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New Space Policy Questions and Advice for Mitt

In the interest of continuing to improve him as a candidate should he get the nomination.

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

January 28, 2012 - 3:51 pm
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You have said that you think that the purpose of spaceflight is the following: “the ‘existential’ objective of understanding the universe and its effects on the Earth, such as climate or the possibility of a ‘catastrophic event’; commercial; the health and well-being of citizens; and defense.” Nothing on that list intrinsically requires having people go into space, and we already have a space budget for defense (about the size of NASA’s total budget) at the Department of Defense. Do you disagree with Dwight Eisenhower’s goal of NASA as a separate civilian agency? Do you disagree with John Marburger, George W. Bush’s science adviser, and instead believe that our species will remained confined to a single planet for the foreseeable future, and that we should devote no resources to opening up the rest of the solar system to economic development and settlement?

You claim to want to increase the efficiency with which commercial entities can be involved with the nation’s space activities, yet only one of your advisers has any experience with commercial space. How are you going to address this imbalance, which seems to raise the issue of the degree of your devotion to this?

You have as one of your policy advisers Mike Griffin, who was in charge of that lunar plan at the time you endorsed it. But it was on track to cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and it wasn’t for a “colony” on the moon — it was just for a small base, to be visited a couple times a year, at a cost of many billions per trip, making it an even bigger waste of money. So why on Friday did you hire someone who had been doing (and was fired for) something that you said was a firing offense on Thursday night?

Under Dr. Griffin’s NASA, he threw away numerous studies that the previous administrator had commissioned from industry to determine the best path forward, none of which recommended that NASA build an all-new rocket, and substituted his own plan while hiding for years the technical appendices needed to justify his decision (which when finally revealed, failed to do so). Associate administrator Scott Horowitz passed back and forth through a revolving door between the agency and an executive position at ATK, manufacturer of the solid rocker boosters that would power the first stage of Griffin’s (and Horowitz’s) giant rocket. Somehow, the company also at this time received sole-source no-bid cost-plus NASA contracts worth billions, dwarfing Solyndra and other DoE disasters in terms of waste of taxpayer funds. You have been decrying “crony capitalism,” so how do you justify being advised by an apparent practitioner of it? If you become president, will he become NASA administrator again? The voters, in Florida and elsewhere, deserve to know.

In 2009, industry veteran Norm Augustine’s panel investigated the policy issues of spaceflight quite thoroughly, and determined that Dr. Griffin’s plans were far over cost estimates and behind schedule, and slipping more than a year per year, wasting billions on an unneeded new rocket and an overpriced delayed space telescope, while starving of funds the vital technologies needed to reduce the cost of space transportation and operations. Are you aware of the Augustine report? Given that we already have a useful road map for opening up the solar system, why would you want to waste more time and money putting together yet another space-policy study that will be ignored because its results don’t comport with the need to distribute pork in the appropriate places? Have you considered adding Mr. Augustine, or one of his panelists, such as Jeff Greason (which would also make you look more sincere about interest in commercial space), to your group of space advisers, and mightn’t it be useful to at least read the report summary, to give yourself a better grasp of the issues, rather than just relying on “advisers”?

Finally, do you have any sense of how politically tone deaf it is to mock and denigrate aspirational visions for space in Florida (or anywhere)? Don’t you realize that it makes you come off as a hollow, soul-impoverished bean counter? Don’t you care?

There is no one more fervent than me in their desire to see that Barack Obama is a one-term president, but your space policy behavior, so far, is the first time I’ve seen any reason to give him another term.

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Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.
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