Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Articles of Interest
President Obama speaks Friday at a robotics plant in Pittsburgh.
One lap around the Internet ...
USA Today looks back at the Shuttle era in "Before Atlantis' Last Flight, Shuttle Era's Legacy Debated."
Viewed by NASA as some of the most complicated machines ever built, the space shuttles sent probes to Venus and Jupiter, launched and repaired the Hubble Space Telescope and largely built the International Space Station.
The shuttle missions also cost well more than $1 billion a launch, never met their original goal of weekly, inexpensive launches and cost 14 astronauts their lives in two tragedies that shocked and saddened the nation.
I suppose one could also raise similar questions about the Apollo era. It achieved the goal of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s, but it cost about $150 billion in current dollars and in the mid-1960s almost 5% of the federal budget one year. We could endlessly debate whether $150 billion bought its money's worth in national prestige, which was the original justification for the program. It also left a legacy of a pork-laden government jobs program that persists to this day.
Which brings us to a self-congratulatory guest editorial "Blueprint Shows Way to Next Space Frontier" by Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutcheson (R-TX) that appeared in the June 23 Orlando Sentinel.
The blueprint we ushered through the Congress last fall also will help reduce the economic impact of the shuttle's retirement. We made every effort to boost the aerospace industry and take advantage of an extremely skilled NASA work force. We also were able to avoid huge cuts at a time when Congress is slashing across the board.
Creating and protecting jobs, especially those rendered obsolete, isn't the mission of America's space agency. The National Aeronautics and Space Act says nothing about jobs. It does say that NASA was created, "To provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth's atmosphere, and for other purposes." But the "other purposes" defined in the act don't include pork for the home districts of the members of the Senate and House space committees.
Am I sympathetic towards those losing their jobs at the end of Shuttle? Of course. I've been laid off three times in my professional career. But I wasn't given seven years' advance notice like the Shuttle workers were; President Bush announced in January 2004 that Shuttle would be retired once International Space Station construction was completed. Well, STS-134 completed construction in May. To quote an infamous Bush moment, "Mission Accomplished."
No one is guaranteed a job for life, especially those who work for government contractors. About 23,000 space jobs were lost in Brevard County as Apollo closed down. It appears that between 7,000 and 9,000 space jobs will be lost due to Shuttle.
This porcine melodrama played out again last week when Hutcheson and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) demanded documents to prove progress on the Space Launch System. Their committee's obsession with SLS as a jobs program for their states has led critics to dub the program the "Senate Launch System." The committee has failed to tell taxpayers what they intend to do with the rocket. They just want it operational by 2016.
Bart Jansen of the Gannett newspaper chain (which includes USA Today and Florida Today) published an article titled, "NASA: Better Tech Needed to Explore Deep Space". (It's on Page 6A of today's Florida Today but not online yet.) Jansen wrote:
Investments are needed now in new technology to meet President Barack Obama's goal of sending people to an asteroid by 2025 or to Mars a decade later, NASA scientists said Monday.
Congress is debating how much to spend on development of a heavy-lift rocket to reach those destinations versus how much for commercial rockets to ferry people back and forth to the International Space Station.
But even if scientists had a rocket ready to launch, they need to figure out how astronauts could survive in months of low gravity, how astronauts could move around better once they arrive at a destination and how to improve communications.
Bobby Braun, NASA's chief technologist, was with President Obama Friday in Pittsburgh. The President was touring a robotics plant. Jansen wrote:
... [T]he president spoke about the need for more sophisticated robots as part of the country's manufacturing. Obama cited the company RedZone Robotics for making machines that explore water and sewer pipes by remote control.
"To help everyone from factory workers to astronauts carry out more complicated tasks, NASA and other agencies will support research into next-generation robotics," Obama said.
Braun said he was "thrilled to hear the president speak that way about NASA."