Saturday, June 30, 2012

KSC Turns 50

Click the arrow to watch the NASA video.

Kennedy Space Center was born on July 1, 1962.

Its birth name was the Launch Operations Center, but it had other names before that.

In its earliest days, it was the Merritt Island Launch Area under the direction of the Defense Department. Once the land was acquired by NASA, it became the agency's Launch Operations Directorate, a division of Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

After much internal politicking, it was finally decided that the LOD deserved equal rank to other NASA centers, so on July 1, 1962 it became the Launch Operations Center.

Lyndon Johnson announced on November 28, 1963, that the center would be renamed after the slain President. Not many remember that Kennedy had visited Cape Canaveral on November 16, 1963, to inspect the Saturn 1 launch facilities at Launch Complex 37 before moving on to Texas and his date with destiny.

President John F. Kennedy visits Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 37 on November 16, 1963. Image source: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. The photo is in the public domain.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is holding a 50th anniversary event on July 1. Click here for the schedule.

KSCVC already has banners up around the facility honoring the 50th anniversary. Photos are below.

UPDATE July 2, 2012Florida Today published this article on the 50th anniversary events at the Visitor Complex, and this video:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: "Fool Me Twice" by Shawn Otto

I still don't know quite what to make of Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America by Shawn Otto.

Don't get me wrong. I think the book is a clarion for what ails our political system. It's a must-read for anyone concerned (as I am) that we've lost all sense of reason in our democracy.

I was hoping for some sort of "silver bullet" at the end that offered a solution. Alas, as I knew deep down, no magic solution exists.

That doesn't stop Mr. Otto from trying.

The book's appendix has "The American Science Pledge" which he suggests political candidates be asked to sign. "Candidates who care about America are asked to sign this pledge to show their commitment to its five core principles and to agree to debate the fourteen top science questions in public forums."

Good luck with that.

Some pledges have been quite successful. Nearly all Congressional Republicans have signed an anti-tax pledge that is largely responsible for the current partisan gridlock incapable of dealing with the federal government's trillion-dollar annual deficit. And that's the problem with pledges — they leave no room for compromise or for reason.

Otto writes, "We need a pledge for reason, equality, transparency and freedom. A pledge that expands reasoned debate. We need an American science pledge." (Emphasis in the original.)

Otto's five core principles are:

1. Public decisions must be based on knowledge.

2. Knowledge is supreme and must not be suppressed.

3. Scientific integrity and transparency must be protected.

4. Freedom of inquiry must be encouraged.

5. The major science policy issues must be openly debated.

After much reflection, I think what bothers me about Mr. Otto's approach is that it misses the mark.

Our leadership, both elected and appointed, is a reflection of the American electorate. You don't like the decisions coming out of the White House, the Congress or the Supreme Court? Well, who put them there?

The American Science Pledge should not be for elected officials. It should be for us.

Much of the world accepts the overwhelming evidence documenting climate change. We do not.

Much of the world accepts evolution as the most likely explanation for the existence of life on this planet. We do not.

The cover of "Denialism" by Michael Specter.

Otto explores the phenomenon of denialism, itself the subject and title of a 2009 book by Michael Specter. (Not to mention a very similar book cover ...) Otto writes on pages 5-6:

Science provides us with increasingly clear pictures of how to solve our great challenges, but policy makers are increasingly unwilling to pursue many of the remedies science presents. Instead, they take one of two routes: Deny the science, or pretend the problems don't exist. In fact, political and religious institutions the world over are experiencing a reactionary pullback from science and reason that is threatening planetary stability and long-term viability at the very time we need science the most, and nowhere in the world is this pullback more pronounced than in the United States.

Otto raises a fundamental, if troubling, question:

Can it be that science has simply advanced too far, or that our world has simply gotten too complex for democracy? In a world dominated by science that requires extensive education to practice or even fully grasp, can democracy still prosper, or will the invisible hand finally fall idle? Are Americans still well informed enough to be trusted with their own government?

Perhaps a more fundamental question needs to be asked — why are Americans not informing themselves enough to make an adequate decision?

A blog post yesterday on the Austin Chronicle web site is only the latest example of this phenomenon. The post links to the 2012 Republican Party of Texas platform. Here are excerpts under the section, "Educating Our Childen":

American Identity Patriotism and Loyalty – We believe the current teaching of a multicultural curriculum is divisive. We favor strengthening our common American identity and loyalty instead of political correctness that nurtures alienation among racial and ethnic groups. Students should pledge allegiance to the American and Texas flags daily to instill patriotism.

