Patterico's Pontifications

1/7/2009

Obama’s Plan for NASA (Updated)

Filed under: Obama,Space — DRJ @ 2:04 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

NASA’s hometown newspaper the Houston Chronicle followed up on recent reports that Obama’s leading candidate to head NASA is former shuttle astronaut, test pilot, and retired Marine Corps General Charles Bolden, Jr.:

“The former test pilot left NASA in 1994 after 14 years of service to return to the Marine Corps, where he rose to the rank of major general. He retired in 2003.

But Bolden has remained familiar with NASA’s workings and personnel. He serves on NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, one of nine experts who advises the administrator. He is also an adviser to the four high-ranking NASA officials who are overseeing the upcoming space shuttle reconditioning flight to the 18-year-old Hubble Space Telescope. Bolden piloted the shuttle Discovery in 1990 that flew the observatory into space.”

It could be considered a bipartisan appointment since President George W. Bush previously tried to appoint Bolden as NASA’s deputy administrator:

“In 2002, President George W. Bush nominated Bolden to serve as NASA’s deputy administrator. However, the nomination was withdrawn after the Pentagon objected to civilian agencies drafting high-ranking officers during wartime.”

Other names are rumored to still be on Obama’s short list but this appointment makes sense if, as Bloomberg reported last week, Obama carries through on a plan “to tear down long-standing barriers between the U.S.’s civilian and military space programs to speed up a mission to the moon amid the prospect of a new space race with China.”

It’s not clear whether NASA will survive as a civilian institution during an Obama Administration but I’m sure the Pentagon would be happy to take responsibility for government’s efforts in space. Maybe it would be cheaper and more efficient to consolidate space issues in the military, or maybe it’s a bad idea. What do you think?

UPDATE: PJ Media’s Rand Simberg says Bloomberg got it wrong:

“Despite what some of the (non-transition) sources quoted say, there is little relationship between a human moon landing and space warfare in near-earth orbit. Guidance systems for the latter are easily developed in the absence of orbital rendezvous and docking, which have different requirements. And despite myths promulgated by science fiction about being bombarded from the moon, it is really not a militarily useful high ground against the earth.

Yes, it will save costs if NASA can use existing, or modified existing, vehicles, but this wouldn’t involve any “tearing down of walls,” and it should be done regardless of what the Chinese are doing, simply to make the program more affordable and sustainable.

How did this confusing and misleading story happen? In an email from someone familiar with the transition team’s activities, it seems pretty simple:

This story is very strange. We asked questions about EELVs; about how the DOD and NASA cooperate; and what has been discussed with China. They were unrelated questions. It seems as though the reporter tied them together for his odd conclusion.

Thus, Bolden’s appointment may mean Obama’s goal is efficiency through multi-agency cooperation, not tearing down walls. I’m for that.

H/T dobygillas.

— DRJ

31 Responses to “Obama’s Plan for NASA (Updated)”

  1. Bad idea to consolidate in the Pentagon. The Pentagon has no interest in any missions over than low earth orbit observation and NAVAIDS.

    SPQR (72771e)

  2. Our leaders better read some Heinlein and grow a set of buckyballs. <b>Whoever controls Luna, controls the world.

    Joe (dcebbd)

  3. 2, I agree. There sure a lot of Heinlein fans who post on this blog. We Grok.

    PCD (7fe637)

  4. The Russians and the Chinese would go ape-shit crazy if the Pentagon took over NASA.

    Timothy Watson (2d1d06)

  5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the Lunies drove the Earth into submission by lobbing rocks that crashed on earth cities.

    It was also Heinlien who wrote that an armed society is a polite society.

    Joe (dcebbd)

  6. Listen to Robert Zubrin. And IMO, keep the military as far away as possible.

    Old Coot (f036b5)

  7. Obama is going to engage in a space with the Chinese!! Isn’t that racist or something?

    I thought he was just going to bless everyone and dialogue and the lion would lie down with the lamb.

    Patricia (89cb84)

  8. Meh. Velcro and Tang. I never quite get past that.

    Dana (137151)

  9. The Russians and the Chinese would go ape-shit crazy if the Pentagon took over NASA.

    While I don’t doubt that — or that their useful idiots would follow their lead — I was not aware that either of them had a truly civilian space program.

