Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Posey, Adams: Human Space Flight the "Primary Focus" of NASA

In a press release that appears on both the Bill Posey and Sandy Adams web sites, Space Coast's two members of Congress call for NASA to stop researching climate change and spend the money instead on human space flight.

As House leaders examine ways to cut spending and address the ever growing budget deficits that have plagued Washington for years, U.S. Representatives Bill Posey (R-FL), Sandy Adams (R-FL) and Rob Bishop (R-UT) were joined by several other of their colleagues in calling for a reprioritization of NASA so human space flight remains the primary focus of the nation’s space agency as budget cuts are considered.

As I've noted many times, human space flight under the law is not the "primary focus" of NASA.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act spells out NASA's "primary focus." Nowhere does it require NASA to launch humans into space, to explore other worlds, or even to own its rockets.

I wish Reps. Posey and Adams would actually read the law and stop claiming it says something it doesn't.

UPDATE February 9, 2011 9:15 AM ESTJeff Foust of Space Politics adds his insight into the Posey-Adams letter.

... [T]heir claim that NASA’s core mission is human spaceflight is not supported by other documents, ranging from the National Aeronautics and Space Act from 1958 to the latest NASA authorization act, which declared that NASA "is and should remain a multi-mission agency with a balanced and robust set of core missions in science, aeronautics, and human space flight and exploration" and that "NASA plays a critical role through its ability to provide data on solar output, sea level rise, atmospheric and ocean temperature, ozone depletion, air pollution, and observation of human and environment relationships."

Speaking of Mr. Posey ... The January 31 Florida SpaceReport posted an e-mail from Posey in response to what he claimed was an error by an unnamed blogger who wrote that President Kennedy was not interested in space exploration.

Posey wrote:

The bottom line is that Kennedy did not say, "I'm not interested in space." What Kennedy did say was, "I'm not that interested in space." What did "that" mean? His remark was about adding over $400 hundred million (in 1962 dollars!) more to the space program's budget. Kennedy indicated he was not interested in spending that much extra if we could not beat the Russians. The transcript also indicates it's very clear that Kennedy considered the lunar landing the most important single goal of this nation except for national defense, and he viewed the value of the lunar program as part of our national security. "Now," as Paul Harvey would say, "that's the rest of the story."

In my opinion, Mr. Posey is misinterpreting the gist of the conversation when NASA and federal budget officials met with JFK on November 21, 1962.

I've written about the JFK space mythology many times, most recently on January 23, so you can read the articles at those links and decide for yourself.

In summary, it's clear to me that the only reason JFK proposed the Moon mission was to show the world that American technology was superior to the Soviet Union. He was not a space visionary, and had no interest in perpetuating Apollo beyond completion of what was really no more than a publicity stunt.

As I've previously noted, his May 25, 1961 speech to Congress where he proposed the Moon mission was actually about various spending proposals to stimulate a recessive economy and strengthen the military. The Moon program is proposed near the end — and if you read past the most famous paragraphs, he warns that if Congress is not willing to spend what was necessary to pull off this stunt, it was best not to go. In short, he wanted Congress to take the fiscal responsibility along with him.

Now, that was the context that apparently Mr. Posey overlooked. We are not in a "space race" today, we collaborate with the Russians and other spacefaring nations, and we have no need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a global publicity stunt.

I'm all for space exploration, and for a real lunar colonization program, but as JFK warned in May 1961 if we're not serious about it then it's best not to waste the money. That's why Constellation failed.

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