No, no, no, Mr. President.

And here is one issue on which I shall disagree strongly with President Obama: cancellation of the Constellation program and the return to the Moon.

Now, buried therein are a couple actually good ideas. For one, I like the idea that a return to the moon should be a collaborative effort. There’s no reason not to have ESA and RKA involved, and it spreads the cost around. Other plans involve spurring private initiatives and opening up space for actual commercial ventures. So far, outside of Burt Rutan at any rate, it’s been the domain of state-sponsored programs.

But it’s not going to happen by cancelling the Ares launcher and Constellation program. NASA will be reduced to buying tickets on RKA Soyuz shots to get our people into space, pending the development of private launch capabilities. And so far, all they’re capable of are suborbital shots. No orbit, no ISS rendezvous. It’s effectively taking us out of the manned spaceflight game.

For what gain? Is that all that’s going to be left of our program, putting satellites up so that another hundred channels of unwatchable shit can be broadcast coast to coast?

If nothing else, I wish he’d think of it as a jobs program, and that he didn’t win Florida by a wide enough margin that he can afford to piss the state off.

He’s only two, three years older than me. Did he not watch the same moon landings I did?

Mark it down in your calendars — this is to date the one and only time that I will say that Dubya had the right idea. He had the wrong approach in not having the new launch system ready before mothballing the old, but at least he supported going.

This is going to be awful. This is going to be like the 70s, after Skylab and Apollo/Soyuz and before the Shuttle, except that back then, we at least had the Shuttle to look forward to and knew it was in the offing.

This plan asks us to look forward to… nothing. Instead of “Yes We Can”, this is “No We Can’t”.

No, I’m not going to change my party registration over this — a bad decision about space is preferable to several metric assloads of lies about a war we had no business starting — but damn it anyways!

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4 comments so far

  1. thattallguy201 on

    You give W too much credit.

    The “return to the moon” thing was not a real goal. It was a cover for the abdication of responsibility for resupplying the ISS and a political gimmick to round out his State of the Union speech that year, an attempt to co-opt the same feel-good results of Kennedy’s initiative.

    His proposed budget — $1Bn in new money, another 11 cut from other NASA programs — was laughably small for the goals he set, and was back-end loaded in the budget; Obama saved something in the $100Bn range.

    And he hasn’t terminated space exploration. Exploration goes on remotely. I deal with half a dozen computers a day just at home, and rarely do I physically touch more than one of them. Remote control is not only fine, it’s preferable: working smarter, not working harder. And if it’s just your run-of-the-mill software consultant doing all this remote work, don’t you think an outfit like NASA can do it better?

    And we can do better sending unmanned missions. Better science, better engineering, better preparation for manned missions later — safer, longer, more complete, because the groundwork will have been laid by sending air factories and housing and mining robots and rovers and basically anything necessary. This way we get time and money to work on new types of rockets and better ways of handling the contained environment and even building the damn things in space instead of on the ground which has always been a rocket’s Achilles heel.

    I haven’t agreed with everything Obama’s done either. But I do know that overall he shares my priorities and so I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt on some things. And some I think have been shown to be genuine mistakes, such as his bending over backwards to be bipartisan.

    But not space. Space he’s doing right.

    Also see http://trueslant.com/milesobrien/2010/02/24/to-the-moon-i-think-not-alice/.

  2. The Rev Dr Sherwood Forrester on

    Oh, I agree re: Dumbass. I quote myself from several previous entries when I was still on LJ (that have since been moved here):

    20060720: Oh, [Dumbass] talked about going back to the Moon, but it’s bullshit–you’ll notice that he hasn’t mentioned it since. It’s noise to try and make himself sound “enlightened”–but look at the numbers. He hasn’t committed the budget necessary and he won’t. It’s more bullshit.

    20040115: Difference is, JFK put the government’s money where his mouth was. The Occupant can’t, and won’t.

    Absolutely it was mouth noises, but at least it was the right church, even if it was the wrong pew, and he scampered out before they passed the collection plate.

