January 10, 2004

The Future of NASA

Mark Kleiman reacts as one would expect to Karl Rove's convincing George W. Bush to further eviscerate NASA's science budget in order to build a moonbase:

Mark A. R. Kleiman: A Moonbase? A MOONBASE?:

Can anyone come up with a single thing to say in defense of the Bush plan? It looks to me like Jimmy Dean politics: pure pork. Bush wants to "go back to being a uniter, not a divider" (How can he "go back" to where he never was?) by enriching his home state and the aerospace contractors at the expense of the rest of us?

And apparently in addition to wasting tons of additional money the Federal government doesn't have on the project, NASA is going to have to get rid of all the actual science it does to help pay for it. (The dollar hit another new low against the Euro today, suggesting that people with their own money on the table aren't as blase as Bush's economic yes-men about deficits stretching as far as the eye can see.)

Of course Bush is grateful to the space program: What would he do without his precious Teflon coating? And obviously he can't afford to be cut off from his supply of ideas that obviously came from anther planet.

But this is even more disgusting than usual. If you're going to let your scientifically illiterate political advisor staff a huge science- policy decision, you should at least have the common decency to lie about it.

What's even more depressing is that none of the alleged conservatives and libertarians who support Bush are going to get off the train for this, or for anything else he does.

So far, I've found only one person signing up for the Bush plan to reinvigorate our manned space program with the aim of someday going to Mars. Scottish science fiction author Ken MacLeod has signed on. He believes that we "owe it to ourselves to make the chaps with the heat-rays and tentacles sorry they ever heard of Woking."

Posted by DeLong at January 10, 2004 10:01 AM | TrackBack


I still say better Mars than Iran.

Posted by: Leopold on January 10, 2004 10:21 AM


I still say better Mars than Iran.

Posted by: Leopold on January 10, 2004 10:26 AM


This guy is just nuts for the Bush plan. See the heading "Carpe Luna"

Scots and Canadians are getting behind this plan; that Bush really is a uniter.

Posted by: J Edgar on January 10, 2004 10:38 AM


I still maintain that Bush going to Mars is a good thing, but only if he stays.

Posted by: noam chimpsky on January 10, 2004 10:55 AM


Lest anyone be tempted to take his support seriously, Ken has occasionally been known to make non-ironic statements about Bush policies. Personally, I suspect he's serious this time: if Heat Rays and War Tripods don't qualify as Weapons of Mass Destruction, what does?

Posted by: Charlie Stross on January 10, 2004 11:51 AM


NASA may be slowly obviated, even if intermediately revamped. The militarization of space will be hugely enabled by its commercialization. China’s announced plans to build a Moon station. The lander on Mars jazzes all the little schoolkids. A grand vision is the perfect diversion. (As if Bush ever cracked open a science book!) You better believe it’s gonna happen soon, if not under this President, then the next:

From “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America” by George W. Bush, Sept. 2002:

‘We must prepare for more such deployments by developing assets such as advanced remote sensing, long-range precision strike capabilities, and transformed maneuver and expeditionary forces. This broad portfolio of military capabilities must also include the ability to defend the homeland, conduct information operations, ensure U.S. access to distant theaters, and protect critical U.S. infrastructure and assets in outer space.’

From "Rebuilding America's Defenses" by the Project for the New American Century, Sept. 2000:

‘CONTROL THE NEW “INTERNATIONAL COMMONS” OF SPACE AND “CYBERSPACE,” and pave the way for the creation of a new military service – U.S. Space Forces – with the mission of space control. p.12

“U.S. armed forces are uniquely dependent upon space. As the 1996 Joint Strategy Review, a precursor to the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review, concluded, ‘Space is already inextricably linked to military operations on land, on the sea, and in the air.’ The report of the National Defense Panel agreed: 'Unrestricted use of space has become a major strategic interest of the United States.'" PDF p.66, & ff:

‘...it is shortsighted to expect potential adversaries to refrain from attempting to offset to disable or offset U.S. space capabilities. And with the proliferation of space know-how and related technology around the world, our adversaries will inevitably seek to enjoy many of the same space advantages in the future. Moreover,
“space commerce” is a growing part of the global economy. In 1996, commercial launches exceeded military launches in the United States, and commercial revenues exceeded government expenditures on space. Today, more than 1,100 commercial companies across more than 50 countries are developing, building, and operating space systems.

