Thursday, March 11, 2010

Florida Today Wants Obama to Mandate Commercial Launches Only from KSC

A bizarre editorial in today's Florida Today demands that President Obama mandate future commercial launches in the United States be legal only at Kennedy Space Center.

"The president should make KSC the commercial hub and mandate it in his policy," the editorial concludes.

In a county where 42.8% of voters are registered Republican and 20,000 more are registered Republican than Democrat, this is just the latest in a series of what I view as hypocritical claims by people who claim to be conservatives that hate socialism yet want the government to engage in blatant socialism to protect taxpayer-funded jobs.

"The anger was palpable Tuesday during a public forum sponsored by FLORIDA TODAY," the editorial claims, "when panelists who sharply criticized the plan were met with loud applause."

The editorial failed to mention what their own March 9 news story reported — only 100 people were in attendance. All four panelists had previously expressed opposition to the Obama administration's proposed FY 2011 budget, and one — Republican former Congressman Dave Weldon — falsely accused Obama of "killing the manned spaceflight program."

No one, apparently, was invited from NASA or the Obama administration to rebut misstatements or falsehoods.

In short, the deck was stacked.

The editorial noted the approaching job losses that will further damage the local economy.

Under [the Obama proposal], the Space Coast will lose as many as 23,000 jobs, 9,000 at KSC and another 14,000 nonspace jobs in the regional economy dependent on NASA paychecks. That could drive Brevard County’s 12.7 percent unemployment rate to 17 percent or higher.

That’s unacceptable on its face.

After blaming Obama, the editorial then grudgingly admits that most of those job losses are due to decisions made long ago during the Bush administration.

A major part of the equation — the retirement of the shuttle fleet in September — is not solely Obama’s fault.

President Bush made that decision in 2004 after recommendations from the commission that investigated the 2003 shuttle Columbia accident and it has been supported in Congress the past six years when both Republicans and Democrats have been in control.

As a result, the suppliers have been shut down, the shuttle’s fuel tanks are no longer made and thousands of workers have already been let go.

Bush also made the decision — again, with bipartisan support in Congress — to create a gap in manned spaceflight that would last at least five years between the shuttle’s end and start of the Constellation moon program.

However, Obama wants to kill Constellation because of its mammoth and unsustainable costs, and have private companies launch astronauts into low-Earth orbit, gambling they can do it faster and cheaper than NASA and just as safely.

These are all points I've made here over and over.

But rather than acknowledge reality, the editorial swerves into wishful thinking.

With the federal government spending hundreds of billions to save and create jobs, a case can be made to use funds to extend the shuttle and keep people employed, providing safety concerns can be met.

No, the case cannot be made.

Although technically feasible, it would cost taxpayers $2.4 billion per year and NASA would have to wait at least two years for new external tanks to be built. That's money that would have to come from other NASA programs, which is why Constellation is over budget and behind schedule.

It also ignores the conclusions of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board six years ago, which was why Bush cancelled Shuttle:

... The Shuttle has few of the mission capabilities that NASA originally promised. It cannot be launched on demand, does not recoup its costs, no longer carries national security payloads, and is not cost-effective enough, nor allowed by law, to carry commercial satellites. Despite efforts to improve its safety, the Shuttle remains a complex and risky system that remains central to U.S. ambitions in space. Columbia's failure to return home is a harsh reminder that the Space Shuttle is a developmental vehicle that operates not in routine flight but in the realm of dangerous exploration.

Florida Today also trots out the standard threat of payback at the ballot box.

[The White House] also knows there’s serious political fallout at hand, with the president’s chance of winning Florida when he seeks re-election in 2012 made harder because of the catastrophic cuts coming in space jobs.

The problem with that theory is that Obama lost Brevard County handily to John McCain in 2008, 157,589 (54.5%) to 127,620 (44.2%). Is Obama likely to lose, say, Palm Beach County or Hillsborough County or Miami-Dade County because the people of Brevard County have failed for six years now to plan for this event? Of course not. Obama may lose Florida — which he won by 50.9% to 48.1% in 2008 — but it won't be because he failed to extend Shuttle after Bush cancelled it.

This is a state whose Republican leaders have vociferously opposed the federal stimulus program, whose governor is running behind in primary polls because he supported the stiumulus program, and some of whose elected officials have actually refused to accept stimulus money that would have helped their local economy.

Yet now we're being told by many of those Republican leaders that the taxpayers must continue to fund government space jobs, needed or not, and that the government should pass a law banning competition in the commercial space launch market.

As I've written before, I was once a municipal budget analyst. When it comes to taxpayer dollars, I consider myself a budget hawk. I believe that taxpayer money shouldn't be spent unless it provides a tangible good for the public.

It's clear that extending Shuttle would be wasteful, paying 7,000 employees to sit around while they wait two years for a new external tank to be built.

And when it is built, what is Shuttle going to do?

Deliver crew to the International Space Station? We've already paid the Russians for that — a decision made in 2007 by the Bush administration.

Deliver supplies to the ISS? Shuttle is capable of carrying more than any other space vehicle currently on the planet, but again we've already planned supply delivery through the Russians.

Let's be clear on one fact — the United States does not own the ISS. It's a consortium of the U.S., Russia, ESA, Canada and Japan. Decisions such as how to deliver supplies are made by the consortium, not unilaterally by the United States. Again, the decision has already been made, and that's to go with the Russians until another nation offers a viable alternative.

I fully understand the concerns people have about losing their jobs. My wife and I are unemployed. Our COBRA extension health coverage runs out on March 31. It would cost $1,000/month to ensure the two of us. So we'll have to go without.

But never, ever would I demand the government give me a taxpayer-funded job if it wasn't a job the government had decided it needed.

Extending Shuttle, or perpetuating Constellation, should not be justified by saying it will protect jobs. It should be justified only if it has value to the nation and it's a more cost-efficient approach than other alternatives.

Brevard County has had six years to plan for this day. The failure lies with local and state elected officials, not the federal government. Speakers from the business community at last month's Orlando space summit said they took their business elsewhere after Brevard leaders failed to help when they wanted to locate here.

Brevard's economy needs to diversify, to wean itself off government-funded jobs. Failure to do so results in an economic disaster such as we're experiencing now. It's wrong to blame Obama for that, or anyone at the federal level, Democrat or Republican.

It's extremely hypocritical for one of the bluest blue (Republican) counties in Florida to expect the government to provide taxpayer-funded jobs just for the sake of jobs. And it's hypocritical to demand that the government kill nascent commercial launch operations in other parts of the nation to protect our own narrow parochial interests.

1 comment:

  1. I agree the FT demand is hypocritical at best. After reading the 2011 NASA budget, the plans for future manned space exploration are too vague. There are no clear goals. Phrases like Game Changing New Technology are political goals, but they are not reasonable scientific or engineering goals. There is a alarming lack of specificity. New propulsion systems, what does that mean, warp drives, worm holes? I am a retired scientist and if I submitted a proposal with this lack of detail to an agency such as NSF, they would laugh me out of the business. Unless you can articulate clear goals the results that you end up with may not be to your liking.