Controversial Theories – We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.

Early Childhood Development – We believe that parents are best suited to train their children in their early development and oppose mandatory pre-school and Kindergarten. We urge Congress to repeal government-sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development.

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

This reminded me of a recent sarcastic Twitter message I read:

My science class is cancelled. My parents won't fund it because they believe in magic.

In an era where the Internet has revolutionized and popularized access to the most trivial of information, it seems that many avail themselves of these resources only for entertainment, or to reinforce their preconceptions of the world.

This is a forum for space activism, NASA in particular, so I read Otto's book looking for ways to promote public enthusiasm for space exploration, commerce and settlement.

Most close observers, I suspect, would agree that historically NASA has done a terrible job of self-promotion. Some of that is due to restrictions imposed by law, while I think most of us would agree that engineers and scientists are as a lot fairly awful communicators. For every Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson there are millions of people with science degrees who revel in their geekery, if not outright nerdism.

(And I say that as someone who hung out at Star Trek conventions for decades ...)

NASA's current administration seems to have embraced the Internet, releasing videos promoting current programs and apps for smartphones. The most recent example is ISSLive!, where people can watch live the activities aboard the International Space Station. But in typical NASA fashion, it's not on the home page nor does it have a simple link.

On Twitter, NASA has many accounts for all sorts of interests. I'm on Twitter all day looking for breaking news. Many astronauts are on Twitter, including three currently on the ISS — Don Pettit (@astro_Pettit), Joe Acaba (@astroacaba) and Andre Kuipers (@astro_andre).

And despite access to this wealth of knowledge, the denialists ignore facts, and some revel in their ignorance.

Otto on page 143 refers to an "intellectual erosion" that has been playing out on both ends of the political spectrum for many decades. He cites as a critical turning point the abolition by the Reagan administration in 1987 of the Fairness Doctrine. This Federal Communications Commission policy since 1949 required station licensees to "afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance," according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

The Fox News claim to be "fair and balanced" is a play on the Doctrine's requirement that licensees "ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair," to quote the Museum.

Thanks to the Doctrine's abolition, "the age of yellow journalism was reborn," Otto writes.

Chief among the early gainers were angry and opinionated baby-boomer talk jocks like Rush Limbaugh, who began engaging in political rants that charged up listeners' amygdalae with outrage in a sort of pro wrestling of politics, attacking examples and perpetrators of the pet peeves of cultural conservatives, driving audience numbers sky-high.

In such an era where reason itself is under attack, the obvious candidates to defend it are those whose careers are dedicated to reason and logic — scientists.

But scientists, with rare exception, are horrible communicators, or simply choose not to engage politics, believing that there's no place for opinion in science.

Politicians, however, have no problem injecting themselves into science, and NASA's struggle for relevance is a clear example.

Members of the House and Senate space subcommittees show little interest in NASA other than directing jobs to their districts and states. The Space Launch System, derided as the Senate Launch System by its critics, was created by a group of politicians looking to protect jobs in their districts left from cancelled programs. Little thought or reason was given to the need for the SLS, and more than two years later the SLS still has no missions or destinations. It exists simply to exist.

NASA management has been attacked and insulted by some committee members because it won't divert money from the International Space Station and commercial space programs to accelerate the SLS. Unlike SLS, the ISS has demonstrated incredible scientific potential, beginning with candidate vaccines for salmonella and MRSA.

But reason be damned. We need the "monster rocket" to protect a few thousand obsolete jobs in Florida, Texas, Alabama and Utah.

Is the answer for scientists to become more engaged in politics?

Otto writes on page 87 that scientists "view politics as dirty." But "public sentiment is everything," and the only way to reach the public is to engage them.

In my opinion, NASA can no longer be the perfect place on a shiny hill that is both admired and resented for an air of smug superiority. Like it or not, public discourse is a necessary and critical tool for NASA to rise above bitter partisan rhetoric, to circumvent political provincialism, and to deny denialism.

I see a glimmer of hope in the current Administration's efforts to reach out to a smartphone-savvy generation with cool apps and streaming videos and space tweets. Today's astronauts are not on a pedestal. You can text them, and maybe you'll get an answer from 240 miles above.

