Thursday, October 4, 2007

Feeding the Addiction

The Senate decided today to add $1 billion to NASA's largess. Led by Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, our Congressfolk favored feeding the addiction over interdiction. Instead of doing the job we elected them to do, that is to ascertain the health and status of our exploration program and see that our taxes are spent wisely, they blindly afforded the Emperor even more resources with which to fulfill his compulsion.

You'd think that your friends at RocketsAndSuch would be jumping up and down with such apparently good news. Who would look at a cool $1B and not want to immediately stuff it in their wallets? Why the disappointment? Here's why. Instead of pushing good money after bad into the space agency veins, Congress should be asking a basic question, "What are the objectives of our exploration program?"

Really? We don't know what the objectives are yet? Sadly, we don't. What is it that we plan to accomplish on the moon and how will we benefit from it? This is basic stuff that, after almost two years, the Emperor still hasn't been able to provide answers for. Despite providing for a significant endowment every year, Congress has listened to the threadbare Emperor's pleas, yet failed to ask why he is not wearing clothes.

We're not done asking the questions Congress should be asking. "Why do the Constellation designs have so many technical problems requiring band-aid solutions that add cost, weight, and schedule time to their resolution? What promised capabilities are now being removed because the solutions do not close? How is the education pipeline being affected by the withdrawl of technology development programs at the universities? Is the procurement approach being used to design and build these new systems damaging our strategically important aerospace industry experience base? What are the real costs of transitioning from the space shuttle to the new systems?"

And, what if we had to live within our means? Shouldn't Congress be asking, "What kind of balanced space program could we have for $17B a year?"

Last but not least, "Why won't the Emperor's new designs be ready to close the human space flight gap being opened up with the retirement of the space shuttle? How is it that the Emperor's solutions are taking so long to build that China, who is just getting started with a space program, will beat us back to the moon?"

Oh yeah, we already have the Emperor's answer to that one: "I think when that happens, Americans will not like it. But they will just have to not like it.''

He's right about that! We are not going to like it. And we shouldn't have to. His defeatist answer is unbecoming of an American. If Congress was doing its job, asking even some of the questions posed above, we would be getting better value for our investments.

We've just seen what the subprime loan market meltdown did to our economy. Is it too much to expect Congress to ask the same questions any competent bank loan officer should ask before providing funds to finish a project?

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