There’s a very depressing example of how sterile and mindless the debate about space remains in the wake of the CAIB report over at the WaPo today. If not a full-blown fisking, it requires an almost line-by-line analysis.
Administration officials disclosed in an interview that the White House will begin work next week on a blueprint for interplanetary human flight over the next 20 or 30 years, with plans calling for Bush to issue an ambitious new national vision for space travel by early next year.
Ahhhh, no timorous five-year plans for these central planners–we’ll have a thirty-year plan!
The officials said they will wrestle with the military’s role in space, as well as with whether to emphasize manned or robotic missions, whether to build a base in space, what vehicle should replace the shuttle and what planets should be visited.
That’s interesting, but how can they do that, when no one seems to be discussing what we’re trying to accomplish? How can one decide whether to “emphasize manned or robotic missions” when we don’t know what the the hell we’re trying to do?
“The question is: What do we say to the president about why we should continue humans in space and in what vehicles and to what ends?” a senior administration official said.
Yes, that is the question, but there’s a wide array of answers, and I seen no indication, at least not in this article, that there’s any discussion of anything beyond “exploration” and “science.”
But those answers will not come as swiftly as Congress would like, and lawmakers and some administration officials said they do not see how Bush will find the money to pay for any meaningful expansion of the space program given the costs of his tax cuts and the demands on the budget from the Pentagon, homeland security and possibly new Medicare benefits.
Well, look, not that I necessarily favor an increase in NASA funding (and in fact, right now I’m in the “abolish NASA” camp), but this is just fiscally stupid. We are spending less than one percent of the federal budget on NASA. We could double it and it wouldn’t even make a blip in the deficit. There may be, and in fact are, good reasons to oppose an increase in funding, given the current plans, but “we can’t afford it” ain’t one of them.
That could turn his aides’ study of options for future astronauts into something of an academic exercise.
“You can’t fight a war on terrorism and stimulate the economy and put billions and billions of new dollars into the space program,” an official said, adding that the end of the Cold War had made mastery of space a less pressing priority.
Well, some would argue that putting billions and billions of new dollars into the space program would be part of stimulating the economy, though how well it does so depends in part on how you actually spend the money.
But what does he mean when he says that “the end of the Cold War has made mastery of space a less pressing priority”?
Is he talking about civil space? If so, it’s pretty appalling that, almost half a century after Sputnik, policy makers still think that the only reason to go into space is to flex our technological muscles to impress other countries.
If he means from a military standpoint, I don’t know if he’s noticed, but we’re engaged in a hot war right now, and one in which space assets played a critical role that will only increase in future battles.
I would really, really love some elaboration on this comment.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), chairman of a Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA, said he will seek a presidential panel to examine the future of the space program, including whether to shift resources from the shuttle in order to resume the exploration of the moon.
Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), a member of the House Science Committee, is calling for a shift from manned to unmanned flight “for both safety and research value.”
See, instead of “it’s all about ooooiiiiillllll,” when it comes to space it’s all about “exploration” and “research.”
Of course, one does not intrinsically increase “research value” by leaving people at home. I disagree with Bob Zubrin about a lot of things, but he’s certainly right when he says that you’ll learn a lot more about a planet by sending a geologist than you will a robot. And for those who obsess about “safety,” I’m sorry, but I have nothing but contempt. Yes, we should try not to kill people, but ultimately, the only way you can avoid it is to not let them go at all, which seems to be Rep. Smith’s goal here. As the old saying goes, a ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships, or explorers, are for.
A senior administration official said a White House group will meet at least weekly to assess “the benefits to the nation and the world of continued human spaceflight by the United States.”
“We know we can do it. What do we seek to achieve through it?” the official said. “Where and how does human spaceflight fit into national requirements and national priorities over the next several decades?”
Yes, those are good questions. Even better one are “is human spaceflight going to continue to be performed only by NASA, or are we going to encourage the nascent private human spaceflight industry?” “What role will they play?” “Are there things we can do to help make that happen that don’t require expenditures of taxpayer dollars to a bloated, sclerotic civil space agency?”
But I’ll bet those kinds of question won’t get asked, at least based on anything I read in this business-as-usual article.
Officials said the new panel on human spaceflight, led by the White House and involving several Cabinet departments, is scheduled to have recommendations ready for Bush in the next several months. Aides said they hope Bush will make decisions by the end of the year so that the ideas can be included in the administration budget for 2005, which will go to Capitol Hill in February.
The official said the interagency group will look at the space program’s relationship with national defense, as well as with the advancement of science, and at “the question of how this relates to national goals that, at first blush, have nothing to do with spaceflight.”
OK, this does look a little more encouraging. I would hope that those departments include (at the least) Commerce, Transportation, Energy and Defense.
The rest of the article pretty much focuses on NASA and its budget and the CAIB.
You know, it would help if reporters themselves, like Mike Allen and Eric Pianin, would bring up these issues, but they’re sadly apparently unaware as well, and stuck in the same NASA-centric mindset. Maybe they should read this weblog once in a while…