The Space Age Born Of
The Cold War Is Over
Los Angeles - Feb 02, 2003
Today's appalling Shuttle tragedy proves -- once again -- that manned spaceflight, at this point in history, is not remotely worth either its cost or its risk of lives. I say "once again" because virtually any scientist worth his salt has been pointing out that fact routinely for decades.
Any skeptic is invited to take a look at what the professional science journals regularly say on this subject.
NASA has always been warped by the freakish circumstances of its early development.
The Moon Race was originally promulgated by Vice President Lyndon Johnson in 1961 (as he told his friends openly) in order to try to pump more federal money into the South in general and Texas in particular. He managed -- narrowly -- to persuade JFK to go along (the only subject upon which he ever seems to have had any significant influence on Kennedy's administration as Vice President).
Regardless of whether one regards the political goals of the Moon race as worthwhile, it is unquestionable that -- ever since the Apollo program ended -- NASA has been frantically trying to maintain the grotesquely bloated levels of funding it received during those days. It has managed to do so, by a two-stage process.
First, it has told one deliberate and outrageous lie after another about the supposed cheapness and utility of first the Space Shuttle and then the Space Station (overestimates, in both cases and both categories, of over 10 to 1!) in order to narrowly persuade the White House and Congress to initiate both programs.
As one former NASA official told a "Time" magazine reporter shortly after the Challenger disaster, regarding NASA's lies to gain initial approval of the Shuttle in 1972: "We hated to do it, but we were getting SO many votes."
NASA has then resorted, over all the following years, to the time-honored "camel's nose" technique of methodically raising its cost estimate and lowering its usefulness estimate for each program by a little each year, while simultaneously insisting that if Congress didn't go on funding the program ANYWAY, the money already spent would have been wasted.
As a swindle, this has worked magnificently -- in both cases, by the time the rubes have finally caught on to the game, tens of billions in unjustified funding has been pumped into the aerospace-industrial complex.
Ultimately, of course, the game always unravels. The Challenger tragedy was a direct result of the fact that NASA didn't dare stop launching Shuttles long enough to fix a whole flock of serious design programs which it knew existed -- including a problem with the landing brakes even more serious than the problems with the solid booster O-rings -- because, even by 1986, it was still desperately trying to continue pretending to Congress that the Shuttle could be flown at least a dozen times a year at an acceptable cost.
After it finally became impossible to sustain that lie in the wake of Challenger, NASA switched to saying that the Shuttle program was justified entirely to support the Space Station (if for no other reason).
The supposed usefulness of the Station itself is a comparable lie which has been steadily uncovered to a greater and greater degree for the last 15 years or so -- but never quite fast enough for the Station ever to be canceled (primarily due to its elementary political appeal as pure home-district pork for Congressmen).
The new tragedy today may change that. At a minimum, it proves that NASA's post-Challenger estimate of Shuttle safety has been as psychotically inaccurate as its pre-Challenger estimates -- with both estimates quite possibly being another set of deliberate lies.
NASA's current estimate has been that the Shuttle has only one chance in 350 of suffering a fatal accident during a launch, and considerably less of a risk during reentry.
Not quite true. If -- as seems increasingly likely -- the Columbia disaster was due to detachment of some of its crucial belly tiles, then -- whether this was actually due to impact by a lightweight piece of debris from the external tank during launch or not -- it indicates that the Shuttle's entire reentry thermal protection system is incredibly fragile, and always has been.
There is also a genuine chance that today's tragedy will turn out to be due to excessive economizing on Shuttle maintenance and safety programs -- economizing which was criticized, explicitly and at length, by both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees last year -- in order to make it possible to continue funding the Space Station, even in some kind of barely scientifically usable form.
The simple fact is that the average manned spaceflight costs about 10 times as much as the average unmanned space mission, for much LESS scientific and commercial return -- and always has.
As President Reagan's science advisor George Keyworth said: "While all government agencies lie part of the time, NASA is the only one I know of that does so routinely." The reason is simply that it has far less reason to exist at anything remotely like its current funding levels than any other U.S. government agency does.
NASA has been running an gigantic swindle on US taxpayers for at least the past three decades -- at the cost of about $150 billion in unjustified spending, and now a total of 14 human lives.
All we can hope for at this point, however, is that the White House and Congress will finally come to their senses and shut the American manned space program down, completely, until radical new technology allows massive improvements in both launch cost and flight safety -- a development which is at least two decades or so off -- while maintaining (or even increasing) its spending both on unmanned space exploration and on that development of aeronautical technology which has supposedly been one of its primary reasons for existing.
This hope, however, is based on the assumption that the federal government possesses a significant degree of brains and honesty, which has always been open to serious question.
Editor's Note: Bruce in his original note to me advising that he had written this, said as follows:
...is the following, which I wrote (almost exactly as follows) to a liberal
blogsite printable. You will be able to tell from the tone that I was white-faced with rage when I wrote it, but I stand by every word in it, and if you want to print it as my official editorial on this subject, go ahead."
...is the following, which I wrote (almost exactly as follows) to a liberal blogsite printable. You will be able to tell from the tone that I was white-faced with rage when I wrote it, but I stand by every word in it, and if you want to print it as my official editorial on this subject, go ahead."
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Media Hype Alone Cannot Fuel The Space Program
Los Angeles - Jan 21, 2003
It seems to be the week for excessive hype where space is concerned. Over the last few days, three separate stories about developments and problems in space exploration have made a considerable splash -- but on more detailed inspection, all three have been overblown.
Scrap The Shuttle Program
by Carlton Meyer
Richmond - Nov 01, 2002
The US military considers control of outer space vital to future warfare. Spaceprojects.com noted that page 18 of this Commerce Department report (pdf) documents how the USA slipped to just 29% of the world's launch market share in the year 2000, even though we had 48% of it in 1996, and apparently all of it the decade before.