Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Posey Goes ePostal

Space Coast Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL). Image source: Wikipedia.

I received in e-mail today an unrequested "Space E-Newsletter" from Space Coast congressional representative Bill Posey.

It's not online anywhere I can find, and it's very lengthy, so I won't post the entire missive here. If you want the newsletter, e-mail me at spacekscblog@gmail.com and I'll forward it to you.

But I will give you the highlights.

The letter begins:

These are exciting times for our District, for NASA and man’s continued efforts to explore the cosmos with his instruments and his footsteps. This year alone, nine missions have been launched from our backyard at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral by United Launch Alliance and Space-X. Orion is now at KSC and is being prepared for it’s fall 2014 launch.

There are some exciting space-related topics that I would like to share with you in this edition of my Space E-Newsletter, including my legislation to help keep America the leader in Space, an update on some new commercial space launch initiatives, the threat of a natural or man-made Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) and what I am doing about it, and finally, my thoughts on where NASA should set its sights and why.

EMPs?! Really?!

But this is the man who claims that China wants a military base on the Moon, so I guess for him EMPs are a natural extension of this fantasy.

Here's the entire text of his EMP section:

Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) Defense and the SHIELD Act

When a hurricane, a strong thunderstorm or a downed power line leaves us in the dark we are reminded of how important electricity is to our daily lives. Fortunately, no one has yet experienced a national power outage, or the devastation it would cause — not just the loss of lighting, but the loss of refrigeration, of air traffic control and of life-sustaining hospital equipment. However, our power grid could suffer just such a widespread failure if it were struck by a powerful Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP), either from a nuclear missile detonated high above our country by a rogue nation, or from a powerful, naturally occurring solar flare.

Just as the Earth has weather that we must contend with, the Sun has weather too, with activity that comes in the form of solar prominences and even storms. The most violent solar storm on record occurred in 1859 and completely shut down the modern communications of the day — the telegraph. Today, experts believe a solar storm of that magnitude could literally plunge large parts of Earth into darkness for an extended period of time.

To help protect our country from this, Congressman Posey has co-sponsored The SHIELD Act (the “Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act”), H.R. 2417, introduced by Congressman Trent Franks. The SHIELD Act is bipartisan legislation that encourages cooperation between industry and government in the development and implementation of standards and processes that are necessary to protect our electric grid from a major EMP event. The SHIELD Act also requires that standards be developed within six months of enactment, ensuring a faster timeline of protection. Another solar storm may be just around the corner. It is important to prepare now so that we can defend against potentially serious adverse effects.

Click here for more information about H.R. 2417. The bill was referred on June 21 to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, and has gone nowhere. The bill actually has 24 co-sponsors, not just Posey. As for H.R. 2417 being “bipartisan legislation” as Posey claims, the bill's sponsor and 23 of the 24 co-sponsors are Republicans. The lone Democrat is Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY). An old “bipartisan” trick played by both sides.

Elsewhere in the newsletter ...

Posey states he has created a congressional staffer group called Space Advocates to discuss space policy. Just which staffers of which partisan stripe are included isn't mentioned.

Posey's Team Organizes Weekly Space Advocates Group

As Congressional schedules and legislative agendas are impacted by the latest headlines, attention to important NASA and space-related issues could be pushed to the back burner in congressional offices. Recognizing this challenge, Rep. Posey directed his Washington staff to organized a group on Capitol Hill unabashedly called “Space Advocates”. Space Advocates currently involves about 70 Congressional staffers working on NASA and space-related issues for their Representatives. Space Advocates regularly meets to discuss timely space-related challenges, opportunities and legislation with the stated goal of educating staff and promoting U.S. space policy.

Meeting almost a dozen times so far this year, the Space Advocates have helped lead the discussion in a number of areas — in one instance, hosting panel discussions on NASA’s proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission — bringing in experts from around the country to educate the staffers who advise their Members of Congress. Leading U.S. space companies have also provided updates at Space Advocate meetings.

In an era of shrinking budgets and attention-grabbing headlines, NASA and the commercial space industry need help to insure their issues maintain the awareness on Capitol Hill that they deserve. Rep. Posey’s team in Washington is working hard to make sure that happens through the work of the Space Advocates. Many of us recall that the space station only survived by one vote in the early 1990's. Space advocates makes sure that we are on offense to avoid close calls in the future.

To his credit, unlike many of his colleagues on the House Space Subcommittee Posey seems more open-minded to growing a private space sector here in the U.S.

The rapidly growing commercial space sector could well be the most historically significant development of the modern era, yet the ability of American companies to capture this market may be hampered if government regulations stand in their way. That is why Congressman Posey and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy recently introduced the Suborbital and Orbital Advancement and Regulatory Streamlining (“SOARS”) Act, H.R 3038. Its purpose is to update the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licensing process for commercial space launch companies and establish demonstration projects for the use of experimental aircraft in support of those launch activities.

Posey also details a recent meeting with Bigelow Aerospace representatives.