‘Many of these commercial space systems have direct military applications, including information from global positioning system constellations and betterthan- one-meter resolution imaging satellites. Indeed, 95 percent of current U.S. military communications are carried over commercial circuits, including commercial communications satellites.

‘The U.S. Space Command foresees that in the coming decades, “an adversary will have sophisticated regional situational awareness. Enemies may very well know, in near-real time, the disposition of all forces….In fact, national military forces, paramilitary units, terrorists, and any other potential adversaries will share the high ground of space with the United States and its allies. Adversaries may also share the same commercial satellite services for communications, imagery, and navigation….The space ‘playing field’ is leveling rapidly, so U.S. forces will be increasingly vulnerable. Though adversaries will benefit greatly from space, losing the use of space may be more devastating to the United States. It would be intolerable for U.S. forces...to be deprived of capabilities in space.”

‘In short, the unequivocal supremacy in space enjoyed by the United States today will be increasingly at risk. As Colin Gray and John Sheldon have written, “Space control is not an avoidable issue...

‘The complexity of space control will only grow as commercial activity increases. American and other allied investments in space systems will create a requirement to secure and protect these space assets; they are already an important measure of American power. Yet it will not merely be enough to protect friendly commercial uses of space. As Space Command also recognizes, the United States must also have the capability to deny America's adversaries the use of commercial space platforms for military purposes in times of crises and conflicts. Indeed, space is likely to become the new “international commons,” where commercial and security interests are intertwined and related. Just as Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote about “sea-power” at the beginning of the 20th century in this sense, American strategists will be forced to regard “space-power” in the 21st.

To ensure America's control of space in the near term, the minimum requirements are to develop a robust capability to transport systems to space, carry on operations once there, and service and recover space systems as needed. As outlined by Space Command, carrying out this program would include a mix of reuseable and expendable launch vehicles and vehicles that can operate within space, including “space tugs to deploy, reconstitute, replenish, refurbish, augment, and sustain" space systems...

‘...there is an institutional problem. Indeed, some of the difficulties in maintaining U.S. military space supremacy result from the bureaucratic “black hole” that prevents the SPACECOM vision from gaining the support required to carry it out. For one, U.S. military space planning remains linked to the ups and downs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. America’s difficulties in reducing the cost of space launches – perhaps the single biggest hurdle to improving U.S. space capabilities overall – result in part from the requirements and dominance of NASA programs over the past several decades, most notably the space shuttle program....

Therefore, over the long haul, it will be necessary to unite the essential elements of the current SPACECOM vision to the resource-allocation and institution-building responsibilities of a military service. In addition, it is almost certain that the conduct of warfare in outer space will differ as much from traditional air warfare as air warfare has from warfare at sea or on land; space warfare will demand new organizations, operational strategies, doctrines and training schemes...’

Posted by: Lee A. on January 10, 2004 12:01 PM


"What's even more depressing is that none of the alleged conservatives and libertarians who support Bush are going to get off the train for this, or for anything else he does."

I think Democrats are getting too pessimistic at conversion, could be self-fulfilling. Speaking for myself (a 2000 Bush voter), if Wesley Clark wins the nomination I will vote for him. If Dean wins the nomination ... tough call, perhaps just won't vote for President at all.

Posted by: Joe Blog on January 10, 2004 12:02 PM


Space exploration is done much less expensively with machines and robots than people. The infrastructure necessary to support human life is bulky and expensive. Humans living in space and learning how to do so is an undertaking that can be done least expensively close to home in a venue such as the space station. From an economic POV, a two tiered approach of mostly machine exploration and limited human experiments makes sense. Krugman argued for a machine only program.

A moonbase makes no sense at all outside of a James Bond movie. Moon gravity is only 1/6 that of earth, but the energy needed to achieve escape velocity is still expensive. The moon has no fossil fuels (God must have forgot to put them there) or source of hydrocarbons for fuel. All fuel would have to be imported or synthesized from nuke or solar power on the moon. It would be far more complex to build and sustain a moon base than sustain and support the space station. Transport vehicles would have to undergo 2 liftoffs and reentries (the most hazardous maneuvers) to a moon base compared to just one for a space based station.

