Congress, the News Media Sound Off on Space Plan

Perhaps my favorite article yet about the Congressional response to the plan comes from the New York Times. The country is clearly sick of the ridiculous partisan politicking that’s been going on recently, and here’s something that finally reaches across the aisle–albeit for some rather suspect motives, given some of the comments made by some members of this country’s legislature.

In this article, oft-quoted Republican Richard Shelby (R-Alabama [MSFC anyone?]) says

“Future generations will learn how the Chinese, the Russians, and even the Indians took the reins of space exploration away from the United States.”

which is about as heart-achingly terrible a sentiment as I can imagine. However, when I see such a reaction to the plan–especially from a Republican–I tend to immediately leap to assuming anti-Obama-ism, which may or may not be fair. I do know that, in defending NASA, the Republican senators tend to muddle their facts and words.

Of course, as I said, the plan doesn’t simply face opposition from Republicans. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland, and head of the committee that decides where this kind of money goes), while not opposed necessarily, is making the smart choice and waiting for more information.

“I want to know if this is the program that the Congress and the American people are going to support from one administration to the next,” she says. “We cannot reinvent NASA every four years.”

Senator Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) wants to revive Ares I with another $700 million, bringing the proposed budget up to $19.7 billion. He says that the research done on the Ares I’s first-stage Solid Rocket Booster would have military applications, and stopping work on it could drive up prices of solid rocket motors for ballistic missiles.

He says: “There are classified discussions we can’t go into here with respect to this initiative, but I say to my colleagues, this is absolutely essential, for the national security, that this go forward.”

On the NASA side of things, a quote from Major General Charles Bolden–the NASA Administrator–worries me most of all.

“My gut tells me that Ares would be safer than anything else.”

Aside from the fact that a “gut feeling” is enough to make any engineer wary, doesn’t this send conflicting messages? After all that pushing for the Obama plan, the NASA Administrator says Ares would be safer? Then why not just fund Ares?

Also, I think Ms. Mikulski is absolutely correct to want more information before making a decision. I think that’s a sentiment we can all get behind.

Of course, there are many, many different opinions and articles out there, but the worst comes from the Washington Post. The article talks about the sustainability–or lack thereof–of human spaceflight in the current economy. It says that NASA should be focusing more on climate change and robotic spacecraft than on human flight. It wisely notes that NASA’s budget is a minuscule portion of the national budget, then quibbles about the $2 billion set to be spent every year on keeping the ISS flying. And this after talking about climate change and scientific research?

It seems to me that the article represents good research coupled with a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of government spending (on science and technology) in general and NASA in particular. The money we spend in NASA is pennies compared to pretty much any other government endeavor high in the national consciousness–such as military operations in Iraq–and it returns so much. Its monetary return alone is immense, and a lot of these useful innovations come from human spaceflight.

To claim that the money spent on human spaceflight isn’t worth it is ridiculous. Where would you rather spend it, Washington Post? Where would $2 billion buy more than at NASA? The idea that such little funding could assuage any of our other major issues at the present time leaves me highly skeptical.

As for the commercial industry, LEO is not exploration (by the way). NASA needs to explore. The money spent on human spaceflight (at NASA) should be spent on that, not cut.

So get a clue, would you please? We have enough to worry about in Congress. We don’t need to worry about the news media misrepresenting facts (not that we don’t anyway).

Note: All quotations and information from the New York Times and the  Washington Post. All applicable copyrights apply.

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