Monday, September 17, 2007

Missed Turns and Forked Tongues

We'll take a little digression from the design reviews to review a speech that the Emperor gave today to an audience assembled at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. to celebrate 50 years of NASA history. Unfortunately, NASA quit making history about 40 years ago.
"NASA opens new frontiers and creates new opportunities, and because of that (NASA) is a critical driver of innovation," Griffin said. "We don't just create new jobs, we create entirely new markets and possibilities for economic growth that didn't previously exist. This is the emerging space economy, an economy that is transforming our lives here on Earth in ways that are not yet fully understood or appreciated. It is not an economy in space -- not yet. But space activities create products and markets that provide benefits right here on Earth, benefits that have arisen from our efforts to explore, understand, and utilize this new medium."
Wow! That's real interesting commentary considering that the first thing the Emperor did when he came to office was to kill off $1B in technology development programs and to saddle up our space-faring future to a 50 year old architecture.
The Emperor went on to say, "We see the transformative effects of the space economy all around us through numerous technologies and life-saving capabilities. We see the space economy in the lives saved when advanced breast cancer screening catches tumors in time for treatment, or when a heart defibrillator restores the proper rhythm of a patient's heart. We see it when GPS, the Global Positioning System developed by the Air Force for military applications, helps guide a traveler to his or her destination. We see it when weather satellites warn us of coming hurricanes, or when satellites provide information critical to understanding our environment and the effects of climate change. We see it when we use an ATM or pay for gas at the pump with an immediate electronic response via satellite. Technologies developed for exploring space are being used to increase crop yields and to search for good fishing regions at sea."
You see, NASA always falls back on that same old "spin-off" story when it comes to justifying its budget. Like Al Gore inventing the Internet, the Emperor would have you believe that NASA invented every gadget we carry around with us today. The only problem is that GPS was developed by the Air Force and cell phones have been around in one form or another since 1947 (look it up!), the same year the first practical defibrillator saved a human life. Tell me again how NASA invented that stuff?
There is no denying that some technology development was accelerated by the spin-offs from the Apollo program, 40 years ago. And communication satellites are whizzing TV and phone calls all around the world today as well. But that's ancient history on the technology development timeline. Give me an example of something NASA developed recently that is in your pocket today?
I'm waiting???
What is the real impact of terminating those aforementioned technology programs and investing instead in the plan to (re-)build "Apollo on Steroids?" That's easy to see. The curtailing of the exploration technology development programs implemented prior to the Emperor's tenure is resulting in cutbacks in university research programs. Fewer graduate students are supported today by NASA investments than ever before. Where will the replacements for NASA's aging and retiring workforce come from? What aerospace student entering school today wants to work on a 50 year old design that just happens to be a little bigger than their grandfather worked on?
So how do we get NASA back on the technology development track? I would suggest that the Emperor should spend less time speechmaking and more time picking out his wardrobe for his retirement.

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