This reeks of planning by marketers without input from the tech staff. This is the worst possible corporate scenario- a tech company run by techno-illiterate MBAs. Since the MBAs cannot appreciate the technology nor understand what the tekkies are saying, they turn to the marketing people who speak a similar language, but equally clueless. The result is the pursuit of goals that are unrealistic and unwise.

Is this reality? or is it Dilbert goes to the White House?

Posted by: bakho on January 10, 2004 12:11 PM


"I still say better Mars than Iran."

Good line of thinking!

Posted by: bulent on January 10, 2004 12:24 PM


"..What's even more depressing is that none of the alleged conservatives and libertarians who support Bush are going to get off the train for this, or for anything else he does...."

I don't understand why any body needs to count on conservatives and libertarians to abandon Bush in order to have Dems in WH in 12005?

Posted by: bulent on January 10, 2004 12:37 PM


"..What's even more depressing is that none of the alleged conservatives and libertarians who support Bush are going to get off the train for this, or for anything else he does...."

What's so surprising about this? Just look at the alternative - what's there for a libertarian to support in the policies floated by the likes of Howard Dean, Richard Gephardt and the like? Bush may be governing well to the left of his base, but at least he pays lip service (if no more than that) to conservative and libertarian concerns.

When the likes of Mark Kleiman start supporting Democrats like Joe Lieberman, instead of the usual bunch of panderers to hatred of the market, you might actually get the libertarians and conservatives to cross the aisle. Until then ...

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on January 10, 2004 01:13 PM


Yes, nothing like that free market loving Bush implementing any tarrifs he can get his hands on. Just think how a Democratic president with a Republican House could do so much more!

Posted by: Rob on January 10, 2004 01:29 PM


The Dems have 3 serious candidates who seem supportive of free trade: Lieberman, Kerry, and Clark. Pick one and you have my vote (not primarily on the basis of free trade but it's a factor). But nominate Dean and I think there should be little surprise that the necessary crossover votes will not materialize.

Posted by: Joe Blog on January 10, 2004 02:02 PM


To be slightly more paranoid, from Bush's POV wiping out NASA's research programs on climate is a big plus

Posted by: Eli on January 10, 2004 02:09 PM


Reading "Washington" for "wasting tons" almost seemed to come natural.

Personally, I think this would-be program is too absurd to waste words on. Did I mention money?

Posted by: ghola on January 10, 2004 02:32 PM


Abiola -- I wasn't talking about libertarians who vote Libertarian. But most of them vote Republican. From a libertarian point of view (big government, fiscal responsibility, civil liberties) I don't think that any viable Democrat is worse than Bush. Not even Gephardt.

There's some other factor at work. My conclusion is that they all just hate me personally and want to piss me off, even if the country goes down in flames because of it. So it's my fault, for being so goddam rude all the time.

Posted by: Zizka on January 10, 2004 03:29 PM


I agree with those who say that Bush's reasons for his desired foray to Mars is for the purposes of: (1) further subsidies of large corporate donors and (2) Rice and Cheney (who allegedly whisper the day's news into his ears) have told him that it's necessary to maintain military dominance. I also agree that exploration can be done as effectively and certainly at considerably lower cost by machine and robot then by humans--insisting that humans go is nice for those who have dreamed of going into outer space, but I don't see why US taxpayers should have to pay for that along with fulfilling every other meglomaniac desire the Bushies have not to mention paying to clean up sites that corporations have polluted. I think the US has been concerned for some time about competition of any kind in certain types of technology--remember US "leaders" having fits because the Europeans decided to launch their own GPS equivalent set up? I don't remember just when it happened (haven't seen any coverage of the issue for at least a year) I think at the beginning of the Bush Administration--back when Bush had decided that if we didn't have an enemy to justify his belligerent attitude--he'd create one by threatening China regarding its behavior towards Taiwan. Now of course, Bush threatens Taiwan for being overly democratic and upsetting China.

