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A Cowboy Space Program?
Glenn thinks that it has a lot to recommend it.
Could our "cowboy" President get behind a Wild West approach to space settlement? He'd be accused of unilateralism, disrespect for other nations, and, of course, of taking a "cowboy approach" to outer space that's sure to infuriate other nations who want to be players but who can't compete along those lines -- like, say, the French. Hmm. When you look at it that way, there doesn't seem to be much doubt about what he'll do. Does there?
Sadly, there does.
I wish that George W. Bush were half the unilateralist cowboy that many of his lunatic detractors think he is, but I certainly see no signs of it in the space policy as stated so far. In fact, the administration is keeping the program international for now, and using feel-good kumbaya tranzi-talk to describe it.
As the UPI article explains, this is, of course, simply a cover to continue using Russian hardware to keep the ISS alive for now, while not explicitly violating the Iran Non-Proliferation Act, but it may get a few of the goo goos (like the late Carl Sagan) on board who would otherwise oppose a new manned exploration program.
But this brings up an issue that has troubled me, but not surprised me, as I read through the blogs on the subject. Much of the discussion in the blogosphere has been filtered through the prism of various commenters' general opinion of the Bush administration. Many people seem to be opposing it purely because it's being proposed by the smirking chimp. For example, see the comments section at this dumb post by Kevin Drum. Or from Matthew Yglesias. Or Chad Orzel (scroll up for a couple more related posts on the same subject). The sense one gets from much of the commentary is that they'd favor the proposal if it were coming from a President Gore, or President Dean, but if Bush is proposing it, there's obviously something evil and cynical about it.
Orzel, in fact, is quite explicit about this:
I should note right up front that, like most people who have commented on this, I doubt that the Bush plan will turn out to be a Good Thing in the end. Not so much because I think it's inherently a bad idea as because it's being put forth by the Bush team.
There may be some people who are in favor of it for the same reason, but I suspect that they are far fewer.
It would be nice if the policy could be discussed on its merits or lack thereof, but I suspect that that's a forlorn hope in a Red/Blue America.
Sorry, you're probably asking, why was Calpundit's post dumb?
We've been to the moon and there's nothing there.
Point one. We've been to the moon? Maybe Kevin's been to the moon, but last time I saw him, he wasn't wearing a tee shirt. I know I haven't.
Point two. The couple dozen people who did go to the moon (over three decades ago now) explored, over the course of a few days, an area of a few square kilometers on a planetary surface with the area of a major earth continent. Saying that we went to the moon and found nothing there, is like saying that Leif Ericson went to America and found nothing there.
Point three. We didn't find "nothing" there. Ask someone who's actually technically conversant with the subject, like John Lewis, what we found there.
There are vast resources to be exploited, in terms of silicon, aluminum, sunlight, oxygen, and maybe even fusion fuel if we ever figure out the cycle. It's reasonable to argue that these may not ever become economically viable (though I think that would be a pretty risky statement, given the history of technology development), but to say that there's nothing there is thoughtlessness on the same scale as those who mocked and derided "Seward's Folly."
Oh, and while there aren't any comments here, I'll also also respond briefly to Mark Kleiman, amidst a post full of false suppositions and misapprehensions.
Don't you find it astonishing how people who say they're concerned about government spending don't object to wars, occupations, and huge engineering boondoggles? Some time I'd like to hear one of the libertarian space-hounds explain to me slowly why space exploration should be funded by coercive taxation rather than private enterprise plus voluntary contributions. It's not that I don't know the answer to that question, but I don't see how that answer is consistent with hostility to government in general.
I don't know if I'm a "libertarian spacehound" (whatever that is), but I suspect that this is aimed at people like me.
Reality check: Few libertarians will support this initiative. Most agree that it should be done voluntarily. I wouldn't weep if NASA was totally defunded.
But the other reality is that the space program, as is the case with most other programs, has powerful constituencies and rent seekers, and it's going to continue to be funded, so all I can do is try to influence policy in a way as to maximize my desired goals from that expenditure. It's a continual uphill battle, and I don't actually expend that much energy toward it, because I consider it relatively futile. I'd rather focus on non-governmental approaches, and I do.
[Update at 9:38 AM PST]
Heyyyy, it's no longer anecdotal from blogs. Public opinion shows the same trend.
It made a difference who was said to be behind the plan. When half the poll sample was asked about a "Bush administration" plan to expand space exploration instead of the "United States" plan, opposition increased.
And if it had been a "Clinton or Gore administration plan," there'd have likely been a lot more kvetching from conservatives. For something as non-partisan as the space program, this is very frustrating.
There's a lot more of interest in this article, but I'll save it for another post.Posted by Rand Simberg at January 13, 2004 06:28 AM
I liked Glenn's article but I kind of had the same take on his speculation about a property rights regime. If Bush were going to do something like that he'd have to do it now since at most he has only 4 more years. If anything like that had been in the documents that UPI and Keith saw then they'd both be talking about it. Although he could start that process by announcing that its time to renegotiate the Space Treaty.Posted by Michael Mealling at January 13, 2004 07:56 AM
Well, a lot of them are taken a cue from noted space expert Greg Easterbrook who seems to have gone from simply getting stuff wrong to making s**t up.
There is a lot of recycling of SEI cost estimates. I expect the monstrous Stafford report to rear its ugly head (although some leaked elements seem worringly familiar).
Mars Direct, anyone? Where the hell is Zubrin?
It has to be said - their is a element of "Look over here!" to this. Old Bushido trick. Wittness the Coleen Rowley inspired/"We dont need no stinking Homeland Sec...." /"DHS was our idea all along!" switcharoo.
Duncan, did you mean to put square quotes around "noted space expert"? I would have.Posted by Rand Simberg at January 13, 2004 08:05 AM
I had hoped the latter part of the sentence made that clear :).
How does anyone take him seriously?Posted by Duncan Young at January 13, 2004 08:11 AM
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
He has a knack for sounding authoritative to people who know even less than he does (i.e., most of the mainstream press, and a lot of the blogosphere, particularly on the left). My challenge to an on-line debate remains open, but I don't expect him to willingly take on anyone who actually knows what they're talking about.Posted by Rand Simberg at January 13, 2004 08:18 AM
Reynolds is very naive indeed if he expects "Shrub" to put libertarian ideology ahead of crass political considerations. Like it or not, politicians propose these kinds of things for near term reasons, i.e. the next election. That is one reason why the new program apparently will have significant international participation as well as boondoggles for the usual suspects.
Posted by Marcus Lindroos at January 13, 2004 08:29 AM
I suspect that Glenn was actually tweaking people who believe their own nonsense about what a "cowboy" Bush is, Marcus.Posted by Rand Simberg at January 13, 2004 08:54 AM
I wish that Dubya's dreams of Mars exploration really were about oil, as the latest conspiracy theory suggests. That means there would have to be paying customers on Mars - what should be fueling space exploration in the first place.Posted by Alan K. Henderson at January 14, 2004 04:24 AM
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