Wednesday, April 14, 2010

America Still Lost in Space

Not too many weeks ago, I made a promise to myself to stay away from American politics for good. The slime infesting the halls of government and narrow-minded sycophants seeking only their interests at the expense of everything else had turned my stomach to the point that I finally realized the rot had gone to the core making any attempt at reform the same as shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. However, I find myself once again forced to comment on the swirling cesspool, this time for my own narrow interests.
I voted for President Obama largely on the idea that he could lead the country into the 21st century in spite of stagnate views and festering apathy from far too many people who are fanatically holding onto an America that really last existed fifty some-odd years ago. Now to be fair, the suitcases of his family were not even unpacked in the White House when a storm of entrenched forces opened fire on him and have yet to let up. However, instead of the president rallying his forces and heading into the fire at least from my view he sat back and became more a sedate university professor observing the mud throwing and sausage making from a distance. Only recently after his health care reform looked to be roasting on an open fire with Republicans gleefully dancing among the flames like children from Lord of the Flies did he finally jump into the mix.
Along those same lines, I at least think the man is falling short again of the reasons I voted for him. Tomorrow Lord Brainiac will travel down to Florida to once again like all the presidents since Reagan and rededicate the country to some national goal in space. This is after canceling the Constellation program with billions already spent and some actual metal being cut. In its place, the president will propose that commercial companies will act as taxi drivers for American astronauts taking them to and from the International Space Station. Companies whose "space taxis" are at best full size display models but more than likely nice slides on a Power Point presentation.
However long it takes these vehicles to be built we will spend years paying the Russians 50 million dollars a seat to do it for us on their simple but very reliable Soyuz spacecraft. It is supposed by those people running things now that going with commercial spacecraft will be easier, cheaper, and push the boundaries of possible human space exploration finally out of low Earth orbit. While that may be the case a letter signed by the many former American astronauts, in my mind more reliable experts, differ:

The real experts go on to write:

It would be wrong for me to ignore the problems with the Constellation program; it was over budget, behind schedule, and lost in a NASA bureaucracy that can make cold molasses look like running water. My point in all this is that after several administrations all making goals but never reaching them it is a sad state for a country that decided to land a man safely on the moon when it was still finding it difficult to launch a damn satellite into orbit.
Hell, I'm all for going to the real space explorations experts, the Russian, and ask them to teach us how to do it. More than likely it will be faster and cheaper in the long run. If the scattered brained American collective has post Cold War issues with the Russkies we can just wait for the Chinese and buy tickets on their flights. They have stated in no uncertain terms that they will land a man on the moon sometime in the 2020s. Even the Indians have it as a goal to reach the moon appearing far more determined and brave than we are right now. Then again they are not fighting two wars essentially over oil, have a decent education system, and a population a little more interested in something other than reality television and Tiger Woods screwing around.
Yes, Lord Brainiac will come out smiling tomorrow and give and impassioned speech saying that America will keep leading the world in manned space exploration by making our goal going to Mars. So excuse my cynicism if I say all he should do is replay the speeches by his last four predecessor on the subject because they are all empty words. I'll skip the speech and read up on former great powers that choked on keeping up with the future and thinking about more than immediate concerns and got left behind by those that could.


Beach Bum said...

I forgot to add that while we will pay the Russians 50 million dollars to fly with them they were charging civilians only 20 million. You would think someone in the government could negotiate a bulk rate discount with them. And we are supposed to trust these people to allow untested companies to develop entirely new manned spacecraft that are cheaper and safer?

Teeluck said...

Ahh, Space...the final frontier...and all that stuff...being a topic for higher minds than mine, I see where you are heading with your train of thought, but right now with the economic wallet as bare as it is I would not mind a little slowing down on the spending in that area. I must admit that space is my greatest fancy and even though I can exercise a little restraint in this area of spending...I do so with bated breath with the hope that we will start the quest anew in short order.

Holte Ender said...

I don't know what percentage of GNP was spent in the 60s on funding NASA, compared to what is spent today, but then it was a genuine race to succeed, there doesn't seem to be a race anymore.

When I went to Kennedy Space Center last year, the guides were pushing hard on us visitors the importance and value of the Space Station and how vital the US contribution is to international cooperation, in retrospect I think they knew they were going to be scrapping for money.

I think China will own near space, with the Russians not far behind, NASA will go deep with probes. It should still be exciting, but probably not for years.

P.S. There was an expensive, unpopular war going on the 60s too and in the middle of it, the US went to the moon.

Beach Bum said...

Teeluck: Well, I had several points I was alluding to, with all the money spent so far on Constellation cancelling the program and then restarting it and duplicating much of the work years later makes about as much sense as the money spent on the Iraq war.

Piss poor management by NASA and the contractors has a lot to do with it. Burt Rutan created Space Ship One and Space Ship Two with far less money. If anyone in NASA had any sense they would have given him a billion and we would have a workable system right now.

Another point Tee is we don't have any money right now and to follow your logic we need to roll back everything. Plus NASA's budget is a drop in the bucket compared to other departments.

Holte: "No Buck Rodgers, no bucks," as one of the Mercury guys is to have reportly said in the 60's. If all we do is send WALL.E's out just kill the damn program.

While there is a seriously bogus giggle factor still associated with it there is a bunch of highly valuable rocks floating out in space packed with strategic metals that China has just about cornered the terrestrial market on. These metals are vital parts in all sorts of manufacturing applications and the vacuum and near zero-gee gravity of space allows certain techniques in manufacturing that cannot be recreated on Earth. And don't even get me started on helium-3 mining.