    Rob Crawford (b5d1c2)

  10. Let the military focus on killing.

    ricky (60ebc1)

  11. NASA has suffered from poor management for decades. That was the what the Challenger accident was all about. The military would probably do a better job and military applications for space are coming. It’s a pretty good appointment.

    Mike K (f89cb3)

  12. Anything that breaks the NASA need to keep all of the Shuttle employees around is a good thing. The whole Ares/Orion project is designed solely to keep all of the Shuttle work force employed. NASA complains about man-rating Atlas V and Delta 4 Heavy not from any worry over the results but from the worry over loss of multiple bureaucratic fiefdoms.

    This change has been too long in coming for at least 20 years.

    Captain Ned (cbdd99)

  13. Don’t know about the consolidation, but it has been evident for a long time that a firm hand is needed at the helm of NASA – this has all the marks of that firm hand. And, as someone who spent a long time there, I’m confident that he knows who needs to put in their retirement papers, and will accept them.

    AD (64c542)

  14. That Bloomberg story is being questioned for its accuracy in Pajamas Media, Rand Simburg. The question being raised is whether the reporter knows what he’s talking about. The Simburg story quotes some reputed Obama transition team dude who denies the Bloomberg story and basically says the reporter is way off base. Besides if you think about it, Nasa has a more complex job to do in space than the military since Nasa does people in space and that is awhole lot more expensive then putting satellites up there. Why would DOD want to share Nasa’s expensive requirements?

    dobygillas (6ebe3a)

  15. What I want to know is how this will affect the -private- space efforts.

    Is he one of the ‘not-invented-here-means-can’t-work’ folk? Or one who sees NASA’s role as more exploratory? Or scientific?

    Al (93703e)

  16. dobygillas,

    Thanks for the information. I’ll update the post to include a link to the PJ Media rebuttal.

    DRJ (345e40)

  17. Maybe they could colonize one of those other planets, imperialist capitalist running dogs. Then, Baldwin, Streisand, Moore, etal would have somewhere to live.

    JD (457b76)

  18. DRJ, Rand Simnberg knows his stuff. He blogs at transterrestrial dot com.

    Eric Blair (07e55f)

  19. Manned space flight is mostly a waste of money. Use the billions of dollars wasted on manned flight to fund unmanned satellites, interplanetary craft, space telescopes, etc. to advance science.

    Perfect Sense (9d1b08)

  20. Perfect Sense(less) we need to get going. The Chi-Coms intend to colonize the moon, Mars, etc. So do the Russians. First in time, first in right. And a mini rover does not count. Boots on the ground, boots on the ground! Whoever controls Luna controls Earth. Whoever gets established on Mars first, control the way that planet goes. If you want your great grandkids second class citizens who have to learn Mandarin to get a job in space, keep thinking backward.

    Plus if we need to stimulate the economy, a space race is a perfect way to do it.

    Joe (dcebbd)

  21. In the Rand Simburg explanation, who is talking, here, and who are they talking to:

    “We asked questions about EELVs etc.”

    We, on the Obama team, asked the DOD and NASA about EELVs? And the Bloomberg reporter messed up the transcript? And at what meeting?

    I’m not doubting Simburg’s background explanation. There’s just some info missing here, and that’s keeping this story “very strange.”

    m (8c3a10)

  22. #20 Let China and Russia bankrupt themselves trying to colonize either the moon or mars.

    Perfect Sense (9d1b08)

  23. “No Buck Rogers, No Bucks!”
    Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff

    AD (64c542)

  24. m,

    Here’s what I think Simberg was saying:

    It’s been previously reported that the Obama transition team interviewed people at NASA about changes designed to save money and reduce inefficiencies, as well as generally to understand the value of things like the EELVs. The Bloomberg reporter apparently asked the transition team about those matters and the China space program, and may have tried to pull the two together by suggesting Obama intended to merge the Pentagon space program and NASA.

    Simberg’s explanation makes a lot more sense to me than the idea Obama would eliminate NASA, since I don’t think there is as much overlap between NASA and the military program as some may imagine.

    DRJ (345e40)

  25. Hmmm. This business of bankrupting nations by developing space travel is interesting. It’s not possible to argue with the James Van Allen Brigade (the anti-manned space folks). With respect, just two things:

    1. The amount of funding for the combined program will not siphon into the unmanned program…if the manned program is cut. To conclude otherwise is magical thinking.

