Have The Democrats Resigned America To Third Place Status In Space?
There have been a number of huge space-related decisions in the past three days, which have caused me a lot of concern, moments of anger, and some genuine disgust. Regular readers of our little blog here will know that I’m not a reactionary kind of guy. I don’t hate the other party simply because they’re the other party, I don’t generally attack them. I do occasionally tease ‘em and I’m pretty open in my confusion about their thought processes, which frequently seem self-contradictory to me. I’m not that guy. I believe in America, I believe in the Two-Party system, I believe that the system is generally self-regulating, and if either side goes too far, the people will vote the extremists out of office.
That said, I don’t know what - aside from anger - to make of this: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100128/ap_on_sc/us_sci_nasa_future;_ylt=AlOSXKKwr6eC9qLiuX8_qBsPLBIF;_ylu=X3oDMTJqMDJrNGU1BGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwMTI4L3VzX3NjaV9uYXNhX2Z1dHVyZQRjcG9zAzEEcG9zAzEEc2VjA3luX3RvcF9zdG9yeQRzbGsDbmFzYXRvZ2V0bW9y
Following the Columbia Disaster in 2003, the government rethought our basically-inert space program. All we’d been doing for thirty years - a generation! - was spankin’ it in Low Earth Orbit. The Space Station is basically useless, and amounts to basically spankin’ it on a scale never before dreamed of. There’s no real research that’s going on that hasn’t been done a zillion times over in the previous generation. The Columbia’s mission was to do research on how weightlessness could be utilized for the manufacture of certain kinds of perfumes. Perfume research? Really? That was worth the lives of seven people and a four billion dollar spacecraft?
I’m pretty hard on NASA - and for good reason - but they are the only game in town, and it’s always been in the government’s interests (but not the people’s interest) to use the agency to limit access to space, not to expand it.
There were signs this was changing back during the Bush-the-Younger administration. We decided to retire our fleet of aviation coffins, we admitted we weren’t doing jack, we admitted we’d lost our way, and we decided to resume our lead in space. We began the development of new, less ambitious, but more practical spacecraft - the “Orion” - and a new generation of Heavy Lift Launch Vehicles (The Ares V). We began development on a new, reusable lunar lander spacecraft, and our sights were set on Mars. This was all a step in the right direction.
This “Project Constellation” wasn’t as ambitious as I would have liked, and it was thirty-five years too late, but a step in the right direction is a step in the right direction.
Well, this is all dead now, kids. The article I cited above openly states “the Constellation program is dead.” It goes on to state explicitly “What kills the moon mission is the decision to extend the space station to 2020, …That means the Bush goal of "moon by 2020 is dead. We can't afford using the station for five more years and going to the moon.”
So, once again, actual real research gets sidelined in favor of Orbital Spankery. Billions of dollars in R&D just thrown away - again - without any payoff. And of course all this will end up getting blamed on our previous president because our Current President can’t seem to take responsibility for their own actions. The War in Iraq? Bush’s fault. The existence of Terrorism in general? Bush’s fault. Prostate cancer? Bush’s fault. Girl Scout Cookies only available once a year? Bush’s fault. Inclement weather? Bush’s fault. Can’t get a date? Bush’s fault, or so we hear from the other side again and again and again and again.
To our Democratic friends - and I know we have a bunch who visit this site because we’re not kneejerk reactionaries - don’t you ever get sick of this? I don’t hate the president, I never hated the president, I don’t believe I’ve ever said a bad word about him, but don’t you wish the guy would stop blaming others, and *Start* actually *DOING* things?
I mean, we’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars to buy piece-of-crap cars, but we can’t spend a fraction of that to go back to the moon? We can’t maintain a piece-of-crap space station, *and* a vigorous manned space exploration program at the same time? What are we, France? Did we loose a war and no one told me? Has it come to the point that we’re just willing to admit our grandparents were superhuman giants, and we’re just puny dumbasses content to drink microbrewery beer and download internet porn?
No. I’m sorry, but that’s not what I signed on for. If I wanted to live in an irrelevant ‘me too’ country, I’d have moved to Canada. We are Americans, dammit! The frontier is important to us. If we turn out backs on it, we’re turning our backs on ourselves.
It remains to be seen if Orion will ever get off the ground. My assumption is that it won’t, that it’ll be quietly cancelled a year or three down the line. Obama has favored postponing the already-painfully-slow development program. Even if Orion development continues, once the Shuttle is retired, we will be without spaceflight capability for a Decade! A decade! A decade during which Russia and China will be our obvious superiors; a decade during which we will be fighting neck and neck with France - the French, for God’s sake! - for third place!