Check out some of China's reasons for developing human space flight, they have to do with the recourses I mentioned above. Yeah, they might fail but what if they don't? If they are successful the US will be consigned to third-world status. We should at least stay in the game.

P.S. There was an expensive, unpopular war going on the 60s too and in the middle of it, the US went to the moon.

Come on Holte, Kennedy set the goal for the moon in the early 60's while Vietnam was still a backwater with US advisers so that doesn't wash.

But like I said above, this is less about a space race and more to do with simple determination, management, and organization.

lime said...

it was a rather shocking bit of news to hear, that's for sure.

Beach Bum said...

Lime: Just me going on a rant, I have those moments although I find myself more and more saying what the Hell and taking a nap instead until they pass.

Mycue23 said...

I'm disappointed that NASA has been reduced to this as well. I think the goals of the space agency need to be redifined. I'm not sure what the next step in space exploration is, but it has to be more than "we want to do it because we can". Mars doesn't seem like much of a goal to me. We've already been there. We know what's there. And it doesn't have anything particularly valuable for us. We've already spent billions. Let's not compound the mistake by continuing to spend money on a pointless exercise. There are real targets for mining, etc. (as you point out). NASA should refocus and become more practical.

Teresa said...

Keep Ranting...

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

I hear ya. It upsets that our space program / here in sunny FL / will suffer the unjust demise. But Beach, my lil bro retired jet pilot instructor from USAF who consults at NASA says it's really their fault for fucking up hierarchy, too many chiefs not enough Indians and corrupt political support didn't help either. The real ethics and good work with the 'space program' (as usual) doesn't want to 'get involved' in the political infighting nor the overseeing it requires. Jeff say the program has actually been dying off for the last seven years. It ain't new, I guess.
I agree with your supposition that pvt taxi system will subvert the total space exploration model. :-)

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

well shit... next time I'll scroll down to read all the fracken' comments~! ok, ok, ok.

Beach Bum said...

Mycue: I have to differ on what I believe you meant to say about the moon. Sagan once mentioned on his show that the moon had the surface area of North America, even with the dudes four-wheeling with the Lunar Rover we have seen hardly anything of the surface. God knows what we may find.

Even the moon has a potential resource that could be very important in the medium range future. Helium-3 has been found in the lunar dirt from the samples that the Apollo guys brought home and some research has at a minimum suggested that helium-3 would be a far easier fuel for fusion reactors if they are ever developed. This very thin possibility is enough that it is one of the reasons the Chinese have given for their upcoming manned missions to the moon.

Earth has no meaningful deposits of helium-3 and with China cornering the market on just about every strategic metal on this planet I would bet in a heartbeat that they would damn near declare ownership of the moon if those fusion reactors ever are invented.

Teresa: Thank you, but I may start doing on a more regular basis what I told Lime, since I am pretty pessimistic about the country right now I may be taking lots of naps, or start surfing again.

Gwen: I wish the private enterprise people all the best but I have yet to see any of them offer anything more than models and pretty computer animation. Hell, like you said in your comment and Madmike said in his post about the same subject the big aerospace guys are corrupt and piss in the pot every chance they get.

When you have people like Burt Rutan, a freaking genius, getting damn close on his own with far less money and the Russians with their Soyuz still working like the Energizer Bunny I have to consider a lot of unpleasant notion about the government. Because you have us spending years pissing away time and money and then give up because and some egg head who never really supported the space program during the campaign wants to start from zero while re-wrapping the same old package, does not inspire much confidence.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

Buzz Aldrin supports the President's approach here. Neil Armstrong apparently doesn't. What the hell's a know-nothing fellow like me supposed to think here? It would be like Courteney Cox telling me to do one thing....and Vanessa Williams telling me to do the exact opposite. Uhhhhh.....

Teeluck said...

Looks like damned if we do, damned if we don't

Teeluck said...

Beach, love the new pic with your baby.

Randal Graves said...

Asking the Russians? Commies to the left of me, commies to the right!

Chimpy wanted us going to the red planet, we're going to the red planet, martians be damned!

Marja said...

Sorry for my ignorance but what is so special about space that it is worth so much money Do we need it for our survival?
About Obama I just yesterday said that Obama didn't live up to the expectations. My son answered that he is just another puppet on a string.

Beach Bum said...

Will: I can not describe how much of a hero I consider Buzz but Neil has no dog in this fight and has did his best to stay out of the lime light for years. For him to jump into the debate says a lot to me.

I still cannot believe that after ten billion we are going to completely drop all we have done. Hell, Obama is going to use the Orion capsule as an escape pod for the space station. Stick the Orion and its maneuver unit on top of a Delta 4 or an Atlas 5.

Teeluck: No, I just need to leave the country cause IQ's of those in power appear to be bleeding away.

Randal: Just think of all the possibilities of untapped real estate on Mars. We Americans could build all the damn suburbs we want and actually not hurt much.

Marja: The guy has a hard job and far too many liberals like me that thought all he had to do was wave a magic wand and all problems would be solved. He is proving the point that power in modern age many cases is an illusion.

Naj said...

Hi Beach, visiting some old friends. I had somehow forgotten America exists :)

Rhiannon said...

I may sound naive, but I think we need to take a break from Space research and put all our energies into getting this country under control and the wars stopped..and then use the money from space research and the wars (lets stop this war we've not changed a thing but only made things worse and more people hating us and wanting "revenge". Anyway we need to make a list of our main priorities there in this country and then focus on them and get to work on them

Just my thoughts..our priorities are so so wrong right now...