A Pig’s Breakfast

It looks like the Senate is moving forward on a NASA authorization bill:

In its current version, the bill would direct NASA to fly one more space shuttle mission in the second half of next year. The bill would also in effect restore full capabilities to the Constellation program’s Orion crew capsule by telling NASA to build a spacecraft that can undertake deep-space missions to destinations like the moon or an asteroid.

In April, President Obama said he wanted to retain the Orion crew capsule after shuttering the Constellation program, but as a stripped-down lifeboat for the International Space Station.

The authorization also directs NASA to start development of a new heavy-lift rocket immediately rather than waiting as late as 2015 in the president’s proposal.

First, the good news. Like Francisco Franco, Ares is still dead.

The bad news: they’re going to waste billions on a heavy lifter, when they don’t even know what its requirements are (other than full employment for the Marshall Space Flight Center). They’re also going to waste money on Orion. On the other hand, these programs will take so long to develop that they’ll probably die of fiscal atrophy before we can waste money attempting to operate either of them, and it will have become clear that they’re unneeded, if they don’t steal all the money from technology development. I wish that I were more sanguine that they won’t do that.

The other problem is that this will complicate commercial crew, because Boeing isn’t going to want to have to compete with a taxpayer-subsidized Orion for their commercial crew capsule. On the other hand, again, it will take a long time to develop, and Boeing may have more immediate customers, such as Bigelow, and they may assume (correctly) that even with the development subsidy, it won’t be competitive for crew transport to orbit or as a lifeboat, even with the reduced launch abort system requirements now that Ares is gone. And SpaceX will continue Dragon development regardless.

Of course, as the article points out, the Senate bill isn’t a done deal yet, nor have they reconciled it with the House, which may have different ideas. So it’s still unclear what the final authorization will say, or even if there will be one this year. If one is to go by history, there won’t be.

[Evening update]

Clark Lindsey has more thoughts. He’s (not unexpectedly) unhappy. But given what a disaster this Congress has been on every other front, why would we expect better?

The Legacy Of Bankruptcy

…of “progressives.”

The Founders’ understanding of the origin of government, in turn, proceeds from a recognition of the difficulty many individuals have in honoring the obligations that flow from the equality principle. Government is formed, in other words, for the express purpose of better enforcing this duty among men, thereby better securing the freedom of all. “If men were angels,” as Madison famously wrote in Federalist 51, “no government would be necessary.” Precisely because men are not angels, because many are strongly inclined to violate the rights of others when it is in their interest to do so, individuals consent to enter into the social compact, and establish government on the understanding it will use its powers to restrain those domestically and internationally who would violate their freedom. In principle, then, the power of government is not absolute but is limited to whatever actions are necessary to secure the natural rights of its members.

By rejecting the existence of natural rights, accordingly, the Progressives consciously repealed this limit: “It is not admitted that there are no limits to the action of the state,” Merriam observed, “but on the other hand it is fully conceded that there are no ‘natural rights’ which bar the way. The question is now one of expediency rather than of principle. . . . Each specific question must be decided on its own merits, and each action of the state justified, if at all, by the relative advantages of the proposed line of conduct.” In devising the content of the law, legislators need not worry about respecting the individual’s natural right to rule himself, because “there are no ‘natural rights’ which bar the way.”

In principle, accordingly, all of the rights previously believed to inhere in the individual — e.g., the rights to life, to physical liberty, to decide whom to marry, to enjoy the fruits of his labor, to speak freely, etc. — were now subject to public disposal. Whether and to what extent government allows individuals to control any aspect of their personal concerns was now purely a matter of how it viewed the consequences of doing so. To illustrate just how far the Progressives were willing to take this, Merriam, in drawing the foreign-policy implications of this change, declared: “Barbaric races, if incapable, may be swept away; and such action ‘violates no rights of these populations which are not petty and trifling in comparison with its [the Teutonic race’s] transcendent right and duty to establish legal order everywhere.’” As Progressive economist and New Republic editor Walter Weyl summed up this shift in 1912, America was now “emphasizing the overlordship of the public over property and rights formerly held to be private.”

Read all.

Why Not Rhode Island?

Why is the administration picking on Arizona, when Rhode Island has been doing the same thing for years?

And why aren’t filing lawsuits against so-called “sanctuary cities,” when what they’re doing is not enforcing federal immigration law, but defying it?

That was a rhetorical question, of course.

I also found this amusing:

The border’s too big. The hole in the Gulf is too deep. The recession is too stubborn. Maybe we should find the president a smaller, easier-to-manage country to govern. You know – send him to the minors for a few years.

I guess “Si se puede” has become “No, we can’t.”

Layers Of Fact Checkers And Editors

There’s kind of a weird editorial by Joshua Green over at the Boston Globe today. I don’t understand the title (Takeoff?), and he doesn’t seem to know the name of either the senior senator from Florida or the NASA administrator. And this kind of statement is always sort of annoying:

The real shock came in January, when President Obama killed its successor, Project Constellation, which aimed to return Americans to the moon by 2020.

What does it mean, to call Constellation the Shuttle’s “successor”? I guess it is, in the sense that it was the next human spaceflight program that would absorb all of the NASA personnel that were working Shuttle, but it’s not like it actually replaces the Shuttle in any functional sense, other than the ability to get crew to and from LEO. And then we have the usual dumb comments from people like Tom Delay:

Critics reply that killing Constellation and reorienting NASA is foolish and costly. “The innovations that have come out of the space program are phenomenal,’’ DeLay said. “With our failing manufacturing base, it is extremely important for our economy to maintain them.’’ Private space flight has shown promise, but it will be years before a commercial company can safely launch astronauts into space. Lacking the capacity to send US astronauts to the International Space Station, we’ll soon pay Russia to ferry them there, which won’t be cheap.

What “innovations” were going to come out of Constellation? The whole point of the project was to avoid innovation, with its associated technical risk. And I suppose that it’s technically true that it will be “years” before a commercial company can safely launch astronauts into space. But it won’t be as many “years” as it would have been with Ares/Orion. There’s no reason that the number of years need be more than two or three, except for resistance from Congress to fund it for dumb reasons like this:

…the loudest complaint regards “American greatness’’ — the idea that the willing forfeiture of our leadership in space amounts to a kind of moral trespass that will cede to nations like China and India the next great strides in science and technology.

This is mindless. We aren’t “forfeiting our leadership in space” by sensibly having private companies perform the mundane task of getting astronauts to and from there, half a century after the dawn of the manned space age. And China and India are both a long way from doing anything that will vault them ahead of us (and even longer, if we follow the new course instead of the moribund Constellation).

Where his critics have a point is in arguing that NASA lacks a clear mission. Without a directive and funding, talk of visiting Mars or an asteroid is grandiose but empty.

While the funding is lacking, due to squabbling on the Hill, there is a directive — to develop the technologies needed to make going beyond earth orbit affordable. But for people who look at the world through Apollo-colored glasses, unless it has a destination and date and unaffordably huge rocket (i.e., a five-year plan for the celestial crops), it’s not a real space program.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!