Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Representative-elect Sandy Adams wrote in today's Daytona Beach News Journal that the United States “should not be forced to rely on the Russians and Chinese to get our astronauts into space.”

Today's Daytona Beach News-Journal features a guest opinion column by Representative-elect Sandy Adams, whose 24th Congressional district includes Kennedy Space Center.

Adams, a Republican, defeated incumbent Democrat Suzanne Kosmas in the November Congressional election. During the campaign, statements by Adams suggested she was fairly clueless about the basic facts surrounding the government's space program.

That led Florida Today to endorse Adams' opponent:

Kosmas' opponent is four-term Republican state Rep. Sandy Adams of Orlando, whose lack of knowledge about NASA is appalling.

During an interview with FLORIDA TODAY's editorial board the day the House voted on the bill that set NASA's course for at least a generation, Adams hadn’t even read the measure and did not know any of its specifics.

She also had no idea of the key details in state legislation to spur space initiatives here, or of the many efforts underway to diversify the Brevard economy to create post-shuttle jobs.

Today's guest column in the Daytona paper suggests our worst fears about Ms. Adams may have been realized. Here's what she wrote about NASA:

I also believe that it is important to be an advocate for the needs of the district. That means that I will work to educate my colleagues about the importance of restoring human space flight as the mission of NASA — not as an afterthought or something that would be "nice" to do, but as the core mission of the agency. It's not just a national security issue for me, but also a jobs issue, as thousands of our friends and neighbors have helped to make the United States pre-eminent in space exploration and human space flight. We cannot and should not be forced to rely on the Russians and Chinese to get our astronauts into space.

Let's start with her claim that human space flight is "the core mission of the agency."

Apparently Ms. Adams has never read the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which is NASA's charter. Nothing in the Act requires NASA to fly humans into space, to explore other worlds, or to own its rockets.

NASA was founded to be an aeronautics research agency. The Act requires NASA to "contribute materially to one or more" of a long list of specific objectives. One of those was, "The development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies, and living organisms through space." But a living organism is most certainly not limited to a human being. In fact, when the Act was passed in 1958, the "living organisms" being flown were monkeys and chimpanzees by the United States, and dogs by the Soviet Union. In any case, the Act only required NASA to "contribute materially," not to run the show.

The Reagan administration amended the Act in 1984 to add Section 102(c):

The Congress declares that the general welfare of the United States requires that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (as established by title II of this Act) seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.

Adams wrote nothing in her article about this legislative imperative.

She also defines NASA as "a jobs issue." Nothing in the Act says NASA's purpose is to create jobs. That's been the problem with NASA for many years — too many politicians view NASA as an easy means for directing pork to their districts. NASA was never intended to be a modern Works Progress Administration, which if created today I suspect Ms. Adams would label as "socialist." As with any other government agency, NASA's mission is to provide a service, not to provide jobs for jobs' sake.

Ms. Adams wrote, "We cannot and should not be forced to rely on the Russians and Chinese to get our astronauts into space." The Chinese?! Who is forcing the United States to rely on China to access space?! That's either fundamental ignorance or shameless demagoguery.

As for Russia, that decision was made by the Bush administration in January 2004. It was on Page 1 of the January 30 Florida Today, two days after NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe appeared before the Senate Science Committee to detail the President's proposal. Florida's senator Bill Nelson expressed concern about the administration's reliance on Russia to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.

You phase out the Space Shuttle by 2010, and then if we don't fly this new vehicle until four, five, six years later, that means that our only human access to space is that we've got to rely on Russian rockets and European rockets, and I don't think that's good for the country.

Today's "gap" where the United States has to rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to reach the ISS was created long ago. Closing the gap began in 2005 with the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Originally intended to expedite ISS access for cargo, the Obama administration now wants to use COTS for crew access as well, based on the conclusion by the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee in 2009 that Constellation wouldn't be ready to fly to ISS until 2017 — two years after the Bush administration's plan intended to decommission ISS in 2015, thereby negating the need for a craft to go there. By cancelling Constellation, the Obama administration can afford to extend ISS to at least 2018 and is in negotiation with our partners to extend it to 2028.

The COTS demonstration launch by SpaceX on December 8 of its Falcon 9 rocket that orbited the Dragon spacecraft shows that the commercial sector is quite close to developing a vehicle for transporting cargo and crew to the ISS. The first SpaceX supply run to ISS is scheduled for late 2011. SpaceX thinks they'll be ready to fly crew by 2013. Even if those targets slip by a year or two, they're certainly more imminent than anything NASA would have flown with Constellation.

The last thing Kennedy Space Center needs right now is to be represented in Congress by an uninformed demagogue. Hopefully Ms. Adams will do her homework and educate herself about the basic facts behind NASA's mission and the government's human space flight program.


  1. And let's not forget that there is no national security reason for flying humans in space. period.

  2. Well, yeah, that's another bit of rhetorical hot air from Ms. Adams. In fact, if she had bothered to read Section 102(b) of the National Aeronautics and Space Act, it specifically states that "activities peculiar to or primarily associated with the development of weapons systems, military operations, or the defense of the United States (including the research and development necessary to make effective provision for the defense of the United States) shall be the responsibility of, and shall be directed by, the Department of Defense."