Category Archives: Space & Campaign 2004

A Feminine Space Policy?

Dwayne Day says that this is what we seem to have.

It’s an interesting thesis, I guess, from a sociological standpoint, but I’m not sure how relevant it is to those of us trying to influence things for the better (i.e., in the direction of vastly larger numbers of people in space).

As I wrote to him when I saw a draft of this a couple weeks ago:

While “colonization” is clearly politically incorrect these days, I don’t think that leadership is, and there would have been no (or at least no more than he received anyway) negative repercussions from its usage.

The real problem with “leadership” as a goal is that it’s such a low bar. If there really were a race, and there really were one or more robust spacefaring nations on the planet, then leadership would be important, but sadly, as pathetic as the program has been for the past three decades, it’s still number one by almost any measure. The only real hope is for the private sector to go out and start kicking some butt.

Anyway, I wonder how necessary such language really is. It seems to me that the goo goos who go for this kind of language (“cooperation,” “exploration”) probably are unlikely to support space programs anyway. It might be better to use more robust language to get stronger support from those who do support it.

One of the disquieting things to me about the January 14th speech was that, after hearing it, I still wasn’t sure why we were doing it. Given that the Europeans aren’t going to like us regardless of what we do (short of castrating our economy with Kyoto, signing up with the ICC, etc.), we might as well state some clear economic and national security goals that are complemented by the exploration initiative.

Of course, I think that this is all orthogonal to our actual future in space, since regardless of the presidential justifications for it, government space programs are doomed to mediocrity by their nature, and we’ll have a sufficiently robust private sector in the next couple decades such that NASA will become superfluous.

[Thursday update]

As Dwayne notes in comments here, he expanded on this topic quite a bit in comments over at Jeff Foust’s place a few days ago.

I should also note that the discussion took an interesting side turn when the question was asked “What is exploration?” particularly as opposed to “science.” This is a very key question on which current policy rests, and I’m going to give it some thought, and its potential implications in a future post.

And Now For Something Completely Different

A partisan Mars blog.

I think that the notion that a Democrat president would be better for space than Bush is blindly wishful thinking. Based on the logo, much of this hopefulness seems based on the myth of Jack Kennedy as space visionary, when the record shows otherwise. Apollo was a unique event born of its times, and to think that just putting another JFK in the White House will somehow resurrect it is to misunderstand history. And in fact, the last thing that we need is a new Apollo, which there is unfortunately some danger that the president’s new initiative will become.

Neither party is very attuned to a vibrant space policy. They don’t even know, or are able to imagine, what one might look like, but at least we have made some progress under this administration, in terms of rationalizing FAA licensing rules, and starting a process that may get NASA out of the way of human flights to LEO.

While I’m not a single-issue voter when it comes to space, if I were, I’d probably vote for Bush, because Kerry has said nothing to indicate that his policy would be an improvement on the present one, and the natural inclination of Democrats is to fund things perceived to be closer to home. Walter Mondale is certainly more typical of potential Democrat space policy than is John F. Kennedy. If Yudel feels for whatever reason compelled to support the donkeys, then he should do so, but he shouldn’t fool himself that they’re going to get him, or anyone else, to Mars any time soon.

Full NASA Funding?

Frank Sietzen says that Congress is coalescing about a plan to do just that.

With the rapidly dwindling calendar — fewer than 60 legislative days actually remain before Congress recesses for the fall political campaign — next year’s federal spending may be wrapped into a continuing resolution that funds all non-defense and homeland security agencies at 2004 spending levels.

There is one exception to this outcome, sources said. That would be NASA, receiving the funding requested by Bush for 2005.

The breakthrough emerged during negotiations over the new Senate budget resolution, which sets a ceiling on federal spending. A bipartisan effort managed to amend the original NASA amount adopted — only a 1.4 percent boost for the space program — to restore nearly all of the $866 million the administration was seeking.

And for those who think that the administration’s silence on the subject, in the State of the Union and elsewhere, indicated that support for the new initiative was wavering, this explanation makes more sense:

According to congressional sources, several House members complained Bush has failed to say anything more about the moon-Mars plan since his Jan. 14 speech, and his silence has been interpreted as a cooling of support. The group was told the White House was silent, not because Bush was rethinking his grand space plan, but was instead trying to avoid further politicization.

One source told UPI that Bush would “keep his powder dry until the myths, legends, and political barbs on this strategy subside,” and the president probably would speak again about his space plan sometime late in his re-election campaign.

