Friday, January 14, 2011

How The Politicians Think


If you have one of these, turn it off now


It's almost funny whenever a member of Congress opens their mouth and says something about NASA. Thankfully I don't pull my hair out or I'd be bald by now, it's just that funny. Here's a quick list of things I have to remember to make sense of US space policy.

"Heavy Lift" means super heavy lift. Whenever a politician says "heavy lift", or just about anyone talking about space policy, they mean a vehicle that can lift more than 50 tons to LEO. Actually, they almost always mean a Saturn class vehicle.. and in many cases they actually just mean the Saturn V. When someone who actually works in the space industry says "heavy lift" they mean heavy lift - a vehicle that can lift more than 20 tons to LEO but less than 50 tons. And they almost always are talking about actual vehicles that you can place an order for right now.

The workforce is precious, and capable and vital, except for when they're aging. Unlike every other industry in the world where new people are being trained and old people are being retired, and people who get sick of their boss go find someplace else to work or even change to other careers, aerospace workers are fixed in number and hold their jobs for life. Yes, apparently the aerospace industry is a 50s utopia where Dad makes rockets and although he's highly trained and very very intelligent, if he were to be laid off he'd have no choice but to go on unemployment or, worse yet, take a job driving a taxi.

The space program is a matter of National Security. Except when it's not. NASA doesn't make missiles... or do they? Most everything "made by NASA" is actually made by the prime contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, ATK, umm... Lockheed Martin - and these same companies also make fighter planes, bombs and, yes, missiles. A more cynical person than me would say that it seems NASA's primary purpose is to funnel money to these companies to support their infrastructure for making weapons. If you continue to scratch this one it'll never heal.

Kids love space and we can use that to trick them into studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Obviously, kids are stupid and we need them to be smarter so we can keep the workforce vital because if we don't we'll lose the next war. That's right, the National Security of the USA depends on whether little Billy is inspired by NASA's Moon mission (or whatever they're doing this week) to become an astronaut when he grows up. We have to make it really hard to become an astronaut too - you need at least a PhD, but two would be better, and you have to join the Air Force.. preferably both at the same time - and everyone who drops out will get jobs on Lockheed Martin and make ICBMs. Yes, that's what I said - the aerospace industry is populated by failed astronauts, didn't you know?

SpaceX is the only commercial launch company in the world! Competition? What's that? The Soyuz is run by the Russian government who are still communists, no matter what they say. The Ariane is a myth invented by the French. Atlas and Delta are owned by the Air Force and only launch military satellites, they have no interest in this whole commercial thing. There's no market out there for commercial spaceflight anyway. It's not like anyone has a 24,000-sq-m assembly facility where they're assembling private space stations. They haven't already flown two prototypes on commercial rockets. Boeing hasn't signed any deals with them to deliver crew. Commercial - by which we mean SpaceX - isn't ready to fly humans, they haven't even demonstrated the launch of a capsule, orbit and successful return to Earth - something only 3 countries have ever done before.

Space Tourism is not real spaceflight. Oh, we're happy to support the burgeoning suborbital spaceflight industry. We voted for that law which said that if someone signs a contract promising they won't sue that they actually won't be able to sue you didn't we? Then we signed that other one that said their families won't be able to sue you. We sent our reps to your openings and got behind building lots of spaceports around the country. We got you those tax cuts didn't we? What, we didn't? Oh, ok, but we're trying, and that's what counts. We love suborbital space tourism because it doesn't interfere with our pork, but it's not real spaceflight.. I mean, it's not like anyone has ever flown to orbit and spent a week or two on the ISS. It's not like every seat that has ever been made available has been sold. Who would pay $20M to $40M and take time out of their busy lives to go to astronaut training, just for that. There's just no market, and anyway, there isn't any seats available. What's that? 2013 you say.

Did I miss any?

7 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:11 PM

    The workforce is precious, especially when you get the pick of the best of them all bright-eyed and enthusiastic, then beat that out of them over several decades of monotony, bureaucracy, predictable failure, and scapegoating. That actually makes engineers and technicians MORE valuable. I mean, those are all the skill that make politicians more valuable, so it must apply everywhere...

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  2. Heres mine: NASA is needed because America is an exceptional nation.

    People who say this usually bring up Apollo. OK. I'm Australian and will gladly concede Apollo was a remarkable enterprise undertaken by an exceptional nation. But lets see what been happening since. NASA has been achieving exceptional cost over runs, exceptionally under preforming space shuttle, exceptional high launch costs etc. I don't think that really compares with Apollo.

    Contrast that with what Americans have been doing outside NASA: Aeronautical engineer genius Burt Rutan builds a reusable space ship. Billionaire Elon Musk build two new rockets and a space capsule with his own money which promise to bring the cost of going into orbit down. Bob Bigelow launches two space station prototypes using revolutionary technology. Sound exceptional to me.

    ta

    Ralph

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  3. Ralph, I had no idea you were also Australian :) "American exceptionalism" is supposedly about liberty, individualism, and free markets. In other words, everything NASA isn't about. I find it incredibly ironic that anyone would even bring the two up in the same breath.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism

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  4. G'day,

    But they do Trent. Listen to what their politicians say. The greatest irony is that its promoted by the supposedly free enterprise Republicans. Who as Rand Simberg has stated become socialists beyond Earth's atmosphere. Its going to be interesting to see if the new Tea Party supported Republicans see through this BS or just return to business as usual.

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  5. The workforce is precious. The ones that innovate are. In the case of spaceflight, this is now overwhelmingly the private industry. NASA should not be a jobs program, and every tax dollar that goes to keeping NASA workers employed will shrink the market for private spaceflight. NASA employees should not be entitled to special treatment, and if their skills are no longer valued, they should consider themselves lucky for ever being hired at all.

    Kids love space. I think they do, but NASA doesn't offer them much anymore. When a kid figures out that we can't do what we did in the 60s, how can you expect him to be excited? I don't think national security is why inspiring kids is important. The adventure of exploration is valuable enough on its own, but NASA is failing at that.

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  6. Anonymous7:58 AM

    The workforce is precious.

    And then you go on to talk about NASA. It never even occurred to me we were talking about them.

    It became clear to me years ago that a company would make more money re-constituting a team rather than maintaining it.

    We are only precious because if it was not for us they would have to lay themselves off.

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  7. liberty, individualism, and free markets and "democracy"(ohlocracy) prevent your nation from any futher technical progress. Space exploration need serios fundamental goverment funding and provisioning. Thats why communist Russia were able to build such industry with very poor economy and low infrastructure.
    And yes, they are still comunists, even worse, they still wonna be global power, but havnt any suitable ideology for this, which remind me Germany in 1932. Russia now have bunch of people fooling around with revenge ideology. i m russian.

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