Thursday, March 24, 2011

Florida Today: "End Posturing and Act"

A March 24, 2011 Florida Today editorial is an implicit rebuke of recent false claims by Rep. Sandy Adams, whose district includes Kennedy Space Center.

An opinion column in this morning's Florida Today demands that members of Congress should "end their posturing and act" to close the gap in which NASA relies on Russia to reach the International Space Station, by fully funding commercial space.

The opinion column is an implicit rebuke of a March 17 letter written by Space Coast congresswoman Sandy Adams, which falsely blamed President Obama for the reliance upon Russia:

Throughout history, scientific exploration has been a hallmark of the great nations — the ones that led. But once again, the Obama Administration's budget willingly ceded that leadership to China, Russia and India — countries that understand the importance of human space exploration. We cannot continue to accept this administration's assault on American exceptionalism and world leadership.

Speaking of the recent announcement that a ride on Soyuz will now cost $63 million, the Florida Today editorial commented:

In the hyper-partisan climate in Congress, the announcement brought familiar criticism from Republicans that the Obama administration is ceding U.S. human spaceflight to Russia.

That’s far from the truth.

President Bush made the call to fly U.S. astronauts aboard Russian rockets as part of his decision in 2004 to end the shuttle program in 2010 without having a new American rocket ready to replace the orbiters.

The move was supported by Republicans who then controlled Congress and Democrats backed it, too, when they took over in 2006. When President Obama entered the White House in 2009, the shuttle's shutdown was well under way and the Russian policy long set.

The rhetoric accomplishes nothing, further poisoning the atmosphere when level-headed bipartisan leadership is necessary to steer NASA through the post-shuttle transition.

This wasn't the first time Adams falsely included China on her list of phantom space enemies. In a December 29, 2010 Daytona Beach News-Journal guest column, Adams wrote, "We cannot and should not be forced to rely on the Russians and Chinese to get our astronauts into space." But she failed to produce any evidence that U.S. astronauts are being forced to fly on Chinese rockets, or of any formal relationship at all between NASA and the China National Space Administration.

The Indian Space Research Organisation is new to Adams' space enemies list, but they've never flown a human in space and don't plan to even attempt it until at least 2016.

Ms. Adams' falsehoods aside, the Florida Today cites efforts by SpaceX, United Space Alliance and other vendors to offer their own human space flight vehicles by 2015, if not sooner. The editorial notes that the Russians are "exploiting their upcoming ridership monopoly by jacking up the price ... The U.S. will have to live with it until it can field a new rocket and spacecraft."

Every day that passes without the funds pushes back the advent of a robust new U.S. commercial launch industry staged on the Space Coast, and with it the nation’s human spaceflight program.

The column concludes:

Members of Congress can complain all they want about the Russians, and attack the White House, but they are the ones holding the next generation of spaceflight hostage.

They should end their posturing and act.

After reading Rep. Adams' letter, I sent a letter to her on March 22 through the Rep. Sandy Adams web site. The letter is below. I received an automated reply that I would receive a response from Ms. Adams. If and when that happens, I will post it here.

Dear Rep. Adams —

I have read the letter you sent on March 17, 2011 to the chair of the House Budget Committee. I continue to be disappointed by your fundamental lack of understanding about both the history and current events surrounding NASA, as well as your apparent philosophy that our nation is better served by a "socialist" space program than one driven by the private sector.

Let's begin with your claim that the Obama administration "willingly cedes that leadership to China, Russia and India." Anyone who knows the basic facts about the current state of NASA will realize this is nonsense. And it is consistent with your baseless claim last December in a Daytona Beach newspaper that U.S. astronauts might be forced to fly on Chinese rockets.

To review the events of recent years ...

After the orbiter Columbia was destroyed during re-entry on February 1, 2003, President Bush appointed the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). The CAIB concluded that the Space Shuttle was a complex and risky system that needed to be retired from service, but couldn't be because no other option was available.

On January 14, 2004, Bush announced his Vision for Space Exploration. He proposed that the Shuttle be retired as soon as construction of the ISS was completed, circa 2010. He also proposed what we know today as Constellation.

The problem was he didn't seek the funding to make Constellation a viable project.

Two weeks later, then-NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe appeared before the Senate Science Committee. O'Keefe told the Senators that NASA had already begun negotiations to immediately fly U.S. astronauts on Soyuz capsules, to minimize "risky" Shuttle use, and in 2010 they would fly full-time on Soyuz for at least four years.

