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."