But scientists, and those of us who support science, must be more vocal in standing up for reason. We must find ways to communicate rationally with those who can be reasoned, so they make informed decisions that elect to office representatives who defend Otto's five core principles.

Watch online "Things to Come." You may be subjected to ads.

In the 1936 classic film Things to Come written by H.G. Wells, a global government of scientists imposes worldwide peace after decades of horrific war. The scientists introduce decades of technological progress, but the masses come to resent those behind these advances. In particular, they oppose the planned first manned flight to the Moon. A mob rushes the launch pad (a "space gun") so the ship is launched ahead of schedule.

In the final scene, two characters representing philosophical opposites muse the fate of humanity. One argues that progress must stop for now out of fear of the unknown. The other argues that it is humanity's destiny to endlessly explore. Which direction humanity will take is left unresolved at the end of the film.

Seventy-five years later, we still don't have that direction.

I had hoped to find it in Fool Me Twice. The direction is there, but I'm not sure we have the answer for how to remain on the right path.

Form Letter

Click the arrow to watch a video on "We the People."

The Obama administration in September 2011 opened a new section on called "We the People." Anyone could start a petition and solicit signatures. If a petition reached a threshold of 25,000, the petition would receive a response from the administration.

On March 21, a petition was created to double or triple NASA's budget. It was created on behalf of, which was inspired by a call by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson to increase NASA's share of the federal budget to a penny on the dollar.

Having been around politics for a very long time, I didn't expect this petition to solve anything, but I signed it anyway. The federal budget is determined by Congress, not the White House. A presidential administration submits an annual budget proposal, but it's usually ignored by the Congress, which is granted budget authority by the U.S. Constitution.

To create or sign a petition, you must submit a valid e-mail address, which helps the administration build a handy database of addresses for those active enough in politics to at least sign a petition. I fully expect my e-mail address to be bombarded with partisan messages as we approach the presidential election.

Anyway ... The administration issued yesterday a response to the NASA petition. The response is below. It was written by Phil Larson, described as "a Communications and Space Policy Analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy."

Thank you for signing this petition. We share your view that NASA is a driver of innovation and economic growth, a creator of high-skilled and high-paying jobs, and a force for inspiration in the American people -- especially our youth. That's why President Obama has set NASA on course for a new and exciting chapter of American space exploration, one that will see more discoveries, scientific breakthroughs, and, ultimately, more Americans in space going to places never before visited.

Even in the face of tough fiscal challenges, the President's plan charts a path towards continued American leadership in space by making every penny count. By investing in American companies -- and American ingenuity -- we are spurring free-market competition to give taxpayers more bang for the buck, while enabling NASA to do what it does best -- reach for the heavens.

Just this past month, an historic -- and audacious -- event took place. For the first time, a privately owned American spacecraft launched and docked with the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver the cargo American astronauts need to do their jobs in space. This fundamentally new way of doing business for NASA includes partnering with innovative U.S. companies like SpaceX to embrace the efficiency, ingenuity, and resources of the private sector while allowing NASA to focus on challenges only its world-class scientists and engineers have the ability to tackle -- like sending humans beyond low Earth orbit for the first time in 40 years, outside the Earth-Moon system for the first time in history, and ultimately to explore Mars within the next couple of decades.

NASA and space are so important to our future that we do need to be doubling and tripling what we can accomplish in this domain. That's why the President's plan for NASA more than doubles the number of U.S. rockets capable of going to the ISS. And the James Webb Space Telescope, which the President's Budget keeps on track for launch later this decade, won't just double Hubble's capabilities, but will be 100 times more powerful. This summer, Americans in a control room in California will be monitoring as an automobile-sized rover is lowered onto the Martian surfacefrom a sky-crane hovering in the rusty atmosphere. The "Curiosity" Mars rover isn't just double the size of any previous rover -- but is also carrying 10 times the mass of scientific instruments as America's Opportunity rover currently operating on the surface. And with NASA's Kepler telescope currently in space, the number of planets identified as orbiting distant stars in other Solar Systems has not just been doubled, but multiplied several times over.

