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« Wednesday Stella Update | Main | Clueless Critics »

The New NASA Moon Hoax

Some people are claiming that the president's new space policy is a hoax.

There have long been deluded people who believe that the moon landing was a hoax, but these new accusers are supposed to be mainstream journalists, and respected former NASA historians.

Of course, what they mean is that the president isn't serious--that this is just a reelection ploy in a reelection year.

This is a preposterous claim, to anyone familiar with space policy and its history. With the possible exception of Jack Kennedy's moon program (and even that is highly doubtful), no space policy has ever been one on which public votes were cast, other than possibly in districts that directly benefited from it, such as Houston, TX, Huntsville, AL, and the area around Cape Canaveral in Florida. Even in the latter cases, it's not clear that it's ever been a dominant issue in any election.

Some might argue that, while Texas and Alabama are in the bag for the president this year, Florida is a swing state on which the election notoriously hinged the last time, and a new space initiative could bring it firmly into the president's column. But it's not necessary to announce a visionary space policy to do so. It would have been sufficient to give lip service to continuing the space shuttle and space station programs, because those constituencies' primary interest is in jobs, not planets.

Well, actually, there is another exception to the rule of space having no impact on elections, and a clear (and negative) one. Former Apollo astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt was, for a time, a US Senator from New Mexico, his home state. That time didn't last long, because he was perceived by his constituents as being too interested in Mars, and not sufficiently interested in the Land of Enchantment. His winning opponent's campaign slogan was "What on earth has Jack Schmitt done for us"?

No one has ever won an election in similar circumstances. To the degree that we have empirical data on the matter, support of visionary space programs is not a vote getter, but a vote loser.

Consider the International Space Station. President Reagan announced it twenty years ago this year. It was originally supposed to fly in the early nineteen nineties. Now, the goal is to complete it by the end of this decade, over a quarter of a century after it was first announced.

Has there been any great hue and cry amongst the populace over our lack of a space station? Has anyone at NASA been fired because we don't yet really have one?

No, because no politician has ever been fired because we don't have one. It's simply not important, politically.

Oh, yes, polls show support for space activities, but it's a mile wide and an inch deep. People like it well enough, but when asked to make a choice between spending on space, and spending on, well, almost anything else, space rarely even shows, let alone places.

But wait, there's more!

As I already said, the only practical way that a positive space policy ever translates into votes is in terms of its impact on local jobs at traditional NASA centers. But one of the new (and subtle) things about the president's new policy is that it throws uncertainty into the potential effects at specific locations. One of the barriers to effective management of NASA programs has long been the undue influence of major NASA space centers, which leverage their local congressmen and Senators to support them on the Hill, often to the detriment of the program itself. There's an old saying inside the Capital Beltway, that "NASA headquarters doesn't have any congressmen."

Administrator O'Keefe, presumably with the support of the administration, seems determined to change this. He's pulled back management of the new exploration program to a new office at NASA headquarters in Washington, and he's made no promises to any of the centers about which aspects, if any, they'll be responsible for. Again, as Henry Vanderbilt of the Space Access Society points out, this is not a sign that the administration is attempting to curry favor with the voters in an election year--if anything, it's the opposite.

So the notion that the president's speech last month announcing a new direction for NASA was simply election-year politics, upon a serious examination, is ludicrous on its face.

So how do supposedly competent commentators get it so wrong?

Well, in the case of Joshua Micah Marshall, the author of the drive-by hit job on the president's policy, it can be attributed to a combination of ignorance about space policy (a subject that he rarely comments on), and a well-established animus to President Bush, as exhibited on an almost daily basis in his weblog. The ignorance is demonstrated by the fact that he never even mentions in his comment the loss of Columbia a year ago, let alone suggests that it might have something to do with new space policy a few months after the release of the investigation of the report on that event.

Neither knowledgable or even casual observers of space policy would make such an omission, because it is clear that the formulation of the new space policy was accelerated, if not initiated, by it. The status quo was clearly no longer acceptable after it, because it was equally clear that the long-term continuation of a manned space program was not possible with a fragile fleet of three shuttle orbiters.