It’s not an obvious big vote getter, and the myths and legends about it (particularly the costs) have been well documented here and elsewhere, so it seems like a reasonable strategy to me. People shouldn’t infer support or lack of it from speeches by the president. Everything that I see going on at NASA, to the degree I have any visibility of it, indicates that plans continue to move forward.

I’m not a big fan of the president’s plan, as far as it’s been described, but I do like the fact that we’ve declared it national policy to go back to the moon and the rest of the solar system with humans. There’s plenty of time to fix the specifics of how that occurs, and I suspect that after the election perhaps more hard decisions will be made.

Kerry: NASA Friend or Enemy

An examination of John Kerry’s official campaign documents reveals some clues as to his general attitude towards the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the US space exploration agenda. Kerry categorically places NASA under his, “AGENDA FOR URBAN AMERICA” on the official Kerry campaign web site. That particular categorization might be a clue that points to the candidate’s view of the role of NASA in his presidential plans. NASA is bunched there in the same “urban” priority category as the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF is primarily in the lucrative and politically interesting business of handing out money to university based researchers. In other words, Kerry may view NASA primarily as a distributor of monetary grants for university based lab research. That is a politically sensible approach in view of the fact that academia is a an important and influential part of the Democrat party base in Kerry’s home region, the Atlantic Seaboard.

Most people have never worked in a major university research environment and may not understand the underlying significance of the interplay between the federal government’s rich and powerful grant giving machinery and the university recipients. It is politically convenient to label liberal college deans and professors as “elitist phonies” The actual relationship between universities and the Democrat party is a far more practical arrangement than the perceived “elitist” conspiracy that heartland Republicans routinely rally against. The people working in academia realize that probably the quickest way to become ostracized by your colleagues is to shift over to the right of the political spectrum and start questioning the status quo of the government-university cash cow. Grants pay for campus buildings, labs, and facilities. Most significantly, research grants pay the salaries of faculty and staff. A good grant writer is a cherished university employee.

Federal research grants are essentially the academic equivalent of “pork-barrel” spending. President John F. Kennedy used the “grant carrot” to win over the support of university president’s when the late-President proposed the Apollo program. The traditional grant recipients— such as those people who count how many worms of some obscure subspecies still exist in some muddy creek in lower Kentucky– made loud noises in university president’s offices when they feared that Apollo spending would mean the end of their grant funds as Apollo ramped up and gobbled up federal grant dollars. JFK locked up the support of university leaders by promising millions of dollars to build new engineering schools, labs, and even enough funding to justify the creation of entire new universities, e.g. the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

The NSF, NASA, as well as the National Institutes for Health fit well into the urban agenda of a politician who seeks support from academics, university presidents and city politicians from those major urban areas where the bulk of research dollars wind up. Kerry states that NASA’s “technological advances (are) transferable to people with disabilities, and could enhance their capacity to work.” That position is admirable and those transfers should and must be made, but where is Kerry’s vision for NASA beyond converting existing space technology for practical use?

Kerry does not even mention human spaceflight or any program of space “exploration” to occur outside of the 1G environments of university labs. He apparently views NASA as a useful grant-generating machine. PhD researchers, school deans, school presidents, and a few thousand-lab technicians will be the primary direct beneficiaries of this aspect of NASA funding. The big losers will be the NASA centers that focus on sending “researchers” into microgravity (KSC, MSFC, and JSC) if Kerry’s space vision is limited to restoring “the government’s commitment to scientific achievement through increases in research funding for the Department of Energy, NASA, and the National Science Foundation”, through his stated urban strategy.

Kerry lists 28 priority issues on his web site. Space exploration is not in that list., Kerry claims that, “More than 425,000 technology jobs have been lost on President Bush

Howard The Red (Planet)

Emailer Alan Bryan points out this little vignette from the WaPo:

Dallas, Tex.: If elected President, what are your plans for NASA and the Space Program? Do you think it’s time to retire the Shuttle and move on to bigger and better things, such as a human mission to Mars, or returning to the moon?

Howard Dean: I am a strong supporter of NASA and every government program that furthers scientific research. I don’t think we should close the shuttle program but I do believe that we should aggressively begin a program to have manned flights to Mars. This of course assumes that we can change Presidents so we can have a balanced budget again.

[VOICE=Edna Krabapple]

Hah! A Democrat president who can balance the budget.

[/VOICE]

Well, actually, maybe, assuming that he retains a Republican congress…

Anyway, this is meaningless for two reasons. First, he’s not going to be elected (and this stance will do nothing to help–it’s more likely to hurt), and second, the last time we had a Democrat announce a mission to another world, it ended up with flags and footprints, and no sustaining infrastructure. There’s no reason to think that this would be any different.

Jay Manifold has some additional thoughts.