A new Zimmerman op-ed at The Federalist

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The Federalist has published another op-ed by me today: How Trump Can Drain The Space Swamp That Wants To Engulf Him. The key paragraphs:

Right now it appears, based on these news stories, that the Trump administration is gearing up to do the same, with Trump’s grand achievement being a lunar space station, to be built by the mid-2020s, with a possible specific goal of 2026, the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Whether this lunar space station concept makes sense is a subject for a different column. The point here is that it appears that the international community and the big space contractors are all converging on this concept, and are making a big push to convince the Trump administration to endorse it.

Based on this pressure, I fully expect Trump to make this endorsement. However, the key to understanding whether Trump is the revolutionary figure he and many of his supporters claim him to be will be how he frames such a declaration.

If he ties it to continuing funding for SLS, he will prove that he is part of the problem, not the solution. SLS is simply too expensive and unwieldy. No nation can seriously mount the manned exploration and settlement of the solar system upon it.

For Trump to adopt it as the core of his lunar space station proposal would mean that his goal has nothing to do with making America great again. Instead, the goal will be the continuing distribution of pork to Congressional districts and to our international partners, as we have seen now for the past twelve years since SLS/Orion was first proposed in 2004. Nothing has flown, but each year Congress has made sure that about $4 billion was distributed to these players.

Trump does have other options, however, even if they include building a space station orbiting the Moon….

Read it all. The first meeting of the National Space Council is about to begin. From the speaker list, it appears that the Trump administration just might be entertaining those other options.

Note: Rand Simberg makes some similar points in his own op-ed yesterday.



  • mike shupp

    Decent enough, and I basically agree. Thank you for pointing me off to this piece yesterday.

    But on balance, I really liked your April post at The Federalist even better. It’s been sixty years since Sputnik, and we’re more than past due on settling outer space. And you’re absolutely right in seeing a need for a better Outer Space Treaty.

    I mean … there’s a lot of real estate to settle out there. Yeah, it’ll be hard and time consuming and expensive. But, we sort of know how to work hard, we aren’t going to run out of time, and we actually have plenty of money as a society and spend lots of energy and enthusiasm figuring out how to get more. I think spaceflight and colonization is affordable, particularly if we look at it with some perspective.

    And what are the drawbacks? Are we going to use whips and chains to force Martians into slavery? No. Will we have to send in the Army to subdue the natives on Mercury or Titan? No. Will we send clever lawyers off to cheat gullible Plutonians? Not very likely. There’s a huge damned frontier out there, more than anyone could ever dream of before the twentieth century, and it’s all up for grabs, and we can have it without any of our descendants ever feeling the slightest bit of guilt or shame. What’s wrong with that?

    And what’s it going to take, aside from money and time? Well, people, People using their intellects, and working hard, and being thoughtful and conscientious and determined and ambitious and maybe a bit imaginative and perhaps cooperating a bit with the neighbors. These used to be virtues. We wanted to practice such things ourselves, we wanted our kids to acquire such traits, we look in horror at inner city slums and wars in foreign lands and bemoan the lack of such virtues. Good Lord! At least we can contemplate our spacefaring descendants and realize that the people who are claiming the planets and then the stars are human who deserve such rewards!

    Apologies for straying from the standard liberal path I usually find myself on here.

  • Mike Shupp: You really should splurge and buy and read my sci-fi book, Pioneer. I am certain you will like it, based on your comment here.

  • mike shupp

    It’s on my list of things to buy next week.

    Hey, you going to buy MY novels? You can find ’em used at Amazon for about a penny each.

  • Mike Shupp: I was unaware that you wrote novels. What kind? Tell us about them.

  • mike shupp

    SF (of course) — a 5 volume time travel yarn, collectively titled The Destiny Makers, published by Del Rey between 1985 and 1991. The sales were, let’s admit, not huge. In retrospect the writing was a bit “stiff” and some folks felt the first couple volumes were rather “too talky,” but I was fairly well pleased with the battle scenes in the later books. And like I said, these days they’re cheap!

  • wayne

    good deal on the 5 volume set! I was a heavy SF paperback consumer in the 80’s, I’ll have to look through my boxes and see if your work turns up!

  • mike shupp


    Yeah, well. I don’t insist that you actually find and read the books themselves. Enough time has passed that I understand writing won’t make me rich and famous, but you might want to locate WITH FATE CONSPIRE — the first of the set — to appreciate the cover. It was done by Ralph McQuarrie, who had a sideline job about that time working for George Lucas on a movie called STAR WARS, and astonishingly it shows off an artist who actually read the first couple of chapters of a novel he was illustrating.

