Tag Archives: policy

You’ve got to play the game

The release of the Senate’s draft language for NASA’s 2011 budget yesterday reveals a great deal about the failures of the Obama administration. Despite months of advocacy by administration officials as well as the upper management of NASA, it appears that the Senate (soon to be followed in a similar manner by the House) is eagerly willing to dismantle much of what the Obama administration is proposing for NASA, and is going to micromanage its own space program.

Why this happened is all very simple: You’ve got to play the game.

If you are going to request major changes to any government program that requires the approval of elected officials beholden to the people in their districts, you have to provide those elected officials some cover for their actions. You simply can’t shutdown these programs willy-nilly without any negotiation and expect members of Congress to go along — even if what you propose is a good idea and makes sense.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what the Obama administration has done. They have not only shown an astonishing incompetence at playing the political game, they have often acted as if politics is completely irrelevant to their needs, a position that is both stupid and counter-productive considering that Obama is a politician who has to get the agreement of the politicians in Congress. » Read more

Draft version of Senate NASA budget released

A draft version of Senate’s NASA budget has been released. More commentary to come.

Update. From what I can tell by a quick scan through the actual proposed legislation [pdf], the Senate will give the administration most of the money it wants for commercial space, but also demand that it start work on a heavy-lift replacement of the shuttle immediately, including the full size version of the Orion capsule. However, the language requiring this latter action is very vague (“as soon as possible after the date of the enactment of this act”) and leaves the administration a great deal of wiggle room. From my experience, this means that Congress is trying to create the illusion that it has done something, but is basically leaving the decisions to the administration.

The draft language does forbid any contracts being issued for any new private commercial crew services until the 2012 year, which suggests that Congress wants NASA to focus on the Orion capsule and heavy lift option first. However, to me this merely means the Obama administration is being given the option to stall for a year and then come back again later with the same proposals it offered back in February of this year. That the draft legislation also gives NASA 120 days to put together its plan for its heavy-lift program only increases my doubts about Congress’s seriousness.

Overall, this legislation only confirms my worst fears. If passed as is, both the new private commercial space ventures as well as the government space program will suffer.

There simply is no money for NASA

All the discussion about the future of NASA must be put in some fiscal context, and here it is: the Debt and Deficit Commission that the Obama administration created to review the spending problems of the federal government has some bad news: there literally is no money for anything but Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Key quote from the Washington Post article:

The commission leaders said that, at present, federal revenue is fully consumed by three programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. “The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans — the whole rest of the discretionary budget is being financed by China and other countries,” Simpson said.

Senate deal on NASA budget

Bad link fixed. Sorry.

The Senate committee that authorizes NASA’s program is nearing a deal that would “reverse large swaths” of President Obama’s budget proposal. The proposal would add one more shuttle flight, restore the full scale Orion capsule, and add funds to immediately build a heavy lift rocket to replace the shuttle. More to come, I’m sure.

Both for and against the Obama plan

In my recent co-hosting stint on the John Bachelor Show, I asked David Livingston of the Space Show if he thought the aerospace community was polarized over the Obama administration’s effort to cancel Constellation and replace it with new private companies. “Pretty much so,” he stated without much hesitation.

This makes my position on Obama’s proposal somewhat unusual, as I am actually sitting right in the middle. I am both for and against the Obama administration’s NASA proposal, which might explain why my comments both on behindtheblack as well as on the radio have often caused the blood to boil in people on both sides of the debate. This fact also suggests that there is a need for me to clarify where I stand.
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Orbital’s COTS capsule taking shape

The Cygnus capsule is taking shape. Orbital Sciences signed a COTS contract with NASA in 2008 (as did SpaceX with its Falcon 9 rocket) to provide cargo ferrying services to ISS, and they are making real progress toward their first demonstration flight in the spring of 2011. That they have subcontracted most of the work to foreign companies, however, limits how much their work can help the American aerospace industry.

The law and Obama at Yucca Mountain

Apropos to the space war between Obama and Congress over the Obama administration’s willingness to ignore Congressional legislation mandating the continuing funding of the Constellation program is this story about the administration’s efforts to circumvent federal law in order to cancel the use of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a nuclear waste site. The courts have now expressly ruled [pdf] that the Obama administration it cannot do this: the law is the law, and they have to follow it. The key quote from the legal decision:

Unless Congress directs otherwise, [the Department of Energy] may not single-handedly derail the legislated decisionmaking process.

What a concept: the President and his appointees must obey the law!

Bolden’s al-Jazeera interview, part 2

The reports of NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s al-Jazeera interview have so far focused mostly on Bolden’s claim that his “foremost” priority at NASA is to reach out to the Muslim world in order “to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.”

Though this statement is both idiotic and condescending, I don’t think it was the most idiotic thing Bolden said. Instead, I think the prize-winner is this quote near the end of the interview (at around 21:30), where Bolden describes why we need to find out the make-up of all asteroids:

Is it sand or is it metal? If it is sand we’re not really worried that much about it because it’s probably going to impact the Earth and, you know, go away. Metal would be a bad day. We could have another ice age and instead of the extinction of the dinosaurs it would be the extinction of you and me.

Asteroids made of “sand” are merely going to “go away” if they hit the Earth? I would really like to see the scientific research Bolden is relying on for this statement.

Government and the impending shortage of helium

The law of unintended consequences strikes again! We are going to run out of our supply of helium, and it is all because the government first tried to manage and control the resource in the early 20th century, and then decided in the 1990s to extricate itself from that management. For those of us following the continuing space war over NASA’s future, this story is most instructive in illustrating how difficult it is to get the government out of our lives, once we have let it in.

Bolden interview with al-Jazeera

This interview of Charles Bolden, NASA administrator, is another example (in a long list of examples) of the clearly misplaced priorities of the Obama administration when it comes to NASA and space exploration.

The key quote is in the first two minutes of the interview [emphasis mine]:

Bolden: When I became the NASA Administrator – before I became the NASA Administrator – [President Obama] charged me with three things: One was that he wanted me to re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, that he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with predominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.

Though all three of these priorities (inspire kids, international cooperation, and help the Muslim world develop) sound nice, none have anything to do with space exploration. More specifically, they have absolutely nothing to do with NASA’s original charter, which was to explore the solar system and encourage the development of the American aerospace industry.

At about 9:50, Bolden then states that “We’re not going to go anywhere beyond low Earth orbit as a single entity. The United States can’t do it. China can’t do it. No single nation is going to go to a place like Mars alone.”

Gee, I wonder what international consortium put those men on the Moon? I always thought the U.S. did it alone. According to Bolden, however, that was impossible: No single nation can do anything alone beyond Earth orbit.

There are more inanities in this interview. Listen for example to his clueless discussion of solar flares at around 19:00 and his statement at 20:30 where he claims an asteroid made of “sand” poses no threat to the Earth.

With leadership like this, the future does not look good for the American aerospace industry.

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