Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Articles of Interest

Florida Today reported on July 27 that United Space Alliance notified 900 local employees they'll be laid off by October 1.

Laid off workers will receive between four and 26 weeks of pay, depending on their years of service. Some identified as having "critical" skills will receive an additional bonus of 15 to 26 weeks' pay.

My personal experience, and most people I know, is that you get no advance notice of a layoff. You're marched out the door. My last employer offered one week's pay for each year of service. My wife got two weeks per year.

The future of America's space program should be guided by need, but as Florida Today reported on July 27 it's all about politics.

President Barack Obama's proposals for NASA calls for using federal money to help commercial companies develop rockets and spacecraft that could carry crews to the space station, while NASA prepares for future missions beyond Earth's orbit.

Obama wants to spend $312 million next year to help such companies develop rockets to carry cargo and $500 million to help them prepare to carry people. He would spend $3.3 billion over a three-year period to foster commercial crew services, with the total growing to $6 billion over five years.

The Senate science and appropriations committees agreed to spend $312 million next year supporting commercial cargo rockets and $300 million supporting commercial crews. The combined amount would increase to $500 million in 2012 and 2013, for a total of $1.6 billion over three years.

The House science committee was stingier, agreeing to $14 million for cargo rockets and $50 million for crew rockets, with a $100 million loan program for commercial rocket developers. The three-year total wouldn't reach $1 billion.

The question now is whether members of the House Appropriations subcommittee governing NASA will go along with the amounts approved by their colleagues on the science panel or will choose those approved by the Senate committees, a compromise that also has the administration's backing.

Jeff Foust, as always, wrote an excellent analysis of the budget process for The Space Review. He quotes PoliSpace president Jim Muncy:

The real fight, Muncy said, is between "a white-collar welfare state space program and a frontier-opening, settlement-enabling, future-changing space strategy." Put another way, he said, "We can’t let this conversation be about SpaceX versus ATK, or how NASA astronauts get to space. We have to make it about the future of humanity."

Some members of those Congressional committees who felt the space pork coming to their districts was threatened by the Obama budget proposal claimed the administration was illegally terminating the Constellation program and demanded the Government Accountability Office investigate. The GAO did, and concluded the administration acted legally. According to Florida Today:

U.S. Government Accountability Office attorneys found "no evidence" that NASA was holding back Constellation funds or "taking any steps to terminate or end the Constellation program."

They also said NASA wasn't wrong to ask contractors to set aside nearly $1 billion to cover the cost of terminating contracts, but took no position on whether past contracts had established different expectations.

The opinion responded to a request from members of Congress who criticized a June 9 letter from NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden as a back-door effort to kill Constellation, the return-to-the moon program that President Barack Obama wants to cancel.

Click here to read the report. No sign of apology from those who made the false accusations.

Aviation Week reports the recently released National Space Policy "remains largely consistent with that of previous administration," according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Many of his commercial space guidelines are almost verbatim those of President [George W.] Bush," CSIS found. "Like previous administrations, however, the policy was issued without an executable strategy, the absence of which may render accomplishment of the policy’s goals problematic."

Space News notes that CSIS believes, "The U.S. government should permit China to launch U.S.-built commercial satellites and force an overhaul of the U.S. Air Force’s relationship with its principal launch-services provider, United Launch Alliance (ULA), as part of a strategy to assure long-term access to commercial satellite bandwidth."

The National Space Policy is not law. It just expresses the President's direction for the nation's space activities. As we've seen with this year's budget hearings, Congress is free to ignore the National Space Policy and usually does. So it would seem to me that any blame lies not with the White House, but with Congress.


  1. Just thought I'd let you know I'm reading and appreciate your insight. Thanks Steve.

  2. "The future of America's space program should be guided by need, but as Florida Today reported on July 27 it's all about politics."

    If that were strictly true that the issue is NEED, we would do away with NASA and manned space flight altogether. We don't NEED a manned space program, we need the ability to launch satellites. We also NEED a lot of other things more than we NEED NASA. In our society, politics is always involved, especially when budgets are concerned. So, unless you want to be dictator, live with it.

    Is there really a NEED for NASA? What use is it? Well aside from the technical accomplishments, spin offs, etc. it did do something for us in the past. It inspired a whole generation of people to go into science and engineering including myself. The benefits to our country can not be measured directly, but we owe much of our technology and standard of living to that generation. Now we are producing lawyers and MBAs. So if NASA can do the same thing for the future, then we NEED it, if not, get rid of it. NASA has to supply the vision and the inspiration for a new generation of scientist and engineers. However, it sure isn't doing it now and I don't see where there is a vision that will inspire.