A Slippery Slope Onto a Trampoline
I will admit I’m not part of the space age generation. I wasn’t even alive when the original Star Wars movies were coming out.
I have missed some of our nation’s greatest achievements in space flight—the moon landing and the first Space Shuttle launches—and I’ve also missed some of its greatest tragedies—the Challenger disaster and NASA’s suspension thereafter.
But, I’ve always considered myself an honorary member of that age group. This is both represented by my obvious “old-soul” mental maturity, but also by my undying love for all things NASA and astronaut related.
My mother worked for a NASA contractor, and so I’ve had some tremendous opportunities to, for instance, meet Carl Sagan and attend two Shuttle launches from Cape Canaveral. And my childhood bedroom featured a large Shuttle mural and several mission posters, along with a cute (yes, cute!) Snoopy astronaut stuffed animal.
It seems as though I missed some of the aforementioned highlights of NASA’s exploration, but I have unfortunately lived through some of its darkest moments.
When Columbia exploded upon reentry, I remember figuring that people would give up on NASA and her proud birds of flight, but they didn’t. At least not right away.
President Bush told us that, not only would we continue, but we would actually expand our efforts, to land on the moon once more, and even put a man on Mars. They were going to build a whole new rocket ship and it was going to take Americans to places unimaginable.
Then the confusing years of Obama started.
President Obama defunded Bush’s optimistic programs, and canceled the Shuttle program. He reorganized NASA to be a pseudo-State Department subsidiary, reaching out to Muslim countries, and providing climate and science education around the world. This presents the need for the highly scientific phrase—huh???
Less than a year after this decision, Obama started strongly encouraging science, math, and engineering education. And he redirected tons of Education Department spending to these pursuits. Rather than spend all this money on the education, wouldn’t it make more sense to give students an incentive for studying these things? Um, maybe by continuing to employ thousands of them, and allow them to achieve great things…by continuing NASA exploration.
Now, its not like I’m unsympathetic to the privatization argument. Space X and Virgin Galactic are changing the space frontier in great ways. But I think it’s clear by now that the Obama administration will spend exorbitant amounts of money, in one way or another. I would just prefer if they spent money in ways that expand our scientific horizons, not just train people for how to participate within what’s currently known.
Oh and there’s another thing—
$150 billion dollars is what some medium-sized countries’ GDPs are. In fact, it’s pretty damn close to what Ukraine’s GDP is (but we’ll discuss Crimean politics in a sec).
And this is what our generation’s predecessors spent on the International Space Station. Set up as the pinnacle of laboratories in space, this project was undertaken by many countries as a joint venture. And of course, our old space-race pal, Russia, was a primary partner.
But now all of the Space Shuttles are sitting in museums. Plans to create a new ship have been long on the backburner (if in the kitchen at all). And so we have no means of accessing the Space Station, let alone launching several of our communications and military satellites.
Obama thought his Smart Diplomacy would be the answer. We would pay the Russians, so that they would deliver our researchers to the Station, and would sell us their rockets to launch our satellites.
When Putin led Russia into a Ukrainian invasion, Obama bristled. Leftover from our Cold War days, the US was allied with Ukraine, and this was an affront to our efforts in the region, and an embarrassment for Obama.
Obama sanctioned Russia, and I guess thought that they wouldn’t care. I suppose he figured he was being magnanimous, because he didn’t provide military support for Crimea, and only economic sanctions…but Putin didn’t see it this way.
So now we’re at a standstill in two ways. Putin continues his hostile presence in Crimea. And, his administration has launched an offensive against the US in another way—by cutting off their space exploration systems.
The Russian version of NASA has said they will no longer sell us any rocket parts or engines, to aid in any deemed military use. And they will not transport our astronauts or researchers to the International Space Station. Their Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, even said "I propose that the United States delivers its astronauts to the ISS with the help of a trampoline.”
I think Obama and his administration have mangled this Russian situation altogether. First upset by their homophobic laws, Obama didn’t attend the Sochi Olympics. Then fearing a hostile takeover of Ukraine, Obama put economic sanctions on Russia. It is important to note that Obama’s efforts have in no way quelled Putin’s advances. But it seems like he legitimately forgot that we rely on Russia, based on his own policies, for space travel. So much for Smart Diplomacy.
Obama’s continued confusion with regard to foreign policy has led us to have trampolines as the only answer. And he has become even more the ‘Huh???’ President.