There are really only two important stories today concerning space exploration. The story that is getting the most coverage is the big news that the space shuttle Discovery is making its last flight, flying over Washington, DC, as it is delivered to the Smithsonian for permanent display.
Of these stories, only Irene Klotz of Discovery News seems to really get it. This is not an event to celebrate or get excited about. It is the end of an American achievement, brought to a close probably three to five years prematurely so that the United States now cannot even send its own astronauts to its own space station.
The other news, actually far more important, has gotten far less coverage, and includes three different stories all really about the same thing. » Read more
I honestly have to ask: why did it take so long? The last shuttle flight was in July of last year. It couldn’t possibly have required that many people to prepare these spacecraft for display in museums.
Closeout of the shuttle program is an enormous effort expected to take two years. The program occupied 640 facilities and used more than 900,000 pieces of equipment with a value exceeding $12 billion, according to NASA. Much of the work will take place at Kennedy Space Center, where orbiters have been maintained and prepared for launch. NASA requested $89 million for shuttle transition and retirement work in the 2012 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, but Congress has not yet approved a budget.
An evening pause: If all goes well, I will be watching a variation of this live from Florida tomorrow morning. The action really begins at the five minute mark. Also, this particular video gives you the best flavor of what it was like to see the launch live, rather than on film or video.
As I have been traveling for the past week, I have fallen behind in posting stories of interest. Two occurred in the past week that are of importance. Rather than give a long list of multiple links, here is a quick summary:
First, NASA administrator Charles Bolden yesterday announced the museum locations that will receive the retired shuttles. I find it very interesting that the Obama administration decided to snub Houston and flyover country for a California museum. In fact, all the shuttles seem to be going to strong Democratic strongholds. Does this suggest a bit of partisanship on this administration’s part? I don’t know. What I do know is that it illustrates again the politically tone-deaf nature of this administration, especially in choosing the fiftieth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight to make this sad announcement.
Second, the new budget deal (still pending) included NASA’s budget, with cuts. While requiring NASA to build a super-duper heavy-lift rocket (the program-formerly-called-Constellation) for less money and in less time than was previously allocated to Constellation, the budget also frees NASA from the rules requiring them to continue building Constellation. Since the Obama administration has no interest in building the super-duper heavy-lift rocket and has said it can’t be done, I expect they will use the elimination of this rule to slowdown work on the heavy-lift rocket. I expect that later budget negotiations will find this heavy-lift rocket an easy target for elimination, especially when it becomes obvious it is not going to get built. » Read more
The ironies, however, are amazing, and quite depressing. On the same day we celebrate the start of manned space exploration, NASA administrator Charles Bolden will announce where the United States’s three retired shuttles will be put on display. Note also that he does this on the thirtieth anniversary of the first shuttle flight. It is almost as if the Obama administration’s desire to kill the American government space program is so strong that they have to rub salt in the wound as they do it.
I say this not so much because I am in favor of a big government space program (which I am not) but because the timing of this announcement once again illustrates how astonishingly tone-deaf the Obama administration continues to be about political matters.