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Pick a destination already!

A report issued today illustrates once again to me that those running our space program in both Congress and the Obama administration have a profound lack of common sense or basic intelligence:

The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) – a body that provides the NASA Administrator with counsel and advice on programs and issues of importance to the Agency – has insisted a human exploration plan, or at least a destination, should be selected as soon as possible.

This request specifically applies to the Space Launch System (SLS), the heavy-lift rocket mandated by Congress that will use the Orion capsule. SLS is also the same rocket system that is costing the taxpayers $3 billion per year, and is expected to cost between $18 to $60 billion total by the time it flies its first operational mission in about nine years. The advisory council also noted that

While the vehicle hardware development is now moving forward at full speed, specific destinations – or a roadmap – is still lacking from NASA’s exploration plan.

It took nine different committees plus a central committee formed from the original nine committees to come to this Earth-shattering conclusion.

To put it in plain English, Congress and the Obama administration have committed billions of taxpayer dollars to the construction of a rocket and manned capsule without ever putting much thought into the specific mission they want to send that rocket and capsule on.

The council also recognized that this lack of a specific plan could make it difficult in future years to obtain funds for SLS.

Surprise, surprise! To me, this is just more evidence that SLS is nothing more than a pork-laden jobs program that will get us nowhere. The sooner Congress wakes up and eliminates it so that the money can be used more intelligently both at NASA as well as to reduce the deficit, the better.

Sadly, I don’t have much hope that the Congress we have now will do this. If anything, these spendthrifts (from both parties) are more likely to lay on the pork, wasting money and making sure that NASA’s make-work projects continue, even when the projects have no purpose or goal.

This report also provides us further evidence that the Obama administration really has no interest in space exploration. Obama might have mouthed the right words in the past, talking about sending humans to Mars or the asteroids, but the truth is that everything he has actually done has indicated a profound disinterest in space. Though I applaud his administration’s efforts to have private enterprise rather than the government build our rockets and manned spaceships, the result of Obama’s efforts so far has been generally very negative for the American space effort. He allowed the shuttle program to end. He is now cutting back on the planetary and astronomy programs at NASA. And he has made little effort to give NASA any clear direction or goals.

This sad conclusion is only compounded by the fearful possibility that our present Congress might try to fill this vacuum with some micro-managing of their own. The thought horrifies.

Thus, the American space program truly does hang by a thread. If the private companies can get their vehicles off the ground this year successfully, they might finally be in a political position to push NASA out of the way and get a true aerospace industry started. Then, the foolish short-minded plans of politicians will become less harmful or important.

If, however, the first flights of SpaceX or Orbital Sciences should fail, Congress might then step in and demand that NASA do it all. And if that happens, I would expect no Americans to fly in space on one of our own rockets for many decades to come.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!

 

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Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

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Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

10 comments

  • Kelly Starks

    Its not the destination – its the journey.

    ;)

    Really, I think no agrees with Obamas non goal, and no one but the Pres can do a long term goal. So the point is to keep things going until its possible to come up with a real goal.

    Congress has even admitted that SLS will likly be replaced after a couple launchs, with a succeeding system developed — after they figure out what it needs to do.

    ;/

  • Kelly Starks

    I ment “I think no one agrees”

  • Chris Kirkendall

    Wow – if you’re right about that, Kelly (“…replaced after a couple launches”) that just seems like a huge waste. I DO agree we need to keep SOMETHING going so we don’t have to start from “scratch” once we (hopefully) have both a president with an eye towards space exploration AND a goal or plan. But it certainly doesn’t make much sense to develop hardware first & THEN figure out what to use it for ! ! Looking back, doesn’t it seem like cutting the Space Shuttle program was at the very least a bit premature? Maybe we should’ve at least kept that system up & running till we had a viable replacement…

  • Bill Blomberg

    Argh…none of this makes any sense whatsoever! Why is there no oversight on these idiots? We’re building a system that we have no destination for, and are already talking about abandoning it after a couple launches to nowhere?

    This will occur around the same time that the outpost we built and maintained is planned to be deorbited…and meanwhile our planetary program will be winding down, the missions currently funded running out of juice by then. This, our most remarkable space program, will then be taking a backseat to the Russians Indians and Chinese?

    What the hell is going on in this country? Where has the vision gone?

  • Bill Blomberg

    But won’t that be a fun ride? Maybe we can fuel it with $100 bills.

  • Fred Willett

    In the report it goes on to say that developing hardware is going to taske 10 years and if you want to fund an exploration mission in 2022 you need to start funding it NOW,
    That’s not going to happen.
    As far as Obama is concerned he did the right thing.
    He appointed a comission. (Augustine) They told him if you want to do anything in exploration you need to up the budget by at least $3B a year. If not then you’d better just concentrate on developing infrastructure and do what you can as the infrastructure comes on line. This was the “Flexible Path” and it’s what Obama chose as it was the only practical path forward that would fit within the existing budget.
    It was congress that insisted on SLS even though there was no money for it. Nor did congress allocate extra funds to make it viable. Obama could have – and should have – fought for the Flexible Path program.
    He did not.
    Why? Because in the end he’s not that interested. He did what he could to set NASA on a sensible and affordable path. Congress baulked. Stuff it. He had more important things to worry about. The coming budget crunch will sort it out. SLS will fail. Commercial will be here by then, and if NASA survives at all (not a certainty) it will only be as a shadow of its former self.

  • Kelly Starks

    Yup. NO vision of where to go, a pres who openly said space doesn’t nispire, adn in general doesn’t see it as valuble…. and our last hope is THIS congress and Senate agreeing no a common vision for space.

    ::whimper::

    So we got, don’t burn down the house as a short term goal, adn hope they’ll think of a long term goal real soon now.

    ;/

  • Kelly Starks

    >..He appointed a comission. (Augustine) …

    Old Washington trick. Apoint a blue ribbon panel that you stock with a selected set of people stacked toward the conclusion you want, then limit the options they can consider, then when they are forced to give the recomendation you wanted in the first place – you claim they were resopncible for the idea. I.E. its all a way to deligate blame for the back lash for your idea yuo nkow will be unpopular.

    >..Obama chose as it was the only practical path forward that would fit within the existing budget…

    Lets get a litle real here. He proposed shutting it all down, and diverted NASA budget toward pork to sweaten the deal with space supporting Congressmen and Senators. He didn’t make the sale even with the Congressmen and Senators would weer going to get the pork, and the funds were shifted back to a rescoped Constelation. But even rthe Congress and Senate seem to realize its not as great a design as Griffin suggested. So they expect a real program will need something better.

    Hope Romney or the next VP has a clue who to assign to develop a plan for NASA.

  • Chris Kirkendall

    I agree, Kelly – this was probably set up to give the answer they wanted in the first place. I do believe that if Obama had his way, the ONLY space program he wants to fund is one that supports or monitors Global (or GloBULL!) Warming or whatever. He probably knows cutting it that drastically would be very unpopular, therefore, the compromise that basically gets us nothing…

  • Kelly Starks

    True – actually Obama proposed cuting down most of the rest and transfering funds to Earth observation, or ISS based observation, to study global warming.

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