Congressman Ruppersberger (D-MD) has an op-ed piece in the Baltimore Sun on space policy. Here’s his bottom line:
To give up our quest for the moon, Mars and beyond is not what is best for America’s space program. We need a new road map. We must commit to return to the moon through a program run by NASA in partnership with private companies that will invest in bigger, American-made engines to get us to the moon without relying on Russia. This plan must reinvigorate our space industrial base and inspire people, especially younger generations, to dream about our future in space.
While I sort of agree with this, it’s hard to see how he gets there from everything that came before. And what does he mean by “American-made engines”? Does he think that lack of engines is what’s keeping us bound to the planet? Is he referring to the fact that Atlas uses Russian engines? Is he aware that SpaceX has “invested in bigger, American-made engines,” and wants to build bigger ones yet? It’s hard to know.
The entire piece is full of vague allusions and non sequiturs like this. For example:
Today, America is slipping. The president announced plans to cancel Constellation, the plan to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. This move jeopardizes an $11.5 billion investment, puts thousands of skilled scientists out of work, and shakes the very heart of the space industrial base.
Kids aren’t growing up wanting to be astronauts. China is pumping money into its space plan and setting its sights on a moon landing by 2020.
The implication was that Constellation was actually going to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. Is he aware that this was unlikely to happen before 2030? Is he aware of the Augustine report at all? In complaining about the “investment,” is he familiar with the sunk-cost fallacy? Does he know very few of the people being laid off are “scientists” (perhaps none of them, in fact)? Where is the evidence that China is “pumping money in its space plan” or that it plans a moon landing by 2020? Landing what? People? No way, Jose. Maybe a robot, but so what?
And what does any of this have to do with kids growing up wanting to be astronauts? And why would we want them to? Given NASA’s trivial plans under Constellation, the vast majority of them would be disappointed.
He non-sequiturs on:
Satellites keep us safe. They globally track suspected terrorists, stop future attacks, and provide real-time data to our troops on the ground. At home, satellites allow us to operate GPS systems and cell phones.
None of this has anything to do with NASA, or astronauts or human spaceflight, or Constellation. Then he starts to reminisce:
Four years ago, I took over as chairman of the Technical and Tactical (T&T) Intelligence Subcommittee. We found undisciplined program management and skyrocketing costs, outdated export controls, no comprehensive space plan and inadequate spacecraft launch capability. We were giving Russia and China a head start. I feared that without swift action, the United States would never recover. We immediately started to work to maintain America’s dominance in space.
We passed several measures to ensure better oversight of satellite programs. In the fiscal 2010 Intelligence Authorization bill, we included a measure that forces programs to come in on time and on budget or face immediate cancellation unless critically important for national security. We encouraged agencies to only invest in space systems with proven technology to prevent costly delays when research and development is conducted on the spot. We also promoted greater collaboration between different agencies, sharing technology and saving money.
Well, that all sounds nice but, again, it has nothing to do with NASA and Constellation, or human spaceflight. And if he thinks these were good things, then he should have been leading the charge for the cancellation of Constellation, because it was far over budget and even farther behind schedule, and has nothing to do with national security, let alone being “critically important” for it. He goes on:
We relaxed the export regulations that stifled the American space industry and caused it to shrink to half of its size. The House passed language to ease burdensome restrictions when satellites and components are widely available and do not pose a national security risk. The bill stalled in the Senate, but the exposure got the attention of the Obama administration, which is reforming the regulations. This will allow U.S. space companies to sell globally and offer better products at lower prices here at home.
How did they “relax the export regulations”? As he said, the bill stalled in the Senate, and while the administration has made some noise about ITAR reform (I assume that’s what he’s referring to here, but as with much of the piece, it’s hard to tell), I don’t think that anything has actually happened yet.
Less progress has been made creating a long-term plan for space. While other countries see costs drop, the U.S. is spending more per rocket launch and battling more delays than anywhere else. That is because the United States has committed to a two-company alliance to handle all launches, despite the fact that other U.S. companies are showing promise. Commercial capabilities must be considered in certain cases, including launching earth observation satellites, transmitting images, and traveling to the International Space Station.
Ironically, the United States will soon rely on Russia to provide transportation for our astronauts to the Space Station. When the last shuttle launch takes place this year, the United States will have to pay Russia to bring American scientists to the Space Station. This must change.
What other countries are “seeing costs drop”? He doesn’t say. And are our costs high because of ULA (I assume that what he’s referring to with the “two-company alliance”)? Is he unaware of the existence of Orbital Sciences? I like the line about considering commercial capabilities — I assume with regard to the ISS travel, he’s referring to commercial crew? But why is he complaining about paying Russia? That was cooked in the day that Mike Griffin decided to waste billions on unneeded new rockets, half a decade ago. Did he complain then?
I wonder if he wrote this himself. If not, he should can the staffer that wrote it. I sure can’t tell what it is he proposes to do from it.