The Administration has worked with Congress over the last three years to develop a forward-leaning trajectory for NASA that places the agency on a more stable fiscal footing -- in part by joining forces with the private sector -- while still pushing the boundaries of inspiration and discovery. The key features of this plan include:

  • Extending operations of the ISS -- which has been continuously crewed since 2000 -- until at least 2020 (when President Obama came into office, it was scheduled to be decommissioned after 2015);
  • Acquiring crew and cargo transportation services to the ISS from U.S. commercial companies;
  • Pursuing new technology investments, like advanced in-space propulsion, to expand the reach, affordability, and potential of our space science and exploration efforts -- technologies that are required to send humans beyond the Moon;
  • Building the biggest, most powerful rocket ever -- set to be more powerful than the Saturn V vehicle that carried American astronauts to the Moon -- and cutting-edge crew capsule for deep space human exploration, including a mission to visit an asteroid in the 2020s and eventually Mars;
  • Leading the world in Earth and space science research vital to understanding our planetary home and unlocking the mysteries of our Solar System and the Universe.

Unfortunately, not everyone is supportive of this ambitious effort. Rather than making bold, targeted investments in our space future and embarking on new partnerships with the private sector to ensure every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely, the proposed Republican House budget plan, if spread evenly, would significantly cut NASA's budget, forcing the deepest cuts to the space program since just after we landed on the Moon.

Even in today's tight fiscal environment, the Administration has proposed a NASA budget for FY 2013 that spares the agency from such cuts and yet will deliver more than ever from this essential driver of American innovation.

Thank you for signing this petition and showing interest in our Nation's space program -- an interest key to sustaining support for programs at NASA and one we could not share more strongly. We encourage you to continue demanding more from our most creative science and technology agencies, and to appreciate that it is not just about how many dollars are spent on such lofty missions, but how effectively that money is spent to deliver results for the American people. We think NASA has never been stronger.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

That's No Moon. It's a Space Station.

Click the arrow to watch the National History Center's congressional briefing on the commercialization of space travel.

Promotion and understanding of the relationship between commercial space and space stations in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) seems to be increasing in the wake of the historic SpaceX flight one month ago.

The National History Center held a Congressional briefing on June 15 titled, "Commercialization of Space Travel and Human Participation in Space Exploration". According to a June 26 release, the event was "especially designed to help Congressional staff" but was open to the public and had 75 people in attendance.

I posted on June 20 the video of the Senate space subcommittee hearing that day on the opportunities created in LEO by commercial space. It was attended by only three Senators, but we can take solace in knowing that commercial space probably wouldn't have been the subject of a hearing before the SpaceX flight to the ISS. It was the first time that Bigelow Aerospace was invited to a Congressional hearing, so awareness of commercial orbital habitats as a part of the "big picture" seems to be getting through to some people on the Hill.

NASA released over the weekend a new web site titled ISSLive!. It streams live video from the ISS, including the current activity by each crew member. In typical NASA fashion, it has a long URL ( instead of something obvious ( and it's not on the NASA home page, so it's left up to we space geeks to spread the word.

U.S. News and World Report published a major article titled, "Space: The New Frontier For Medical Breakthroughs". It details for the lay person how LEO's microgravity has been used to develop vaccines against salmonella and MRSA, and other potential research.

The article quotes NASA executive William Gerstenmaier at last week's Senate hearing, noting that this unique technology creates the potential for a new economy:

Last week, William Gerstenmaier, NASA's head of human explorations and operations, told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that medical discoveries and vaccines developed on the International Space Station could help the United States "create a new economy based on space-based research."

"It's like when we went to Africa to look for new plant species to use for drugs," he said. "We can create a new industry with this."

Aviation Week reports that ISS utilization is increasing after what some have perceived as a slow start.

Astronaut Don Pettit is a real Mr. Fixit, and that is just fine with the scientists who trust him to run their experiments on the International Space Station ...

That kind of close work with an astronaut in orbit is a dream come true for scientists who want to see what happens when the gravity factor is removed, and for many experiments there is no other way to remove it. Drop towers and parabolic aircraft flights just do not offer enough time in microgravity, and experiment lockers on the space shuttle did not provide the continuity for the long-term laboratory work many experiments require.

The space station can solve that problem, and scientists, engineers and managers are starting to realize just what that might mean in terms of discoveries, applications and return on investment. After 10 years and at least $100 billion, NASA and its international partners are beginning to move beyond the transition from station assembly to station utilization and starting to do real work in space.

The Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) issued yesterday a request for proposals "to facilitate and discover new life science breakthroughs and next generation research in the area of protein crystallization." CASIS manages the U.S. National Laboratory aboard the ISS. To quote their web site, "The mission of CASIS is to maximize use of this unparalleled platform for innovation, which can benefit all humankind and inspire a new generation to look to the stars."

There are those in the space advocacy community who still yearn for a rerun of Apollo. That will happen one day, but in my opinion humanity is best served now by exploiting LEO and learning how to establish a permanent human presence in space. Demonstrating the economic opportunities in LEO will create the economic and finally political incentive to expand humanity out into the solar system.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Live from the Final Frontier

Click the arrow to watch the video. Source:

NASA has launched a new web site called International Space Station Live. The link is

Using your computer or smartphone, you can access live feeds from the ISS showing you video and the current status of each crew member.

Explore the web site and you'll find much coolness.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Commercial Space: Risks, Opportunities, and Oversight

Click the arrow to view the Senate hearing video on YouTube.

The Senate subcommittee on science and space held a hearing today on commercial space. Although the subcommittee has eleven members, only three showed up — Bill Nelson (D-FL), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and John Boozman (R-AR).

The witnesses were:

  • Mr. William H. Gerstenmaier
    Associate Administrator, Human Exploration and Operations
    National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Col. Pamela A. Melroy USAF (ret.)
    Senior Technical Advisor, Office of Commercial Space Transportation
    Federal Aviation Administration
  • Dr. Gerald L. Dillingham
    Director of Civil Aviation Issues
    U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • Mr. Michael N. Gold
    Director, D.C. Operations and Business Growth
    Bigelow Aerospace, LLC
  • Capt. Michael Lopez-Alegria USN (ret.)
    Commercial Spaceflight Federation

The event runs about eighty minutes.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Other Side

For nearly every launch in the history of Kennedy Space Center, the vehicles have rolled out the east side of the Vehicle Assembly Building to the Launch Complex 39 pads.

Why the east side? Because that's the side that faces towards the launch pads.

But there have been rare exceptions.

The Saturn V stack for Apollo 13 leaves High Bay 2 on August 8, 1969. It was transferred to High Bay 3 on the east side to add the command and service modules. Image source: NASA.

The Saturn V rockets for Apollo 10 and Apollo 13 found themselves in High Bay 2 on the west side as processing for other vehicles on the east side limited available space. Apollo 10 was the only Saturn V to launch from LC-39B. Apollo 13 was forced into HB-2 until space was available on the west side.

STS-106 Atlantis emerges from High Bay 2 on August 12, 2000. Image source: NASA.

Space Shuttles were never forced to the west side due to processing delays, but STS-106 Atlantis was used to demonstrate the viability of a renovated HB-2 for a project called Safe Haven. The idea was to provide a location on the west side for protection from incoming hurricanes. The crawlerway into HB-2 was also restored.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

China TV Reports on Pending Launch

Above is a video report from China Central Television (CCTV) on the pending launch of Shenzhou-9 to the Tiangong-1 laboratory.

According to the video, the abort tower atop the capsule is sensitive to ambient temperatures. The local temperature must be between 10 and 30 degrees Celsius — that's 50 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

We're also told that the female astronaut will have separate sleeping quarters for "privacy," and that she must be married and a mother.

Here's another online report by CNTV, China's national webcast station:

"Shenzhou-9 enters in final preparation: Fuel injection"

Monday, June 11, 2012

China Prepares for Taikonaut Launch

China's Ministry of Defense web site reports that the nation is about to launch a three-member crew to dock with an orbiting platform.

The launch will be China's fourth manned spaceflight, after three successful missions between 2003 and 2008 that put six astronauts in space.

China's manned spaceflight program aims to build a 60-ton space station around 2020, based on a three-step plan.

The first has been successfully completed, after four unmanned spacecraft and two manned spacecraft were launched between 1999 and 2005 to transport men between Earth and space.

The second step aims to master the key technologies used for assembling a space station. Shenzhou VIII with three men on board achieved the country's first extravehicular activity in 2008. With that ability, astronauts can work outside a space station.

The web site reports that the launch will be on June 16 and will include China's first female astronaut.