Again, this is unacceptable.
Likewise, the opening of space to private concerns - which got really it’s only ever boost during the Bush administration - is teetering on the edge of government obstruction.
This isn’t surprising. I predicted this would happen pretty much the day after SpaceShipOne won the X-prize. Again, NASA - hobbled by the decisions I’ve already discussed - is fearful of any competition, which would erode their power, and also point out how badly they suck. It may be a tiny fishbowl they’re kings of, and draining all the while, but by damn they’re not going to allow anyone to threaten their power.
And yet…and yet there’s some hope here. I totally did not see this one coming: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/science/space/29nasa.html The idea that private companies might be free to do manned flights as contractors for NASA is promising. This is something that has been bandied about for quite some time, but never really given any official interest. This could, theoretically, solve at least half of our problem: How can we get NASA employees in orbit for their masturbatory fun-fests? If NASA can’t, or won’t do it themselves, well, perhaps Corporate America can help out.
We’re still screwed with regards to real exploration, of course. NASA won’t do that, and they clearly won’t let anyone else do it either. Still, with corporate launches comes the possibility of industrial development in space - something NASA has always staunchly opposed - and if we find an orbital cash crop, that increases the likelihood of companies attempting to find newer and better locations and resources on their own, regardless of what the government thinks.
So there’s promise there. Again, it’s a generation too late and not as ambitious as I would have hoped, but a step forward is a step forward…assuming it’s allowed to happen, of course. Like the Orion and Virgin Galactic, I seriously doubt it’ll ever see the light of day.
And of course neither NASA nor the government have expressed any interest in Space Colonization since the summer of 1975. The real purpose of space exploration is to eventually find - or more likely build - new places for us to live. Population pressure, environmental degradation, and diminishing resources dictate that we *must* find new horizons if we’re to survive as a species. We are entirely too defenseless and fragile here on earth, all our eggs are quite literally in one basked. All it takes is a big hunk of rock to fall from space, or a quaint little nuclear war, or the sun changing it’s energy output - which it does from time to time - and we’re done as a species. We need to find new places and new ways to live, and I’d prefer that we Americans are the ones to do it. I hate the thought of our people being forced to scrabble for Chinese or Russian leftovers.
So basically at this point I’ve had it. I’m disgusted. I don’t understand the Democrat’s hatred for space, for science in general, really. I hate NASA at this point, for becoming essentially the aerospace equivalent of the Vietnam war - pissing away an entire generation of brilliant people and abilities for no great purpose. I’m furious at the President’s weird drive to continue flogging a dead horse - and make no bones about it, the real reason Constellation was killed was because the Bush administration started it - I’m just….gah. Words fail me. NASA has been plagued with a lack of vision for most of its life, and of course our government has never been particularly good at planning ahead, but even still, I’d have never expected this level of blinkered philistine pig-ignorance in my lifetime. I give up. Maybe we, as a nation, really are too stupid to survive. Maybe we deserve to be demoted to irrelevant France level-projects from now on. Maybe we’ve just lost the will to lead the world. We’re told that the recent elections were all about disgust over Republican warmongery and incompetence, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was just a vote to roll over and go to sleep? What if, as a nation, we’ve simply become tired and old, and we prefer a good nap and a walk around the mall to actually going out and doing something productive. What if Obama’s great leap forward is simply a vote to take a nap, and then catch some Lawrence Welk repeats on PBS?
I’m increasingly, disturbingly of the impression that it is. Again, this is not what I’ve signed on for. But maybe we can fix this. Maybe we can fight back against this national ennui.
I’m not the kind of person to call for political action. I never tell people what to do or how to think - that’s more of a Democratic thing - but I would strongly urge everyone reading this to call their senators and representatives, and to express their utter disgust and contempt for the cancellation of the Constellation program, and the extension of our involvement in the International Space Station. I don’t care if your elected officials are Democrats, Republicans, or Third-Party Whackjobs; I don’t care if you, the reader, are a Democrat, a Republican, or a Tea Partier: we need to make our voice heard on this. We need to let them know that this is unacceptable, and if they don’t do something to fix it there will be hell to pay on the next round of elections.
We need to let them know that space isn’t just a pork barrel project to piddle away government funds pointlessly. They need to understand - and I don’t think they ever have - that space *Matters.*
We need to DEMAND our place on the frontier.