    I have a real problem with us not having a man-rated vehicle of our own, since the only other two man-rated launchers are RKA’s Soyuz (surely the Volkswagen Beetle of spaceflight — that sucker is monumentally reliable) and China’s Shenzhou, which they’ve only launched with crew three times themselves, and which I bet they will not be especially willing to sell seats on this early in their program. I don’t even know if Shenzhou is capable of docking with the ISS. It bets our future in space on as-yet undeveloped technologies, and the vagaries of international diplomacy.

    Functionally, it cedes human occupation of space — even near space — to one provider: RKA. China hasn’t had a manned launch since 2008, and their next proposed launch is next year at the earliest, and in any case, they’re focused on Tiangong, their own space station. After all, we’re the ones who most reliably say ‘no’ when they ask for a space on the ISS.

    So that leaves us with buying Soyuz seats. What happens when they start using that as leverage to make us change our policies on dealings with their border states? Because that will happen once we are dependent on them for access.

    Sure, unmanned missions are supposed to pave the way for manned missions. But where are those manned missions supposed to come from if we don’t have a launch vehicle?

    Here’s a split-the-difference solution: license the Soyuz design and build and launch our own. Those things are scary reliable. Just scrape off the Cyrillic and relabel ’em “Unity Capsules” or something.

  3. thattallguy201 on

    You talk as though there wasn’t already going to be a 1+ decade gap between the decommissioning of the Shuttles and the success of the Orion. By putting all our eggs in a thirty-year-old basket and not looking ahead we’d already ceded manned space around now by the mid ’90’s. It’s no use blaming Obama for it.

    And why are you counting out Burt Rutan and people like him anyway? Incent him properly and he’ll be able to resupply the ISS just fine.

    But what’s the point? Until we have enough oomph to maintain a thrust for more than a minute or two at a time, unmanned missions make more sense. When we finally get our plasma drive in serious development, then come and talk to me about how we need men in space. We’ll need men in orbit to build the ships that do the real work, and we’ll need some sort of ground-to-LEO cargo capability then. Until then, unmanned is cheaper, safer, and just as effective.

  4. The Rev Dr Sherwood Forrester on

    Sure, I’d love to see Rutan and the other X-prizers making runs to the ISS — no argument there. And that seems to be part of President Obama’s plan, encouraging private industry to step up to the plate. I said in my original post that I’m on board with that.

    Couple things here, though.

    There isn’t supposed to be a ten year gap between retiring the Shuttles and getting Orion man-rated. The first manned Orion flight is (was?) planned for 2014 — a three to four year gap, and even allowing for a further slippage of two years, no worse than the gap between the end of Apollo in 1975 and beginning of the Shuttle era in 1981.

    Digression here — can you think of a worse name for a launcher than ‘Ares’? That’s the name for a nuclear missile!

    Anyway, this isn’t so much a ‘blame Obama’ as a ‘disagree with Obama’. Certainly I’ll agree that NASA exhibited a staggering lack of foresight, behaving as though the Shuttle was the eternal answer, and Mark Wade’s indictment of the Ares/Orion decision-making process is scathing at the very least. This is a good time to stop and think about what exactly we need to do in space, and what we need to do it with, before we get in too deep to another dead-end technology. However, I do not believe that we should just stop.

    RKA’s plans are much more appealing — they are embracing the commercialization of space, or at least making it a high-end (no pun intended) tourist destination.

    There is definite science to be done on the moon — a radio telescope on the far side would do for radio astronomy what Hubble did for optical, for one. And that’s a project that can be operated remotely, but can it be set up remotely, or serviced remotely? Set up, mmmmmmmaybe. Serviced, almost certainly not. Returning is not purely a matter of chest-thumping and ‘feel good’ projects; there is real science to be done there beyond checking to see what the rocks look like.

    And further manned exploration doesn’t need to be contingent on the development of new propulsion technologies. If the discovery of water on the moon holds up in the numbers they’re talking about, we’re looking at a huge supply of instant rocket fuel: just add electricity. At the poles, that’s even easier — solar panels on high ground facing each direction, and you have all the electricity you need, excluding perfectly predictable lunar eclipses.


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