Chinese astronauts have been called a "taikonaut" in some publications but it's not a universally accepted translation.

It should be interesting to see who here in the United States tries to spin this as another "Sputnik Moment" and claim that the national security of the United States is at stake.

Orbiter Atlantis Museum Update

Construction of the orbiter Atlantis museum continues at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Below are photos of the site I shot today. It's scheduled to open in the summer of 2013.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Postcards from the Edge of Space

I recently acquired via eBay a collection of Kennedy Space Center postcards circa 1985. This was when today's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex was known as Spaceport USA.

The cards indicate they were produced by the Smith Card Co. of Winter Park, Florida. My guess is they were sold by Spaceport USA.

Here are scans of the cards:

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Penny for NASA -- or For Congressional Pork

Click the arrow to watch Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson testify before the Senate space subcommittee.

On March 7, 2012, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson appeared before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Although the committee has 25 members, only three stuck around to listen to Tyson — Bill Nelson (D-FL), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and John Boozman (R-AR). Hutchison apparently left soon after Tyson began speaking.

Dr. Tyson noted that NASA's annual budget for many years has been about 0.5% of the annual federal budget. He called upon Congress to double NASA's budget:

For twice that — a penny on a dollar — we can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow.

Click here to read his prepared remarks.

Tyson's words fell upon mostly empty chairs. Nelson told Tyson he was "preaching to the preachers" and praised his eloquence.

This embarrassing dismissal of Tyson might have been lost to history, except for the archival of his appearance on the committee's web site.

Several people (including me) copied the webcast and uploaded it to YouTube.

Word spread.

Three months later, my copy of Tyson's testimony has over 150,000 views on YouTube.

Tyson's proposal started a grassroots movement called "A Penny for NASA."

At least two web sites were created to support this movement — and

A Twitter hashtag was created, #Penny4NASA.

Two days after Tyson's Senate appearance, Evan Schurr created a YouTube video called "We Stopped Dreaming" that urged viewers to support the Penny for NASA movement. As of this writing, the video has had 545,000 views.

Click the arrow to watch "We Stopped Dreaming" by Evan Schurr.

On June 6, former astronauts Fred Gregory and Tom Jones published in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call an article titled "NASA Could Do Great Things with More Funds" that endorsed Tyson's proposal:

It’s time to make a bold move and double NASA’s budget. With the world’s largest economy, we can afford to make this wise, 1 percent investment. Our nation’s future depends on it.

Click here to visit Dr. Jones' web site. He is the author of Skywalking and advisor to Planetary Resources.

While I support the notion of increased spending on space exploration — and exploitation — I'm concerned that the idea of doubling NASA's budget is too simplistic.

Those of us who follow the daily shenanigans of Congress know that NASA has become a pork-laden embarrassment. The members of Congress who sit on the House and Senate space subcommittees, as well as some members of the Appropriations committees, view NASA as a means of delivering tax dollars to their states and districts. That tax money perpetuates jobs and fattens aerospace contractors who donate to their re-election campaigns, but actual progress seems secondary to many of these politicians.

An egregious recent example is the Space Launch System, dubbed the "Senate Launch System" by its critics.

Section 304 of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act required NASA to use Space Shuttle and Constellation contractors and technology in designing SLS. No competition. No innovation.

The current SLS launch schedule has one unmanned test flight by the end of 2017, and one manned test flight by 2021.

Contrast that with the Apollo moon program, which took an incremental approach with many test flights leading up to the first lunar landing with Apollo 11.

What happens if that 2017 test flight fails? No one in Congress ever asks.

Why won't there be more SLS test flights? The funding doesn't exist.

The 2021 manned flight will be an Apollo 8 redux — loop around the Moon and return home. Fifty-three years after we did it the first time.

Beyond that, the SLS has no missions or destinations. President Obama has proposed an asteroid rendezvous by 2025. Congress has taken no action on that proposal.

The members of Congress who created the "monster rocket" made it clear their primary motivation wasn't 21st Century technology, nor was it space exploration. It was protecting jobs in their districts. Which is why the schedule is meaningless. Congress doesn't care if it ever flies. They just want to protect the jobs in their districts.

SLS has no problem sailing through the annual appropriations process. Contrast that with the commercial crew program, which was cut by Congress nearly $100 million in Fiscal Year 2012 from what was authorized in 2010, and by $444 million from what the Obama administration requested.