Posted by: sh on January 10, 2004 07:50 PM


Talk about spaced. There is no Democratic candidate who can match the Bush batting average of screwing everyone who deals with him. Aside from Cheney, Condie, Frith, Delay, and highly powerful business interests at the level of Ken Lay, who has not been screwed over by Bush?

Or is "lip service" a code phase?

Posted by: J Edgar on January 10, 2004 09:09 PM


Abiola Lapit:

Why don't the Dem candidates just copy cat Bill Clinton's directions and sort try to pick up where he left off? It is now clear to me that none of them are going to be able to come with any coherent strategy, in fact, any strategy, of their own. They'd be better off copying from Clinton policies.

Posted by: bulent on January 11, 2004 12:56 AM


What a bunch of short-sighted ninnies. Such cynicism! Is there anything you all look forward to in the future besides, "what kind of Bush hatred can I spew in the next five minutes?"

We NEED big goals - its a species thing. Space exploration is something that can unite the world - looking outward together.

A single techno breakthrough associated with the project - such as cheap, lightweight, solar cells and batteries - could more than justify the whole thing financially.

Posted by: Jones on January 11, 2004 03:27 AM


um... i've been reading Ken Macleod's work lately (got them all as X-mas gifts; enjoying them immensely), so of course i went to look at his blog.

it doesn't look to me like he's endorsing the American moonbase plan. did you not post the right link?

Posted by: james woodyatt on January 11, 2004 11:15 AM


um... i've been reading Ken Macleod's work lately (got them all as X-mas gifts; enjoying them immensely), so of course i went to look at his blog.

it doesn't look to me like he's endorsing the American moonbase plan. did you not post the right link?

Posted by: james woodyatt on January 11, 2004 11:16 AM


um... i've been reading Ken Macleod's work lately (got them all as X-mas gifts; enjoying them immensely), so of course i went to look at his blog.

it doesn't look to me like he's endorsing the American moonbase plan. did you not post the right link?

Posted by: james woodyatt on January 11, 2004 11:18 AM


"Why don't the Dem candidates just copy cat Bill Clinton's directions and sort try to pick up where he left off?"

My best guess is that it is the most extreme elements of the Democratic Party who are angriest about Bush being in office in place of Al Gore. I wish I could be optimistic that a DLC-type was going to win the election, but I just don't see it happening. Certainly I think Lieberman would be a lot better for free-trade than Bush has been.

The strange thing about all of this is that in terms of "culture war" social issues, I'm a lot more comfortable with the Democratic positions than I am with the Republicans. The thing is, the culture wars are being won at the hearts and minds level by liberals, not conservatives, and no GOP electoral victory is going to make much of a difference in that score.

This leaves economics as the biggest point of difference between the parties that truly matters, and the policies espoused by Howard Dean - "fair trade", "re-regulation", even more lavish subsidies for farmers than Bush has ladled out - scare the daylights out of me. Gephardt is no better, and both Wesley Clark and John Kerry have been too ambiguous in their stance towards free trade for my taste. Whenever I hear the phrase "fair trade", my mind translates it as "protectionism." What crazy sort of trade policy says one should only engage in commerce with countries rich enough to support labor and environmental standards similar to one's own?


Finally, Joe Lieberman remains the only Democratic candidate in the race ever to have supported school choice, even if he temporarily changed his stance to pander to the teachers' unions during the 2000 election. Few issues are more important to the future of African-American children than this one, and until the teachers unions' loosen their grip on the minds and coffers of the Democratic Party's leadership, or Lieberman by some miracle wins the Democratic nomination, it is one issue on which Bush will continue to look a much better alternative than his challengers.

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on January 11, 2004 03:00 PM


The final (or senescent) stage of pandering comes when you have forgotten everything, except how to pander--even whom you are pandering TO.

Bush's people believe that the moon landings were faked. So, whom is he pandering to?

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on January 11, 2004 06:52 PM


(How can he "go back" to where he never was?)

Or if he was a "uniter" and lost that label, what caused that to happen?

Posted by: some dude on January 11, 2004 08:25 PM


Post a comment