    True story. My chief character in those books has somewhat craggy features, and doesn’t think of himself as being “handsome.” He’s actually not so ugly, as I envisioned him, just modest.. McQuarrie read the guy’s
    self description, and painted a character … I told my editor I wanted to revise the text a bit to make the hero closer to McQuarrie’s vision, and she had to argue me out of that.

    So, find the book, and appreciate the cover,

  • wayne

    Good stuff! Always interested in the background story! I’ll definitely take a look through my paperbacks.
    Referencing “cover-art,” I used to have an extensive run of Amazing Stories, primarily 1938-1945, and a sampling of such gems as Weird Tales and Astounding– cover art is all amazing, and rarely had anything to do with any of the text therein.

  • LocalFluff

    I agree by and large, except for this little sentence:
    “Trump does have other options, however, even if they include building a space station orbiting the Moon….”

    Sure, they can waste money on the Deep Space Gateway, but that will in no way whatsoever contribute anything to human space flight. So the goal to be achieved by of the DSG is to reduce human space flight by 96% (4 astronauts 3 weeks a year instead of 6 astronauts 52 weeks a year on the ISS today). To achieve this, all NASA budget for the next 30 years will be consumed. The plan is to in 50 years send humans to Mars. But the SLS is already 40 years old, it will be 100 years old when it is supposed to go to Mars. We don’t dust off Apollo technology today, it is history and would be even more expensive to reenact than developing a new concept from scratch. So the SLS is worthless junk per design. Not even during the first world war did Napoleonic ships still sail in the navies, they were very much more modern than NASA’s HSF of the 21th century. If you do a “stepping stone” you better move on within a decade, or nothing useful will be left of the experience and gadgets.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff wrote: “So the goal to be achieved by of the DSG is to reduce human space flight by 96% (4 astronauts 3 weeks a year instead of 6 astronauts 52 weeks a year on the ISS today).

    That is a nice summary of the net effect of this proposed project. At least with ISS we achieved a continuous manned presence in space, a major milestone and capability in our expansion into space.

    The cost of this reduction in capability would be similar to (or greater than?) the cost of operating ISS or of Apollo’s four-per-year Moon landings.

    It’s one small step for NASA, one giant leap backward for mankind.

    Thank goodness that commercial space companies have such grand plans for space operations. Even the plans of the few, current, modestly funded, companies outshine NASA’s plans.

    mike shupp,
    You wrote: “The sales were, let’s admit, not huge. In retrospect the writing was a bit “stiff” and …

    Just getting published is an accomplishment. My brother sold a couple of short stories, about that time, but his attempt at a novel didn’t get any interest from the publishers (he thought seriously about wallpapering an entire wall with the many rejection letters). Being a writer’s agent must be tough when it comes to telling the writer that it is time to give up on a book and try writing something else.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPKdHP8zWuo (3 minutes)

    Maybe it is harder on the writer than the agent.

    Belated congratulations on being published.

  • Mike: I want to second Edward’s comment. Getting published is a hard thing. And you know that I know this from personal experience. Your books got published in the 1980s. Mine did not. Kudos to you.

  • wayne

    going off thread here:
    Highly recommend an episode of Deep Space 9: “Far Beyond the Stars.” Sisko gets transmogrified back to the late 1940’s, where he (and the rest of cast) portray staff-writer’s at a small SF magazine. It’s a morality play on racism and an extremely well rendered period piece.

    DS9 Season 6 Extras –
    “Far Beyond the Stars”

    Good deal on your brother’s writing adventures!
    And, absolutely Kudos to Mike!

    The business end of SF publishing has always fascinated me, and I lament the loss of mass market print-outlets for younger writer’s to hone their craft.

  • mike shupp

    It’s ancient history, guys. Let’s congratulate Robert, who’s got a novel coming out NOW, and has several nonfiction books — much harder to write — on the tables, and who happens to be a regular webcaster at the John Batchelor Show and David Livingstone’s Space Show, and who runs a blog called Behind The Black that a lot of us come along to look at every day. Let’s pay attention where it’s really due today and express some thanks.


  • mike shupp: Well, thank you for the kind words. Much appreciated. And don’t worry, I need to keep doing this if only to keep myself sane. I couldn’t sleep at night if I didn’t vent my thoughts here. Before the web made webpages like this possible I was continually frustrated by my inability to get my thoughts out to others.

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