Rep. Posey Invites Company to Share Moon Base Plan

Rep. Posey introduced bipartisan legislation called “the REAL Space Act” (H.R. 1446) which puts NASA on a path to return to the Moon by 2022. A private company, Bigelow Aerospace, may partner with NASA to help make that happen.

Congressman Posey recently met with Bigelow Aerospace representatives to get a better understanding of the company’s plans to establish a permanent base on the Moon within a decade.

A model of Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habitat modules on the lunar surface. Image source: Bigelow Aerospace / NBCNews.com.

Bigelow Aerospace has been constructing outer space habitats since 1999. Two of their test modules have been in orbit since 2007.

Their long-range plan for a lunar base begins with the launch and assembly of a two-module, 90-foot-long space station in Earth orbit by 2018. Rockets will be attached to the structure in 2021 to move the station to an orbit around the Moon. At that point, a third Bigelow habitat will launch from Earth and then be remotely piloted down to the lunar surface by astronauts in the orbiting space station.

Once they confirm that it is performing as designed, four astronauts will descend from the orbiting space station to the lunar base where they will begin work.

Bigelow is also working with another firm to develop a ‘Lunar Lander’. It will provide the means to easily move back and forth between their space station and the habitat on the Moon. The Bigelow Lunar Lander will leverage a simplified NASA design, flying astronauts from 60 miles above the Moon down to the surface.

Bigelow hopes to see four astronauts begin full-time occupancy of their lunar habitat by 2023. Their hope is to then work with NASA to develop the technologies and techniques needed for mankind’s next ‘giant leap’ in manned space exploration — MARS!

The newsletter includes an essay by Posey supporting a NASA human spaceflight mission to Mars — but doesn't say how he'd pay for it, or explain how the crew would survive the potentially lethal doses of radiation during the probable three-year mission. Posey dismisses the Obama administration's Asteroid Initiative which would cost far less than a Mars program. He writes:

The asteroid plan is also riddled with unprecedented technical challenges which will be very expensive to solve.

And a Mars mission differs ... how?!

Nor does he tell us why humans should go when NASA robotic rovers such as Curiosity are exploring Mars just fine.

I'm pretty sure that Rep. Posey's staff reads this blog. (Hello.) Please tell your boss that any NASA human spaceflight program — Moon, asteroid or Mars — will be hideously expensive. In current dollars, the 1960s Apollo program cost $150 billion. I think we'd all agree that Congress won't spend that kind of money today, especially when we have robotic craft that will do it much more cheaply without risking human lives.

The NASA model of the 1960s, which perpetuates to this day, is very obsolete. NASA was meant to be an aerospace research and development agency. It changed when President Kennedy proposed the human lunar program.

That decision twisted NASA into a giant pork program that is politically and fiscally unsustainable. Elected officials in Congress for decades have babbled about resurrecting Apollo, but never put enough money behind it.

Only enough to protect the interests of their districts and states, and the interests of the aerospace companies that contribute to their re-election campaigns.

If not for the perceived Cold War threat from the Soviet Union, an American human spaceflight program never would have evolved as it did. It wasn't the logical way to do it.

I refer you to this 1961 article by General Electric CEO Ralph Cordiner, a prominent Republican of his time who realized the consequence of a bloated government space program. Mr. Cordiner has been cited by recently departed NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver — a prominent Democrat of her time.

So this shouldn't be a partisan issue. It should be a logical issue.

The logical way to proceed is for NASA to evolve capabilities that can be transferred to the private sector, which can do it far more effectively and cheaply, free of government porking.

A notional image of a SpaceX Dragon landing on Mars. Image source: io09.com.

The roles should be reversed from what they are now. Bob Bigelow and NASA Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier suggested during a May teleconference that NASA's future role should be as a think-tank for the private sector. If Bigelow, SpaceX or some other NewSpacer needs a solution to a problem ... they can seek guidance from NASA.

That's why the commercial cargo program, and now commercial crew, have succeeded far beyond what was anticipated. NASA sets the milestones, offers advice, walks alongside the private company — but in the end, the company finds its own path to achieve the milestone.

You don't like the Asteroid Initiative? That's your perogative. But it exists only because Congress foisted the Space Launch System program upon NASA in 2010, after the failure of the Constellation program. NASA didn't ask for SLS. You made them do it.

But you didn't tell them what to do with it.

And you, the members of Congress, still haven't done so.

You can pass all the unfunded bills you want ordering NASA to study human lunar and Martian missions. They're a waste of money unless you the Congress put hundreds of billions of dollars behind it.

Which you won't.

So be honest with us, the taxpayers and your constituents, and admit that human deep-space missions in the current fiscal environment are unsustainable. Put the money into NewSpace where it belongs. Allow them to go to the Moon, to asteroids, and one day to Mars.

Humanity will get there a lot sooner once Congress gets out of the way.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that China putting a missile base on the Moon would be a foolish thing to do, but that is indeed what Chinese space representatives have suggested might be "possible":


    Posey is one those of those in Congress who supports commercial space.That is the important, not what political party he belongs to.

    Bob Clark