This post is a response to “Joe’s” comments after my June 3 post about America’s first space walk and where we go from here.
First, Joe, I am completely flattered (honestly, that isn’t sarcasm)! This is exactly what I wanted from my blog: intelligent discussions about the things I love most, in this case space! So I would like to thank you for taking the time to write up those very eloquent comments and for reading my blog, even if you disagree with my views!
That said, I would first like to generally address your points. I’m not sure your background, so please forgive me if it seems I am assuming things; I can only go off what you have written. But, it seems to me you share the majority of the same opinions as nearly everyone on “that side” of the manned space flight debate; I really didn’t feel like I was reading anything new. Especially living here in Huntsville, it is hard to find someone without an opinion one way or the other about the space program. Your comments were thorough and logical…to a point. And while we can agree to disagree, I feel it is hard to compare our overarching ideals apples to apples; namely, that your views represent the “business” side of things, and mine (in general) represent the “exploration” side of things.
Don’t get me wrong, I can debate all day the technical aspects of today’s and future space programs, but these technicalities are not going to ignite the general public’s interest. In fact, I believe they would only widen the gap between those of us (I think you are included) that see a technical need for manned space flight and those that don’t have a clue what an SRB is (no offense to any of you out there ;-)). So, that is why I have attempted to shift my argument towards emotions, and feelings that everyone can relate to, rather than the obvious business and technical reasons for, or against, manned space flight.
However, I would like to comment on a few of your statements, from a more technical standpoint. You are right that Pres. Obama faced and is still facing “immense political pressure to cut spending.” I do not disagree one bit. However, I feel this new “plan” (if you can call it that) is only going to increase spending, and this is why…It is a known fact that Obama has added $6 billion in new funding over the next five years to “create jobs” and “land on Mars”. Personally I don’t think either of these things will happen in the time frame allotted which brings us back to square one in another decade under a new presidency.
The second piece of the budget puzzle links to your next ideal: use off-the-shelf products. Joe, I would love, love, love for this to happen. However, the reality of it is dim. Right now space is not profitable and companies like Boeing and Raytheon are not cheap. And it doesn’t help that NASA’s budget is fairly slim, compared to your military aircraft example. Now that I work for the Army, I can see firsthand its rather un-ending budget (the last figure I could find was a budget 40% more than NASA’s at approximately $652.5 billion in 2007) and all the non-public-knowledge money that gets funneled into specialized aircraft projects. I think it will take a great deal more money to contract these large rockets out (more completely than previously), still provide oversight and now provide a regulatory body to, almost redundantly, test the safety of these rockets.
And finally, I come to my most hated topic: politics. Again, I think it would be great to have a “genuinely-competitive market” as you suggest, but unfortunately I don’t think that will ever happen even if privatization does occur. It will still be a select few companies that receive the contracts from NASA, or whose products will be bought off-the-shelf (either because they are the lowest bidder or have such a history with NASA). We have seen this throughout the aerospace and defense industry for decades. And as much as I hate it, and complain about it, I really don’t think it is likely to change soon, if ever. Take for instance, your comment regarding SpaceX’s Falcon 9. Orbital has been launching successfully since the 80s with nearly the same cost-per-launch as SpaceX, however SpaceX has only been launching since 2002 and does not have a great success rate. Yet, NASA is looking to SpaceX for a heavy lift vehicle…it sounds to me like there is something fishy going on there (although I am not claiming to know for sure!).
After all these words, the bottom line is this: my goal is to raise awareness for space travel by appealing to the general public’s patriotism, need for exploration and desire to remain competitive with other countries in space. We as a nation will never get there without overwhelming support. So, let’s start at the bottom and build the foundation for America’s continued superiority in space!!
Thank you Joe for a great comment!!