Former NASA historian Alex Roland has less excuse, because he's supposed to be knowledgable about such things. Blogger Thomas James has dissected his unprofessional screed, and space historian (and policy analyst to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board) Dwayne Day has completed the job.

Given his supposed knowledge, Professor Roland's piece can only be attributed to undiluted Bush hatred (as evidenced by the use of the tell-tale word "Halliburton" in his little rant).

I warned about this a couple weeks ago. Space policy is largely being discussed in a knowledge vacuum, and not on the basis of its intrinsic features, but rather, on who supports it.

Perhaps the real hoax being perpetrated here is by those who argue against policies and politics of which they apparently know nothing, as a surrogate for what's sure to be a brutal upcoming political campaign.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 11, 2004 11:18 AM
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I'll have to agree with you on this one.

It was becoming painfully obvious to quite a few people years ago that NASA was not functioning all that well. What we got was an adminstrator (Goldin) who, in the judgment of many of us, managed to make things even worse. But, so long as NASA's problems were off the front page, little attention was paid.

On Bush's watch problems have become too noticeable to ignore. The ISS fiasco forced out Goldin. And people think the ISS is useless... :-)

Now we've had Columbia -- and a report that hits NASA and aerospace hard where it matters.

Bush could still have swept things under the rug. The average American just doesn't care that much. A few cosmetic changes might have sufficed to push the space issue, such as it is, completely off the front page.

Instead, we're getting a bit of a shake up -- that will, hopefully disturb some rice bowls. Pork in a few places wins votes in a few places. Shaking up the pork could wind up losing votes. Given the closeness of the last Presidential election, that counts for something.

Posted by Chuck Divine at February 11, 2004 02:09 PM

"Hoax" -- another example of how some people have gone from saying that they disagree with someone to saying that that person is dishonest. Because if your opponent is dishonest, you don't have to put any effort into showing how he is wrong, or your position is superior, but that person can be dismissed out of hand.

Bush ~lies~ about Iraq, so we don't have to explain what we'd have done better, or will do now to fix it.

Bush ~lies~ about his military record, so he and his supporters can't say anything about our guys. (I can't wait to see what sort of record JF***Kerry's VP choice has.)

Bush ~lies~ about the economy, so we don't have to explain how we will fix it, or consider the consequences of our proposals.

Bush ~lies~ about NASA, so we don't have to come up with a way to fix it, we can keep doing the same things we've always done.(And for some people, keep offering our thirty year old solution-- spend that money on social programs instead)

Posted by Raoul Ortega at February 11, 2004 07:22 PM

Conspiracy theory is the solace of the impotent.

I see, from his latest essay, that John Carter McKnight is also indulging in the plan-as-hoax notion.

Posted by T.L. James at February 11, 2004 08:46 PM

Sell the plan to Congress, including John McCain and to those leading Republican Senate candidates from Illinois who oppose the plan and that will prove it is not a hoax.

Unless the vision comes to be "owned" by the people who will have political power come 2009 it will merely float away.

"Vision without strategy is illusion" sayeth John McCain and thus far I have not seen a strategy for building a 20 year consensus for following the Bush plan.

Posted by Bill White at February 12, 2004 09:54 AM

You can't build sustainability on a political foundation. See this for my views on that. But I disagree a little with the assertion that John Carter McKnight's latest indulges in the hoax idea. I think what John is saying is that the plan, if left simply with the government, has no hope of actually achieving its goals. The simile of the "Emperor having no clothes" has at its core an assumption that the Emperor is also unaware that he/she is naked (or at least in their Scooby-Doo boxers).

Posted by Michael Mealling at February 12, 2004 11:08 AM

In addition to no strategy, the Bush space plan lacks a clear budget. Also, Bush's plan is a reaction to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's (CAIB) recommendation. Perhaps not a political ploy, I wonder why Bush chose to address only manned space flight. What of near earth and deep space? Is that to be forfeit in lieu of this new direction in manned space flight? Personally, I'd like to see both unmanned and manned, and near earth and deep space benefit by a new space plan. That brings us back to the budget.

Posted by Eric Chomko at February 12, 2004 03:40 PM

Near earth should be completely given over to private concerns. Hand deep space off to the NSF.