No less than committee chair Senator John McCain criticized the proposal, saying that the estimated cost for Constellation was way too low. Senator Bill Nelson predicted that Constellation wouldn't be ready by 2014, but would be delayed for years as NASA programs inevitably are, meaning astronauts would fly on Soyuz until about 2017, in his estimation.

History proved both men to be right.

In the next few years, the GAO repeatedly criticized Constellation's failures. They found that Constellation was behind schedule, over budget, and badly managed. The GAO's most critical report was issued in August 2009; it found that Constellation "lacked a sound business case" because it had nowhere to go. The Ares I, which was to service the ISS, was to be funded by decommissioning the ISS in 2015. Since Ares I wouldn't be ready until 2017, it had nowhere to go!

Coupled with the Augustine Committee's late 2009 report that the Ares V would not fly its first lunar mission until 2028, if ever, the Obama administration did the right thing — they cancelled a boondoggle program.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration in 2005 began the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. To provide more money for Constellation, the administration decided to shift cargo delivery to the private sector. Ares I would be used only for crew delivery.

The Obama administration, essentially, expanded COTS to include crew as well as cargo. As SpaceX demonstrated last December, they are farther along in developing a crew delivery system to the ISS than was Constellation, and at a fraction of the cost.

So please explain to me where it is that the Obama administration has "ceded" our leadership to other nations. Russia? That was a Bush administration decision in 2004. China? We have no relationship with them, and all they've done is launch a two-man crew that puts them about where we were in 1965. India hasn't flown any humans in space.

You also cite "the administration's assault on American exceptionalism." I don't think you understand what the phrase means. "American exceptionalism" was a phrase coined by Joseph Stalin in 1929, deriding the notion that U.S. capitalism was immune to a communist revolution.

You have written that human space flight is "the primary focus" of NASA. I suggest you read the National Aeronautics and Space Act (as amended), NASA's charter. Nowhere does it require NASA to fly humans into space, to send humans to explore other worlds, or even to own its rockets. But it was amended by the Reagan administration in 1985 to prioritize commercial access to space.

I firmly believe that humanity must go to space, and would like to see more spent towards that goal. Your colleagues in Congress, sadly, decided long ago that they would not adequately fund a government human space flight program. The Bush administration knew this, and promised it could build Constellation within budget constraints, but as the GAO repeatedly noted this was a fallacy. The Obama administration finally faced the truth, and came up with a way to fly astronauts to the ISS years sooner than would have happened under Constellation.

Because Congress will not fund a robust government space flight program, the only other way for humans to reach space is by the private sector. While it is unlikely that you or I will afford such a trip in our lifetimes, the only way the cost will be brought down is to unleash the private sector to do what it does best.

Right now, the only way in the United States to reach space is as a government employee. That's fundamentally wrong; the government should not decide who can go to space. I look forward to the day when private citizens fly aboard a SpaceX capsule to a Bigelow inflatable space station, built by American ingenuity freed of government constraint. This day may happen within the decade, if not sooner.

Yes, it's unfortunate that thousands of jobs are being lost at Kennedy Space Center, but that decision was made in 2004 and the locals have had seven years to prepare. Jobs shouldn't be kept just for the sake of jobs. Should the government have blocked development of the horseless carriage to protect the stagecoach industry? Of course not. Capitalism forces the evolution of technology. The side-effect is often the loss of jobs in one sector, but the growth of jobs in another. Trying to protect a government monopoly on space access is ... well, socialist.

Rep. Adams, I hope you will cease writing and speaking nonsensical remarks like trying to frighten people with a non-existent Chinese threat, or by using the phrase "American exceptionalism" which was coined by the most brutal Communist dictator of the 20th Century. A mature leader would be more informed and responsible than you have demonstrated so far.

Thank you for your time.


  1. Good luck getting a response Stephen, well, an intelligible one that isn't just a rubber-stamp from an aide anyway, lol.


  2. Excellent letter, Stephen. These people think they can look us straight in the face and make up any story they want because they don't think we're really paying attention. We've got to hold every member of Congress accountable for whatever happens to our space program. We've got to make them realize that we are paying attention, and that we care, and that ultimately they will all be held accountable for the future of this country's progress in outer space.

  3. That was way too harsh. The facts are right but you delivered it with a tone that will either cause it to (most likely) be ignored or you will get a negative response. You attract more bees with honey the vinegar. You should have been more polite.