Monday, February 1, 2010

Question Mark 2010


I'll probably regret later that I commented on this today, since it's still sinking in. I wonder... will I look back on this day, many years from now, and say "They did the sensible thing." Or, will history remember this move as the first in a resigned downward spiral?

The FY2011 Budget overview for NASA was published, along with statements from Charlie Bolden and Buzz Aldrin. I tuned into's Q&A session held by the Office of Science & Technology Policy, whereby OSTP Chief of Staff Jim Kohlenberger and NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver did reply to the press with a fair amount of detail -- but danced around direct questions, armed with honorific buzzwords, because of course that would be a natural reaction.

I’m not a reporter, so again, I won't rehash particulars, but none of the leaked suspicions of the past week were proven counterfactual. Norman Augustine summed it up best, though he probably had no idea he was doing so:

"While many of us who believe strongly in human space flight hoped that further funding would have been possible, this is obviously a demanding period from a budgetary standpoint. The President’s proposed program seems to match means to ends, and should therefore be executable."

In other words, Constellation was too much burrito supreme for our tiny taco economy right now. Kennedy, Johnson, Ames, Marshall, Michoud, Langley and Glenn were all mentioned – but no one had the guts to utter the word “layoff,” preferring to emphasize redirection or refocus. All the people working on Constellation… how will they be re-assigned? That question was given only a vague response, with the strategic mention of “robotic missions.”

Kohlenberger further emphasized that "because we’ve spent $9 billion on a program that cannot be executed doesn't mean we should spend billions more and potentially still be unable to execute."

Well, yeah, we can all see that point. Buzz is finally on board, so can I try to be? They argue that Constellation forced budget cuts to other NASA programs, which may now thrive again: climate change, ISS extension, telescopes, increasingly “green” aviation, and science-based education programs, etc. I found myself thinking, well, those are positive steps… those shouldn't fall by the wayside. No one is na├»ve about how difficult it is to control spending and still spur growth in a recession, and many members of Congress (in both parties) have already made it plain they want these spending outlines adjusted or scrapped, so we’ve hardly heard the last word on the matter.

The Future of Human Space Exploration
Then I wonder, am I just doing what they’re doing? Rationalizing? Well, of course I am. It’s human nature to try to make the best of news you didn’t want to hear. We certainly could make a success of bypassing the moon for continued work in low-Earth-orbit, and destinations such as asteroids, the Lagrangian points, Mars and its moons, etc… but it’s my honest feeling that these missions will prove far more dangerous without first testing long-duration human existence on a working lunar base.

Bolden wrote: "The new effort will enable our nation to develop more innovative technologies, foster new industries, strengthen international partnerships, and increase our understanding of the earth, our solar system, and the universe beyond. Our endeavors in space can inspire our imaginations and kindle our collective spirit of discovery and adventure."

Really? If this is so keenly inspiring and adventurous, why didn't Obama say it himself during the State of the Union? When the big guy says it on prime time, it’s a win. When lesser bureaucrats hold a Monday afternoon tea, it’s an acquiescent sigh called "Plan B."

They sounded pretty, but I know a band-aid on a bullet wound when I see one.

I truly hoped international "collaboration" would be the keyword of the 21st century, but Americans seem to be proving we cannot get onboard en masse with anything that isn’t rife with "competition."


Norman Copeland said...

I realise some of this generations astronuats have trained their entire lives to have an opportunity to travel to 'thinner air', perhaps another planetoid, but, this is a problem i've seen so many times before in business and particularly in science.

It's not sanely fare to expect a businessman to give 10 billion dollars for 20 astronauts to go into Low Earth orbit for scientific tests that have not been chartered or ordered and carry any particular relevance.

Lot's of us have various ideas about what we should be doing with micro gravity research, but, the ultimate value of any off world departures is to populate other worlds.

John f Kennedy gave us our dreams, Sputnik did, monkeys and dogs proved its possible on a limited schedule.

I beleive that the decision was a mature decision regardless of a manned programme or not for the forseable future.

I beleive that with the next 10 years people like myself will have the money on the table to invest in an infrastructure, but, before that happens we need tangible proof that it can be done within the perimeters of our communities safety margins.

Be fair, people are still dying in airplanes from deep vain thrombosis, were trying to build commmunity support for a meaningful way to spend 10's, perhaps and enevitably 100's of billions of pounds.

The money's available, but, can the bum's survive on seats?

I toy around with the nitty gritty at my scrapbook blog
with what civilians will need the knowledge of for off world colonising.

It will be tough. I've seen the NASA training schedule, and it's not nearly strict enough if you ask me.

I've been training for 6 years and with all the money NASA has spent, I would be happy to fulfil any vacant astronaut positions for a fraction of the cost it has cost NASA.

Call me a fruitcake.

I know what I'm talking about.

Frederick Evans said...

Fine, you are a fruitcake. You leave comments that are so loopy and random, I doubt anyone takes you seriously. Really, what in the world are you TALKING about? Who’s asking a business man to give 10 billion dollars for un-chartered or un-ordered tests that have no “relevance” ? You wouldn’t have a cell phone or television channels without NASA, we wouldn’t have even a fraction of the medical technology which currently exists, and we would not have led world science for the last half-century if not for the space program. I get so sick and tired of this short-sighted bullshit. How in God’s name does anyone expect us to magically “colonize other worlds” if we don’t make the sacrifices and take the necessary steps to reach that goal? Meanwhile, China and Russia still see the long run, still consider their space programs a matter of national pride, so where did we go wrong? Maybe we should just start calling ourselves the United Short Attention Spans of America.

Norman Copeland said...

I've explained my opinion of the modern funding situation at ''
blog title.


''My Social/Technology Experiment''

I want to get off this planet so bad it hurts, but, we've got to pull everyone else with us, thats the reason I have to admire the government, because they consider all the other people that have different priorities. It's crazy sitting here in the middle of this and just looking. No. I'm not going to start.

Yes. Good luck.

Kuday said...

I believe space researches should be carried on by international collaborations. ESA is a good example but their 2009 budget is about €3,5 million while NASA 2010 budget is almost $18,5 billion. What is the reason of such big difference?

Sach said...

So - basically the White House actually ended up following what the Augustine Committee proposed months ago!?

I remember Sally Ride saying how she was all for getting NASA out of the 'transport-to-LEO-and-back' business. (LEO: Low Earth Orbit)

I loved these comments though:
"Nasa will accelerate and enhance its support for the commercial spaceflight industry to make travel to low-Earth orbit and beyond more accessible and more affordable," said Nasa chief Charlie Bolden.

"Imagine enabling hundreds, even thousands of people to visit or live in low-Earth orbit, while Nasa firmly focuses its gaze on the cosmic horizon beyond Earth."

@Kuday: As for the ESA not having a huge enough budget its two reasons:

First of all the GDP of the ENTIRE European Union is 'only' US$16.19 trillion compared with US$14.2 trillion of USA, by itself.

And then on top of it, its divided amongst 44 countries - Generating a strong Space Vision is difficult in one nation (USA), try doing that in 44 different countries at the same time! :D

PillowNaut said...

Everyone is entitled to their opinions – I won’t delete or suppress anyone’s thoughts... but I have a few suggestions for my little block on the blogosphere...

@Freddie – Let’s keep it clean in terms of language, as I have many youngsters who visit... and @Norman – perhaps a bit more effort at clarity / brevity :)

Sach said...

I love it when Pillownaut steps in to keep order! :)

PillowNaut said...

Don't make me bang my gavel ;)