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Pablum from Pence on space

If you want to waste about about 25 minutes of your life, you can listen to the speech that Vice President Mike Pence gave today at the Kennedy Space Center here, beginning at the 49:30 minute mark.

My advice is that you don’t do it. Pence said nothing. He handed out a lot of empty promises and cliches, without any specifics or details of any kind. He confirmed for me what I have suspected of Pence for several years, that despite the fact that he lives and breathes a conservative and honorable personal life, as a politician he is a hack.

He made a big deal about the recreation of the National Space Council, which he now leads. However, as this article by Eric Berger properly noted the people who seem to be exerting the most influence on that council, on Trump, and on Pence are from the big space companies that have spent more than a decade and a half spending about $40 billion trying to build a big rocket (SLS) to fly a single unmanned test flight of the Orion capsule.

My pessimism here might be misplaced. We still do not know who will be on this space council. Furthermore, the Trump administration has been very good at doing a lot of public relations and soft stroking of its opponents in order to put them off guard prior to hitting them hard, where it hurts. This might be what Pence was doing here.

Nonetheless, the lack of any substance in Pence’s remarks makes me fear that he will be easily influenced by the big players who simply want the federal cash cow to continue sending them money, whether or not they ever build anything.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Cotour

    Most vice presidents are “Hacks” / tools (Except Dick Cheney, you do not want to screw with Dick Cheney).

  • ken anthony

    A guy that picked up nails at construction sites with his father knows what SLS costs. Any cards not played close to the vest would come under attack. They have other fires to put out.

    NASA will not get a lot of attention as long as they aren’t the biggest problem they’re dealing with. It will probably not get much attention for years to come, not because of NASA but because of everything else.

    Trump doesn’t have the luxury of dealing with little problems and NASA is a tiny problem (0.3% of budget.)

  • Citizen Quasar

    “Do NOT watch this video as I will tell you everything you need to know about it.” Sheesh.

  • Joe

    Since they obviously did not hit the ground running with actions that speak louder than words, the only thing I see the space council useful for is to clean house. This is something Mr. T is best at. Their justification is it is best to funnel the money to programs already off the ground and running FULL SPEED!

  • wodun

    I don’t know why people expect a puffy political speech to be something other than it was intended. Space nerds need to moderate their expectations for minor speeches and look at policy instead.

    Was the audience space nerds or the public at large? It is doubtful the intended audience was people who participate in FISO teleconferences or those who listen to them.

    The Trump admin doesn’t have any specifics except they are continuing the near term course already in place, which was said in the speech, they shifted the near term goal to the Moon and kept the long term goal Mars, and announced the creation of the Space Council to flush out more details and policy.

    People complaining about the lack of detail and radical change in strategy is a bit like complaining that Obama didn’t make a decision about Constellation until after the Augustine Committee met.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Most political speeches are mainly “Applehood and Mother Pie” as some wag once put it.

    As wodun correctly notes, Obama wasn’t propounding any lofty visions for space at a comparable point in his administration either. His April 15, 2010 speech, also at Kennedy – which was quite good, actually, even if it was pretty much the only “space speech” the man ever made – came 15 months into his administration and after the Augustine Commission report and subsequent cancellation of Constellation.

    One reason it was atypically sharp and detailed, I strongly suspect, was that Lori Garver likely had a lot to do with writing it. Trump has no one of her caliber on his space team, such as it is. Hence Pence’s largely content-free blather at Kennedy.

    The only “tea leaf reading” I care to do anent Pence’s speech is to note that he didn’t even start off talking about space, but about national security challenges. That, perhaps, may give some indication of what the Trump administration, at least at this point, sees as the most important issue in which space is entwined. I’m inclined to agree. If Trump’s administration – especially the National Space Council – spends the large majority of its time on national security-related space matters I would be pleased. It’s an area that has been criminally neglected for decades.

    As the Trump administration’s space focus sharpens, perhaps the rhetoric will follow. In a guardedly hopeful mood, I await developments.

  • wodun

    Obama wasn’t propounding any lofty visions for space at a comparable point in his administration either.

    Toward the end of Obama’s 2nd term, NASA replaced every Obama policy that had come before with a lofty vision of returning to Mars. Yet, no work was being done to achieve this lofty vision. It was all a big PR scam to create a narrative to make people forget Obama’s terrible leadership.

    Some people want the lofty rhetoric and ignore the actual policies. They don’t care so much that NASA isn’t doing what it could be as long as their leaders put some effort into fluffing up a distraction.

    Similar to what Dick Eagleson said, I hope that the rhetoric follows action and also that it isn’t a replacement for it.

  • Edward

    wodun wrote: “People complaining about the lack of detail and radical change in strategy is a bit like complaining that Obama didn’t make a decision about Constellation until after the Augustine Committee met.

    I do not think that the Augustine Committee had thought that their report would result in the abundance of confusion and malaise that Obama brought to NASA’s goals.
    the ultimate goal of human exploration is to chart a path for human expansion into the solar system. … destinations should derive from goals … human spaceflight objectives should broadly align with key national objectives. … Mars stands prominently above all other opportunities for exploration

    Rather than return to the Moon, where there are resources within easy reach, Obama chose to aim for an uninteresting object, creating such an unachievable goal that the goal was downgraded multiple times, before it was abandoned altogether.

    Obama should have refined Bush’s wimpy goal of returning to the Moon to the goal of using the Moon’s resources. It was achievable, it was relatively easy, and it gave a purpose and a lofty vision to NASA, aligned with the key national objective of exploring and expanding into space. We have had that objective at least since Kennedy, and possibly since Von Braun and Disney presented to the world their dreams of space stations and lunar bases.

    Perhaps Trump (and Pence) will do a better job of incorporating the Augustine Committee’s recommendations into NASA’s future goals. Achieving great projects is one of the factors that made America great in the first place.

    Unlike our innovative previous projects — building a transcontinental railroad, building the Panama Canal through a mountain range, and going to the moon right after getting into space — the goal of using the Moon’s resources is a relatively easy goal. We have been there already, but this time we only need to 1. stay there and 2. use its resources. These resources can make it easier to get to Mars.

  • Edward

    What makes for a great project worthy of a great nation? (8 minutes, Bill Whittle: “Apogee”)

    What would be hard? Going to Mars. Did you notice that Kennedy listed a host of technical difficulties that must be overcome? He made sure that we understood that this was a difficult undertaking. What difficulties did Obama say that we needed to overcome that made going to an asteroid not only worthy of us to do but that also made it an important step for going to Mars?

    We have a smaller list of difficulties to go to Mars.

    NASA is in such a malaise that commercial companies are likely to get back to the Moon before it does and to beat it to Mars, too. Why work for NASA when the challenges are at the new commercial space companies? Shouldn’t NASA once again be challenged to be bold and to do more than America’s industries can do? Otherwise, there is no reason for government to do the job.

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