The Onion, if you’ve spent the last twenty years floating in deep space somewhere and don’t know, is a brilliant satirical newspaper. They sometimes tackle issues near and dear to me, so how could I not link to the article "Republicans Vote to Repeal Obama-Backed Bill That Would Destroy Asteroid Headed to Earth"?
The thing is, I suspect a lot of folks will think this is serious (Poe’s law, anyone?). Which, come to think of it, will say a lot about the state of partisan politics today.
I just finished watching the members of the U.S. House of Representatives debate the NASA authorization bill. The bill was passed, and I’m glad, but that was a sickening debate.
I watched the speeches live on C-SPAN. Many Representatives of both parties didn’t like parts of the bill, but felt it was important to pass it. I agree; I have reservations with it as well. However, most of this bill is just fine, and hits the right notes.
Not everyone agreed. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) strongly opposed the bill, for example (interestingly, she’s Chair of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee and her husband and brother-in-law are astronauts). She apparently is one of the few people still holding onto the idea that we should continue to work on the Constellation rocket system which will be defunded with this bill. I disagree with her on that quite strongly (see below).
She did make some good points, things I myself said in my earlier post. For example, the bill is too specific in what kind of rocket should succeed the Shuttle. That’s not for Congress to decide; they should make broader goals that align with what NASA wants to do, and then allow NASA engineers to make the system. Of course, there was consulting with NASA on the bill, but the bill itself shouldn’t go into details like that. Anyway, despite that, I strongly disagree with Rep. Giffords that this bill should have been voted down.
What really galled me, though, was that several Republicans blamed President Obama for NASA’s current mess, including Ralph Hall (R-TX, remember him?). This is grossly and demonstrably unfair and untrue. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) hammered over and again the idea that Obama is trying to kill the manned space program. That is not true, and in fact the current situation (including the five year gap between the Shuttle and any follow-on rocket system) started in the Bush Administration. Constellation has been in trouble for some time, behind schedule and over-budget. I’m of the opinion that Obama’s plan to defund Constellation does not kill the manned space program as Culberson said it will. I have written about this repeatedly: far from killing it, this new direction may save NASA from the mess it finds itself in right now.
I’m scratching my head over the reactions of some Congresscritters about the successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX on Friday. Given that NASA has several billion dollars it will be giving to commercial transport systems over the next few years, you’d think that Congress would be happy that a private company was able to get a medium-lift rocket into orbit on their first try.
But then, you wouldn’t be Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. This Texas Republican — that’s important, hang on — gave a short statement after the launch that was at best tepid, and in reality a slap in the face to SpaceX and all the other private space companies:
This first successful test flight of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is a belated sign that efforts to develop modest commercial space cargo capabilities are showing some promising signs. While this test flight was important, the program to demonstrate commercial cargo and crew transport capabilities, which I support, was intended to enhance not replace NASA’s own proven abilities to deliver critical cargo and humans to low Earth orbit. Make no mistake, even this modest success is more than a year behind schedule, and the project deadlines of other private space companies continue to slip as well. This test does not change the fact that commercial space programs are not ready to close the gap in human spaceflight if the space shuttle is retired this year with no proven replacement capability and the Constellation program is simultaneously cancelled [sic] as the President proposes.
Senator — with all due respect — that’s baloney. Plain and simple.
Response to both Obama’s space policy and my blog post about it were pretty much as I expected. Haters, lovers, people who didn’t actually read what I wrote or listened to what Obama actually said, some thoughtful, some knee jerk. The usual.
But my favorite is from Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO), who, in a press release, posted this:
The decision by the Obama administration to gut NASA’s manned flight program does more than jeopardize the long term goals of solar system exploration, the cancellation of the space shuttles replacement will effectively leave the United States reliant upon the Soviet Union to grant us access to low earth orbit. As a member of the Armed Services Committee I am very concerned with that possibility, and as an American I am disappointed by the prospect.
It doesn’t surprise me that someone would erroneously say that Obama is gutting the manned space flight program, when we know he isn’t and when he may in fact be saving it. It doesn’t surprise me that people are forgetting that private industry is poised to take us into low Earth orbit before Constellation could have, though it’s odd for a "fiscally conservative" Republican Congressman — and therefore, one assume, pro-business — to forget such a thing.
It also doesn’t surprise me that someone would blame Obama about us having to rely on foreign partners for access to space after the Shuttle retires, and it certainly doesn’t surprise me that a Republican Congressman would say such a thing, even though this necessity came about because of President Bush’s decision to retire the Shuttle and not have a replacement ready for at least five years after.
But what I do find really interesting is that a Congressman on the Armed Services Committee would refer to Russia as "the Soviet Union".
Pssst! Congressman Akin: it’s the 21st century. It stopped being the USSR in 1991. I guess it’s hard to keep up with such things if you can’t see Russia from your state, though.
