ample business for ULA and SpaceX, as well as the smaller players and upstarts.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!

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