    2. I could chat about the amount of precious metals in a single nickel-iron asteroid, or building SPSs. Or the technology transfer from the development of manned space systems. But those things won’t convince the VAB.

    What I would point out is to ask who bankrolled Columbus’ first trip to the Americas…and who settled the Americas and got first crack at their resources.

    We’ll see how Obama’s team does.

    Eric Blair (3e2520)

  26. NASA spends about $5 billion per year on manned space flight. This expenditure equals about 200 tons of gold. Nobody will be bringing back 200 tons of gold from the moon or any planet for $5 billion. Those trips will cost closer to $50 billion.

    $5 billion will be far better spent on unmanned space exploration.

    Perfect Sense (9d1b08)

  27. Actually, Perfect Sense, you don’t know what the costs of future space travel are, nor do you know that money would be “better spent” on unmanned space exploration. No one does. I don’t mean to be rude. I find it curious that anti-manned spaceflight types attack guesses about return from space on the one hand, but do exactly the same thing to present their own point.

    The manned space program has given us much, much more than Tang and teflon. But I don’t expect to convince you.

    So let’s not argue about it. Your “side” is winning, anyway.

    I would say that any nation that turns its back on exploration and the innovation that it always brings is in trouble. But you would not agree with me, of course.

    You might also look into the history of Chinese maritime exploration. That was expensive and against the “best interests” of the Mandarins, too. It didn’t work out so well for the Chinese, but perhaps they have learned their lesson today.

    But regardless, you cannot seriously think that the money taken from the manned program will be dumped onto the unmanned program people.

    About five minutes after that, the Democrats will pass a balanced budget amendment.

    Eric Blair (3e2520)

  28. Sorry to be curt, but when exactly is NASA going to stop willingly killing people in the name of money?

    Although I understand finding H2O on the moon or mars is most important and worth the money!

    ML (14488c)

  29. #24 DRJ
    Thanks for the background.

    m (8c3a10)

  30. Just read the following on another site and thought it appropo here (bolding and italicized text is my own doing):

    Manned or Unmanned? The Answer is Both!
    by Jason Rhian

    While most of the general public may be unaware of it, there is a “war” going on within the space community. There are those that feel that manned missions should be canceled and that only unmanned missions should be funded. Really?

    What is comical is they will rant (at length) about the Hubble Space Telescope and how it’s unmanned! They ignore the fact that the Hubble Space Telescope would have never worked correctly and would have fallen out of the sky long ago if not for astronauts.

    The shuttle Endeavour flew on STS-61 to repair faulty optics on the orbiting telescope. It was followed by STS-82, STS-103 and STS-109. Soon the final mission to the telescope, STS-125, will be on its way, (May of 2009). After that? Without the aid of manned missions the telescope will eventually fail and fall into the ocean.

    There’s also the opinion that unmanned missions are far more efficient than manned missions. Well, as we mark five years of rovers operating on Mars we should also take a step back to both 1999 and 1969.

    In 1999 NASA lost not one but two expensive Martian spacecraft. Both the Mars Polar Lander and the Mars Climate Orbiter ended up as so much space age junk across the Martian space and landscape. Turn the clock back 30 years and two men with a computer with less memory than a pocket calculator landed on the moon. Sorry, robots can never replace the intellect, skill and instinct of capable human beings.

    Lastly, are we trying to ensure the survival of probes and robots? No, we want to learn how to survive and live in space. Why? Because no matter which camp you are in the fact of the matter is that earth is a planet with a limited shelf life. Sooner or later our home will no longer be able to support life. We need to learn how to move outward – now.

    Hobbling and refusing to learn space faring skills is tantamount to suicide of species. With out a doubt we need unmanned craft. Having them act in a scouting capacity, searching out the terrain and gaining an understanding of what is out there – is a perfect use of there capabilities.

    Our future is in space, as soon as we recognize this and use our resources properly and in the correct role – the better.

    Jim Spellman (99774d)

  31. Thank you, Jim. I understand that we are all now in a “Junkyard Dog” style partisan society…but some things are more important than that.

    Common sense.
    The future.

    Again, much appreciated.

    Eric Blair (3e2520)


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