Posted by Michael Mealling at February 12, 2004 03:47 PM

There's no budget because it would be foolish to try to present one when we don't even know how we're going to accomplish it. Budgets will be defined over the years as the path becomes more clear, and technologies evolved. The president didn't provide a plan (and it would be hubristic to think that it's possible to do so at this time). He simply described national goals.

Just, in fact, as Kennedy did in 1961, for a project with a much shorter time-scale.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 12, 2004 06:05 PM

In response to the comment by Michael Mealling.

Hand off ALL near earth space exploration to the private sector? Even NOAA's work regarding hurricanes? Hand Earth Science to the private sector to do exactly what with it? How do you propose the private sector pay for doing the scientific work of near earth space exploration?
How do you propose the NSF do JPL's job regarding deep space work?

Based upon your 'logic' our military should be made up of a group of paid mercenaries.

Please think your answers through this time before posting!

Posted by Eric Chomko at February 13, 2004 07:54 PM

The Moon song
Dave Hook
Copyright 2004

Well it?s one small step for man
And one giant leap for mankind
Those were the scripted words for Neil Armstrong,
On July 20th 1969

That grainy footage shown on TV
At one time actually convinced me
But how do we really know?
Because Walter Cronkite told us so?

I say

No man has ever walked on the moon
Now before you dismiss me as a loon
Listen to the facts and you may even find
A story that just might change your mind

You see it all started back in 62
JFK told the people what he would do
Put a man on the moon by the decades end
Land, and bring them safely home again

He was a great speaker we all know
And he even banged Marilyn Monroe,
He was also just a politician,
But Jack knew Jack shit,
about the complexities of any space mission

Now NASA had to get their ass in gear
And suddenly their hearts were full of fear
The Russians were way ahead of them in the space race
Now Kennedy was setting them all up for disgrace

Their funding stood at about a couple BILL
Would not admit defeat, and never will

So they said?

If we can?t make it, then we?ll fake it
If we can?t do it, then screw it
We?ll film it in the desert, or on a sound stage
And put it on the TV and the front page
We?ll shoot it all in black and white
Even though we got a color camera on the flight

We?ll bring jeeps, but bring no telescopes?

We?ll hit some golf balls all around,
Then stick a flag into the ground

That should be enough for the boob tube watching dopes

There are dangers about space travel most don?t know
Radiation gets more intense the farther out you go
It starts at about 1000 miles out
Go farther than that and die, there?s no doubt

Unless you shield yourself with 8 feet of lead
Any less than that, and surely you?d be dead
But to build a ship like that, why even try
It would be much too heavy to ever fly

Kennedy thought this was plausible

NASA knew it was impossible

But they still wanted to get paid

So they said to themselves?

If we can?t make it, then we?ll fake it
If we can?t do it, then screw it
We?ll film it in the desert, or on a sound stage
And put it on the TV and the front page

We?ll bring extra lighting just for fun
Even though the only light source is the sun

But we need them for the photos were going to take

No photos of stars or other stuff,
Some young astronomer may call our bluff

It never can come out it all was fake

Cause it?s much too dangerous to really go,
On live TV? I don?t fucking think so
We?ll tape the whole thing in advance
For an unhappy ending we can not take the chance

3 dead astroNOTS would not boost moral
And anyway we?ll be long dead before they cry foul
We?ll show some them meteors we found on earth if they want proof
When you control the media you control the truth

Full body photos of Neil on the moon, there are only two
And he has never ever granted an interview
But this does not leave me too surprised
Ask him no questions, and he?ll tell you no lies

He knows

They couldn?t make it, so they faked it
They couldn?t do it, and said, ?Screw it?
They filmed it in the desert on a sound stage
And put it on the TV and the front page

Sent a satellite feed of their con
To a few on the ground who knew what was going on

Then beamed it out to the all the excited folks

They were never 250, 000 miles away
George Bush say?s were going back someday?

But the first time around it was a hoax

They slowed the film, and hid the wires
Very very clever liars,


The first time around it was a hoax

Dave Hook Copyright 2004

Posted by Jerky71 at February 28, 2004 12:06 AM

That's a pretty ignorant poem, Mr. Hook.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 28, 2004 07:41 AM

I would have to agree with Mr.Simberg.

Posted by Dave Hook at April 15, 2006 07:56 PM

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