[Update (14:30 MT): Apparently, Congressman Akin's release has been updated, replacing "Soviet Union" with "Russian Federation". My congratulations and thanks to his team. Now, if they could fix the other egregiously wrong things he said in that release, we'll be copacetic.]
Tip o’ the Cossack hat to ScottW.
For criminy’s sake. What is it with people and all the rending of garments over the impending doom of NASA?
1) The reports of Spirit’s death are greatly exaggerated.
OK, yes, Spirit is now stuck. It looks like even if it survives the Martian winter it may no longer be able to traverse the Red Planet’s landscape. But that doesn’t mean it’s dead. Instead of a rover, it’s now a stationary platform capable of doing a lot of science on the cheap (since most of the cost was getting it there).
If you’d rather not have a lander sitting on the surface of Mars doing science that we simply cannot do from millions of kilometers away on Earth, then fine. But astronomers and scientists and science journalists should know better. Stop saying it’s dead.
[And I can picture Opportunity on the other side of Mars, waving its mast frantically, saying, Hey, remember me? Still moving, still doing cool stuff!]
Next, and more importantly:
2) The reports of the manned spaceflight’s death are greatly exaggerated.
OK, yes, it does look like (assuming the rumors are true) the Obama budget for NASA is cutting out the Constellation rocket program in general and Ares in particular. But that doesn’t mean manned spaceflight is dead.
As I said in that above link, private space companies are still a ways off from putting people in orbit. However, I strongly suspect they’ll be doing it before Ares would’ve been ready to do it anyway. Private companies like Space X may be two years from that, while Ares wouldn’t have been ready for five, assuming NASA could even get Ares ready by the scheduled time and in the assigned budget (which I would give a chance of, oh, say, precisely 0). So it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that after the Shuttle retires later this year (or early next) companies like Space X will be able to reach the International Space Station with rockets before NASA could.
As far as going back to the Moon, we still don’t know exactly what the budget for NASA will be like, but it was made clear in the leaked reports (again, assuming they are true) that money will be spent to look for a better heavy lift vehicle than Ares. No specifics were given (though the Commercial Spaceflight Federation says it may be 6 billion bucks, a huge chunk of change), so let’s wait until we actually see the report, hmmm?
Also, a lot of folks thought Ares was a waste of time, money, and with little or no chance of working well. Heck, the Space Frontier Foundation praises the killing of Ares! So not only is it unfair to lament the death of manned spaceflight, some people think — with some evidence, mind you — this will spur it on even more.
That last sentiment rings true to me. NASA’s manned program has been endlessly circling the Earth for almost 40 years now, with no real end in sight. I don’t have a lot of faith, so to speak, that Ares can do the job in breaking this cycle. I suspect a lot of the same folks who are decrying this move by Obama are the same ones who would be first in line to say that NASA has had its wings cut for decades now, making one bad decision after another when it comes to space exploration. Maybe it’s time — maybe it’s long after time — that we let someone else have a stab at this.
When I look at the Moon, I see a place where people will one day work, live, breathe, play, and explore. I also see that future receding two years for every year NASA doesn’t have a rocket to go there, and I’ve been watching that movie play for many years now.
I’m tired of it. When I look out my window now I see a future I’ve been dreaming of my whole life, a future that seems just out of my reach. When my children, my grandchildren, look out their windows in that future, y’know what I want them to see?
The blue-green crescent Earth hanging in a pitch black sky over a cratered horizon.
Let’s give space a chance.
Rumors are flying that in the President’s budget, which will be presented to Congress on Monday, all the money for the Constellation rocket program — and the Ares I and V rockets — will be gone. NASA will still get a full budget and even a slight increase, but the money for the new rocket system will be axed.
First and foremost, these are rumors. The sources are all anonymous, and all the media are quoting each other. However, given the number of sources and the media involved, it’s probably fair to say these rumors have a good chance of being true.
So what does this mean?
To be honest, I’m not sure. It’s a lot to think about, and I’m not an insider expert on NASA. Having said that, here are some thoughts. Consider these mumbling out loud, ruminations to ponder. If I’m wrong, please feel free to comment!
[Continued after the jump.]
I love a President who gets it. In general, science, and in particular, vaccinations:
Yeah, he got his novel H1N1 vaccination, just like my daughter did a few hours ago, and just like I will as soon as they are available for adults in my area.
Oh John McCain, I’m so glad you’re gone. But I wish you would actually leave!
Or maybe not all of us. McCain posted a list to Twitter of the "TOP TEN PORKIEST PROJECTS" in the
stimulus Omnibus spending bill.
Now c’mon, guess what number 2 was. Guess!
