Monday, February 11, 2013

Palace Intrigue

Click the arrow to watch the National Space Society promotional video raising money for a space advocacy film. has posted the resignation letter of Paul Damphousse, who was the Executive Director of the National Space Society. The resignation letter was dated February 7.

The letter states:

I thank those of you with whom I have worked and who have put the interests of the Society above your own — together we righted our ship and avoided the rocks we were heading toward before I took this position. I believe we also put in place the right changes to set our ship on a new course to prosperity.

During the last year in this role it has become abundantly clear, however, that as long as elements of the existing leadership of the NSS continue to pursue courses of action — and perpetuate an atmosphere — that are not in the best interests of the Society, the challenges the organization face will become insurmountable. For both professional and personal reasons, I have decided to pursue other opportunities.

Damphousse joined NSS in January 2012, so he was in the post a little more than a year.

Damphousse had been scheduled to deliver a lecture tomorrow at the Florida Space Institute in Orlando. I'm told that event has been cancelled, although as of this writing it's still on their web site. The lecture was titled, “Ad Astra: A National Space Society Perspective on our Future in Space.” The extract on the FSI web site states:

We remain at a critical crossroads in space. Decisions being made today, and plans being introduced, will define the human presence in space (or lack thereof) for our lifetimes and for that of our children. The National Space Society (NSS), as the preeminent citizens’ voice on space, pursues a two-fold vision of human settlements beyond the Earth and of utilizing the vast resources of space for the betterment of humanity. The NSS supports several promising on-going efforts which will ultimately help achieve this vision — commercial spaceflight, space technology, in-space/in-situ resource utilization, and aggressive roadmapping are a just a few elements for which the NSS is stalwartly advocating. The NSS will present a plan for this future and the roadmap which will take us there.

NSS is in the middle of a fundraising campaign to underwrite the cost of a space advocacy documentary. According to the promotional video, the film would be “a 15 to 20 minute tour de force that quickly and convincingly lays out the case for why space is vitally important to our future.”

According to their web site, as of this morning the project has raised $41,568 from 580 backers.

The NSS home page states, “If we reach $55,000 we will send DVD copies of this video to the entire Congress, all 50 state Governors, and the White House, so our elected politicians can see just how important space really is to the future of both our nation and the world.”

Just my opinion, but the enterprise strikes me as a colossal waste of money. The NSS home page says the video will be “inspiring” but that's the same argument we get from people who naively think that Congress will spend billions of dollars on an Apollo rerun just to “inspire” American youth. That's not the real world — not in the 1960s, and not today.

It strikes me as a fundamental misread of how American space politics work. The members of Congress fund space programs primarily to protect jobs in their states and districts, which is why critics of the Space Launch System call it the Senate Launch System. NSS should be running as far away from Congress as possible, trying to accelerate commercial development which would take Congress out of the equation.

Our local NSS chapter seems to have figured that out, recently changing its name to the Florida Space Development Council. According to a January 16 press release:

The Florida Space Coast Chapter of the National Space Society (NSS) has changed its name to the Florida Space Development Council (FSDC) to better reflect the group's focus on assisting the development of a robust space-related economy in the state. The FSDC will remain an active chapter of the NSS, working with other Florida chapters to support the NSS mission to promote social, economic, technological, and political change in order to expand civilization beyond Earth.

Another problem may be the NSS byzantine bureaucracy. Michael Mealing at offers this insight:

... [T]he Executive Director is three layers removed from the Board, coordinates with 6 vice-presidents, has no direct access to the Executive Vice-President or any of the Operating Committees. As you can imagine the volunteer side is reluctant to give any control or capability to the paid side. Can anyone expect an organization like that to work? It has 20 operating committees (there are even two separate Interent committees: Interent Services Committee and the Web Oversight Committee). For crying out loud, why?

1 comment:

  1. The local D/FW NSS chapter (NSS of North Texas) just keeps focused on its projects:

    -party suite at ConDFW this weekend
    -$400 in scholarship money to give away at Science Fair the next weekend
    -Lunar Laboratory for kids in planning for Spring Break at Frontiers of Flight Museum (possibly also Sci-Tech Discovery Ctr)
    -Yuri's Night in April at UT Arlington Planetarium (w/Anousheh Ansari)
    -Moon Day V in July
    -panels & displays at WorldCon in Aug.
    -science panels at FenCon in Sept. (& announcement of winner of our poetry contest - $ prizes)
    -International Observe the Moon Night in Oct.
    -And Astronomy Day in Oct.
    -Perhaps even a competition for World Space Week where the winner goes to Space Camp.
    -Santa Space Toy Drive for charity in Dec.

    As long as NSS HQ keeps sending us materials to distribute we're happy and will just keep soldiering on. We don't do this for HQ; we don't do it for Congress. We do it for our community.