In the current debate for Fiscal Year 2013, commercial crew was authorized for $500 million. The White House requested $835 million. As of this writing, the House proposes $500 million and the Senate $525 million.

These shortfalls ensure continued U.S. reliance upon Russia to launch its astronauts to the International Space Station through at least 2016, if not longer.

But Congress doesn't seem to care, because commercial crew doesn't generate a lot of jobs in their districts.

NASA has estimated informally that if it had developed the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, it would have cost four times more. The Dragon capsule? Ten times more.

Congress doesn't care.

I dread to think what these porkers would do with another $17 billion for NASA.

Then there's the space advocacy side of the equation.

Where should the money go?

Would an astronomer like Dr. Tyson want it to go to more telescopes?

Should it go to more deep-space probes and satellites?

Should it go to human spaceflight? If so, which one? The porked-out SLS? Or commercial space?

What about the International Space Station?

And let's not forget that NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Aeronautics is the science of flight. How's about planes that are safer, quieter, faster and more fuel-efficient?

One can only imagine the infighting among these various interest groups within the space advocacy communities.

How to divide the money would be decided by Congress, which currently enjoys historic lows in voter confidence. According to a June 5 Rasumssen Report, only 7% of likely voters think this Congress is doing an excellent or good job. 63% think Congress is doing a poor job.

Doubling the NASA budget would mean these members of Congress would be deluged by interest groups lobbying for their piece of the pie. Aerospace firms with their armies of lobbyists would have the most influence. In 2011, Boeing spent $15.9 million on lobbying and Lockheed Martin spent $15.1 million.

How would non-profit advocacy groups like The Planetary Society or the National Space Society compete against the corporate lobbyists?

"A Penny for NASA" sounds like a good idea. But without specifying how the money would be spent, and ensuring it's wisely invested, it's just another wasted penny in a federal budget facing annual trillion-dollar deficits for the foreseeable future.

The problem is far more fundamental, and not solved simply by doubling NASA's budget.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

JFK and Space U.

I've written about the excellent book, John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon, by Dr. John Logsdon.

John is teaching at the International Space University program that began this week at Florida Tech.

Below are some photos of John's lecture last night about the subject and his subsequent book signing. Over 100 students from around the world attended the lecture.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Space U" Comes to the Space Coast

Click the arrow to watch the Florida Today video. You may be subjected to an ad first.

We always knew the future of humanity was here in the Space Coast.

Another example of that is the current gathering of the best and the brightest, at Florida Tech in Melbourne.

The International Space University chose FIT to host its 25th annual Space Studies Program.

The course began yesterday with introductory remarks by NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana was in attendance. One of the lecturers is space policy analyst John Logsdon, author of John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon.

Florida Today has posted two article on the opening of this program:

"Science Stars to Shine as Space U Program Opens Today at FIT"

"Space U 'A Natural Fit'"

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dragon Rider

Click the arrow to watch the video.

I've uploaded to YouTube a quick video called "Dragon Rider" in honor of the history made recently by SpaceX.

The title comes from a track off an album called Archangel by Two Steps from Hell. The company began business writing music for movie trailers but has branched out into releasing albums featuring their scores.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

KSC Visitor Complex Construction Update

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is undergoing a major renovation in support of the new orbiter Atlantis which is scheduled to open in the summer of 2013.

Below are photos of the current construction status.

The temporary entrance. When completed, guests will enter through the Rocket Garden.

A closer look at the future entrance. The existing entrance is to the right.

The museum construction site in front of the Shuttle Launch Experience.

Museum construction as viewed from the astronaut memorial to the west. The Shuttle Launch Experience is in the background.

KSC Visitor Complex Notes SpaceX Success

The Kennedy Space Visitor Complex marquee has a five-segment message noting the success of the recent SpaceX Dragon COTS-2 mission to the International Space Station. Photos and the captions are below.

"SpaceX Mission Success! Dragon to Space Station."

"History is Made! The SpaceX C-2 Capsule linked with the ISS at 9:56 a.m. EDT May 25."

"This is the first time in history a privately-owned commercial vehicle has linked up with the International Space Station."

"The capsule carried non-critical supplies, food and experiments for use on board the space station."

"The Dragon capsule successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on May 31, at 11:42 a.m. EDT."