Obama's Ersatz Space Program
Our space program has been a source of national pride. Despite the fact it has dropped off the front pages of today's newspapers, it has always been an indicator of progress, innovation, and national advancement.
According to President Obama's 2013 budget proposal, NASA's budget would decrease from the $18.4 billion it was allotted in 2011 to $17.7 billion by 2017. These are cuts via attrition. There is no percentage increase per annum as other federal agencies enjoy. There is no base line accounting gimmickry. These are real cuts.
Of all the waste by the Federal government and with all the other Federal agencies that could be moved to privatization, Obama selects our space program. This detracts from the progress of our missile technology that is shared with our military, it inhibits our national defense, and it damages our national identity.
Space X is Obama's choice for supplanting NASA. It appears Obama has picked another loser. Move over Solyndra.
Let's begin with the performance to date of the ersatz space program called Space X.
On October 7th, Space X performed a launch with its Falcon 9 rocket. The launch was two years behind schedule and followed three previous cancellations.
"Falcon 9 rocket delivering only half of the promised cargo on its first mission to the International Space Station... The rocket lost power from one of its nine engines shortly after its Sunday launch and only delivered 882 of the promised 1,800 pounds of resupply cargo for the space station.... the Falcon 9 also failed to deliver as promised when it placed a prototype Orbcomm OG2 satellite into a lower orbit than required."
"Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) said Monday its Dragon spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station is "performing nominally" despite an engine failure following its Sunday night launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base..."
Orbcom might phrase that performance differently: "An experimental communications satellite flying piggyback aboard a Space Exploration Technologies' Falcon 9 rocket fell out of orbit and burned up in the atmosphere following a problem during liftoff, satellite operator Orbcomm said on Friday."
Partnership with our Military and National Defense
NASA has long been in partnership with our military, via shared missile technology, and via launch capabilities of defense payloads. To wit:
"A new U.S. military satellite launched into orbit Saturday (May 7, 2011) on a mission to enhance the country's missile defense and detection capabilities... The $1.3 billion GEO-1 satellite is expected to provide the military with advanced warning of potential incoming threats while they are on the battlefield. It will circle the Earth in a geosynchronous orbit about 22,000 miles (35,406 kilometers) above its coverage area."
Space X cannot be entrusted with the duties of NASA.
"Word has leaked out that in its new budget, the Obama administration intends to terminate NASA's planetary exploration program. The Mars Science Lab Curiosity, being readied on the pad, will be launched, as will the nearly completed small MAVEN orbiter scheduled for 2013, but that will be it. No further missions to anywhere are planned.
After 2013, America's amazing career of planetary exploration, which ran from the Mariner probes in the 1960s through the great Pioneer, Viking, Voyager, Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Spirit, Opportunity, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Galileo and Cassini missions, will simply end."
But fear not. NASA has other important work to do.
Obama's NASA chief explains one of the three directives he received from the President: "He wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering."
"Thus far, NASA has awarded at least $2.1 billion in SAA money to private space companies, including a total of $824 million to SpaceX.
Under Obama, NASA uses Space Act Agreements (SAA), which lack the financial transparency and competitive bidding requirements bidders face under the government's Federal Acquisition Regulation (DAR) system.
Space X is one of three well-publicized Musk firms, the others being electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors and SolarCity Corp., a rooftop solar power panel manufacturer. Collectively, the three Musk firms have received more than $1.5 billion in government funding since President Obama took office in 2009.
Last year, Musk gave $5,000 to Obama for America and $35,800 to the Obama Victory Fund, but he has also contributed heavily to Democratic and Republican congressional incumbents and challengers.
Space X holds a $1.6 billion NASA contract to provide 12 round-trip cargo flights to the space station for a minimum delivery of 44,000 pounds of equipment and supplies. On average, this would be a cargo bay filled with a minimum of 1,833 pounds of cargo, each way."
This entire episode should be a political embarrassment for the President. From the shortcomings of this handpicked partial replacement to the Solyndra-like money trail. Privatizing portions of our space program seems prudent on the surface. But outsourcing any of our capabilities to defend the nation, or to develop cutting-edge missile technologies, or to allow sharing the same with our military, is ill advised. We cannot afford a generational gap in our missile program. We must have a generational continuity of expertise in our space program, uninterrupted by presidential whims and political favoritism. If we lose or diminish the community of these experts that have sustained NASA, any attempts to resurrect such a specifically proficient team will likely be an insurmountable task.
Hamstringing our space program, cutting our defense budget, and entering into lopsided strategic arms treaties that seem to inhibit missile defenses is more than bothersome. All appear grounded in some type of questionable agenda.