Not A Jobs Program?

A couple months ago, I offered some advice to the Augustine panel:

Ignore the politics

Yes, of course Senator Shelby (R-AL) is going to want to see a new vehicle developed in Huntsville, Alabama, and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is going to want to ensure the maintenance of jobs at the Cape, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and various Houston-area congressmen are going to want to maintain jobs at Johnson Space Center. That will take priority in their minds over actual accomplishments in space.

But your job is to tell the policymakers how to give the taxpayers the best value for their money — and how to maximize our space-faring capabilities as soon as possible, so that if we do see something coming at us or find riches off the planet, we can take advantage of it.

Think of yourself like a Base Closing and Realignment Commission that provides recommendations for the nation as a whole, not local interests. Let the politicians argue about how to preserve jobs (while ignoring all of the jobs and wealth not being created due to the opportunity costs of their parochial decisions).

I don’t know whether he read it or not, but he seems to be following it:

A presidential space panel on Thursday challenged NASA’s vision of establishing a base on the moon and instead weighed other ambitious options that include free-ranging spaceships that could visit destinations throughout the inner solar system.

Noticeably absent, however, was discussion of NASA’s work force — despite a packed hotel ballroom filled with dozens of Kennedy Space Center workers worried about pink slips.

“We’re not designing any option with the idea in mind of preserving or not preserving the work force,” said Norm Augustine, the retired Lockheed Martin CEO who leads the 10-member panel named by the White House to evaluate NASA’s human spaceflight program.

…But even testimony from Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp did little to steer the conversation in that direction. He warned that Florida faces an “economic shock wave” during the time between the shuttle’s retirement and the first launch of its problem-plagued successor, which may not be ready until 2019.

“Due to the impending gap, Florida is bracing for a hardship — the magnitude of which the state has not seen for decades,” said Kottkamp, who estimated that the 7,000 job losses at KSC could ripple into 20,000 more unemployed workers on the Space Coast.

Defense has the same political problems, of course, with the fight in Congress to keep the F-22 funded being the latest example, and one in which the arguments are explicitly made that they have to do so to preserve jobs, with whether or not it actually helps us defend the country a second-tier issue at best. It’s even harder to fight this pork mentality when it comes to something as unimportant as space exploration and development, so we’ll see how long Augustine’s attitude remains once the politicians get involved. But I’m glad that we will at least make clear the difference between a program designed to explore and develop space, and one designed to make work for the politically connected.

FUD

Commercial space advocates have often complained that NASA tends to put a stick in the spokes of attempts to raise money and get ventures off the ground. Critics claim that this is a fantasy, and that NASA is both uninterested in, and incapable of doing such a thing. Jeff Foust points out the latest example of the “fantasy”:

[Here’s] a passage in a Wall Street Journal article this week (subscription required) about Virgin Galactic’s deal to sell a stake to an Abu Dhabi fund:

However, a NASA official cautioned that venturing into space is extremely costly, dangerous and difficult.

“Everyone has the opinion ‘we can do this’ but I’ve seen so many fail,” he said, adding that running a shuttle costs at least $3 billion a year.

All this is true: spaceflight is difficult and not cheap, and many ventures who have tried it before have failed. But what does the operating cost of the shuttle have to do with a suborbital space tourism system?

Absolutely nothing, of course. But it helps sow the seeds of doubt in the mind of an investor who might not know any better. And of course, the clueless reporter doesn’t challenge the comment, but simply stenographs it as though it’s not a complete non sequitur. Because he or she got the valuable opinion of an unnamed NASA official, which is all that matters.

First African-American Elected President

Minorities and particularly African-Americans hit hardest:

The economic crisis has predominantly hit non-white working class men; the collapse of the auto industry is threatening to destroy the basis of the Midwestern black middle class. Key matters for African-Americans languish — the overincarceration of young black men that makes a mockery of American justice being the number one example. Government aid? That goes to bankers in Connecticut. If the President were white, there would be riots.

The conflict between the narrative and the reality is nothing new to anyone who has been watching these people for long.

News From The Augustine Panel

I have it on fairly good authority that one of the subpanels will have an interesting announcement this morning, that some readers may find encouraging. Don’t know much more than that, and I’ll be incommunicado until this afternoon, when we get back to Boca.

[Mid-afternoon update]

I see from comments that there was a strong endorsement of propellant depots for exploration beyond LEO (which, as Jeff noted, should have been so obvious that historians will look back dumbfounded in retrospect that we remained hung up on megalaunchers for so long). I haven’t seen the presentation yet, but Clark Lindsey has a summary.

[Update a few minutes later]

Jon Goff: “The most amazing twenty-five minutes in NASA history.”

Well, that’s probably a slight exaggeration — I think an event that happened a little over forty years ago probably tops it, but I know what he means. The question is whether or not the policy establishment will pay attention. I have an email from someone in the know who notes that everyone on that subpanel gets the Frontier Enabling Test.

I’m sorry I missed the presentation live, but I assume that it will be replayable, or Youtubed. It certainly should be — I think that it probably will prove to be quite historic.

[Update about 4 PM EDT]

What is Norm Augustine thinking
about ISS?

If he was not playing devil’s advocate, then Augustine’s first question indicates a belief that the American public might not be so excited about funding a lengthy and costly mission to Mars that isn’t clearly an American mission. His second question suggests he believes that when you get right down to it, there isn’t much to the space station beyond the great international coalition it has wrought.

There are many strong arguments to keep the space station — most notably that it seems ridiculous to abandon it just five years after it’s completed — but if Augustine believes deep down that it serves no real scientific or exploration purpose, that will carry a lot of weight with Obama.

I think that for current planned uses, and in its current location, it’s not worth the money of keeping it going. If “international cooperation” is so important to Sally Ride and the other politically correct astronauts, let them scrounge up the couple billion a year to do so from ESA, Japan, and others. But I’d like to see some serious proposals to move it to a more affordable location at 28 degrees (it wouldn’t take long to save the money that it would take to move it in reduced launch costs) and use it as a base facility for depot operations and research, as well as a primary base for extended-duration crew research for deep-space missions, perhaps using coorbiting Bigelow modules. With a short-distance cargo-crew tug, this would eliminate the need for a back-to-earth lifeboat, for everything short of a coronal mass ejection or alien attack.

[Evening update]

Jon Goff has posted his white paper on propellant depots, which I would assume played at least some role in today’s results.

Good Times

Well, it’s windy, raining, with what looks to be a lot more to come on the Marathon radar. It looks like a low, verging on a tropical depression, as hurricane season really gets into the swing of things. So what’s the plan for today? Drive forty miles toward Key West, and get on a boat to go out snorkeling. Really. The captain says it will be fine.

Well, it’s no skin off his nose if we drive an hour each way for nothing.

[Update a few minutes later]

We cancelled, after looking at the radar again. Off to Key West instead. If this rain keeps up, it might actually be pleasant (i.e., not blistering hot) there today.

“HTML Deleted”

I was commenting over at NASA Watch, and in response to this comment: “I don’t understand why designing one big rocket to launch everything at once isn’t the better idea. Saturn V took the crew and the cargo to the moon…, I wrote something like “Because an approach taken in a race to the moon isn’t the best approach for building a program that is affordable and sustainable,” with a link to my piece at The New Atlantis. All comments are moderated over there. The post appeared, but like this:

Because an approach taken in a race to the moon isn’t the best approach for building a program that is

HTML DELETED

Apparently, Keith not only isn’t going to link to it himself, he’s not even going to allow links to it in comments. I wonder why he doesn’t think that his readers would find it of interest?

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!