OK, did you guess that it would be some small amount of money that went to science and public education? Good for you! You win… well, nothing, except the chance to bang your head against a wall. Here is the tweet in question:
#2. $2 million “for the promotion of astronomy” in Hawaii – because nothing says new jobs for average Americans like investing in astronomy
Ah, McCain. Maybe you’ve changed enough to learn some new tech, but it’s nice to know some things don’t change, like that you’re an antiscience know-nothing. But then, he helped set that standard with his ridiculous planetarium ravings.
Let’s be clear: astronomy needs to be funded. It’s one of the best public-relations field science has. People love astronomy. And putting that aside, astronomy is important. I don’t think I need go into that here, but you can always read this if you’re fuzzy on the details. Also, it touches the philosophical aspects of our lives, like how we got here and and where we’re headed. Perhaps platitudes about such things satisfy some people, but some of us are pretty well concerned with reality. That’s why we study it.
And then there’s the bottom line: that 2 million dollar investment will keep people employed in a high-tech industry. What is it about Republican leaders that they don’t understand it’s not pork, it’s investment and that equals stimulus. Building a bridge that isn’t needed to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars is pork. Putting money towards science is making sure that we stay on the cutting-edge of technological capability in the world. See the difference?
Geez, this isn’t rocket science.
Speaking of which, let me point out the contrast of McCain still actively unwilling to support science and science education to Obama’s wanting to fund NASA and science in next year’s budget and in the stimulus bill. Interesting, isn’t it?
So, Senator McCain, let me make this clear: you, amateur exorcist and creationist Bobby Jindal, and the rest of your backwards-facing antiscience reality-denying brethren may huff and puff and say ridiculous things — and I’m sure you’ll continue to do so — but a lot of people see right through it, and a majority of the American voting population rejected it last November.
But please, feel free to cling to such notions. Those of us in the reality-based community will make sure we wave as we pass you, but don’t expect us to linger on your reflection in our rear-view mirrors. We’re too busy looking ahead.
What hath God wrought?
For years, the conservative movement in this country has increasingly used religion as a weapon, sometimes with extreme Machiavellian motives. Now, of course, it’s impossible for anyone to get elected to any position of authority — Repub or Dem — without declaring themselves not just as religious, but as a certain type of religion. If you’re not Judeo-Christian, you might as well give up now.
This is coming back to haunt them.
Right now, John McCain is dealing with backlash from being endorsed by John Hagee, an extremely venomous far-right snake. Hagee is many things: a bigot, a misogynist, a war-monger, and a plain old creepy guy who wants us to attack Iran to bring on the Biblical end times.
I think it’s not only OK to jump on McCain for accepting such an endorsement, it’s required. Worse — far worse — is that McCain actively sought Hagee’s endorsement for months. McCain wanted this.
But it gets more interesting. Hagee, who claims his church is non-denominational, is not so enamored of Catholicism. To say the least.
Enter Bill Donohue, a guy who is the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and himself a bigot and something of a nutbag. He has been railing against Hagee and McCain, saying that McCain should reject the endorsement of Hagee. Mind you, Donohue has been clear that it’s only Hagee’s hatred of the Catholic church that he finds so offensive. Apparently, all the other horrid things Hagee has said are fine with Donohue.
I forget. In which part of the New Testament does Jesus preach unbridled hatred?
I would find this situation funny if it weren’t so deadly important. The far-right religious groups have slowly and very successfully grown to be a huge influence over the political landscape in the past 20 years or so. To become a leader in this country it’s simply accepted that you have to brownnose them.
But look what that cozying up to these fundamentalist hate-mongers has done. They are feeding on their own now. And it gets crazier: there have been numerous attacks by the far right on Obama, intimating he’s a Muslim, but Obama is himself Christian. Self-proclaimed moral arbiters have no issues slinging as much mud as they can, hoping it sticks, despite the Bible having some pretty clear things to say about such issues.
There is a clear lesson here: when you beg for the hand of fundamentalist hate-mongers, you will suffer the slings and arrows of the other fundamentalist hate-mongers. Perhaps, then, it’s best to reject them all.
McCain did reject them, back in 2000. But now he is actively and quite hypocritically courting them. He brought this on himself, the end-product of kowtowing to fundamentalism. They have been actively engendering such a disaster for years, so they too have brought this on themselves.
The vast majority of religious people are good, decent folks — we may disagree on some of the basics of their religion, but I know these people want to do good, and that hypocrites like Hagee and Donohue don’t speak for them. But as I have pointed out time and again, if you don’t speak up, then these people speak for you. It’s very hard to find moderate religious people in the media, but they exist. Support them.
And finally, I would suggest the hate-mongers among the fundamentalists actually sit down and read Galatians VI. Because even after supposedly reading the Bible their whole lives, and supposedly basing their lives on it, they still haven’t quite figured out that as ye sow, so shall ye reap.