I watched with great interest Obama’s speech at Kennedy Space Center and had to take a few days to think about how I would reply to it. (Please also see this post.)
I think the first thing that needs to be covered is the ending of the Shuttle Program. I have found, that when I discuss Obama’s new space policy on different forums, such as NASAWatch.com, the first thing thrown up is that Obama did not decide to end the Shuttle Program. That is correct. President George Bush made that decision over 6 years ago.
The employees and contractors at all of the NASA centers have had 6 years to prepare for the ending of the Shuttle Program. Many of my former co-workers have done what I’ve done by pursuing a higher education, improving their resumes, saving money for lean times, and improving their work skills in order to be more marketable and possibly be hired into the Constellation program. Many of my classmates I went to school with while pursuing my Masters degree were fellow workers. We knew and accepted that the Shuttle Program would end in September of 2010.
Criticizing Obama’s new policy for NASA and our country is not about the Shuttle Program, but about our nation’s Human Space Flight Program overall. Constellation was to be the successor. A program that would have taken us beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), back to the Moon to learn to live on another world and develop new technologies, while providing our nation with a new ship that was designed to transport our astronauts for the next 30-40 years. Now, for the second time in our nation’s history, we are throwing away the Moon and for the first time in 50 years we are throwing away our Human Space Flight Program and our leadership in space exploration and technology.
Obama started out his day visiting the KSC area by avoiding the workers. Though NASA and United Space Alliance had sent down word that no personal opinions of the employees would be allowed (also no twitter, Facebook, or talking with the media) or tolerated, many of the workers, from what I’ve been told, had left their jobs briefly to line the road and express their “opinion” of Obama’s new policy. But Obama the coward took a back route in from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to get to his teleprompter at the Operations and Checkout Building many miles away from the workers.
Obama did visit one spacecraft, the untested Falcon 9 rocket that will be test launched by Space X next month at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Elon Musk, the founder of the Internet PayPal, owns Space X. Space X has had four launches so far with their Falcon One, and three of those have failed as of the date of Obama’s speech. The Falcon 9 rocket has never flown and is uncertain yet how well it will fly, but Obama is betting on this particular company and rocket to fly our astronauts someday in the far distant future to the ISS and back.
Obama packed his audience with only supporters and several captive current astronauts. These astronauts are not allowed to voice their opinion about his plan or they could jeopardize their careers with NASA. Obama and NASA, to lend an illusion of legitimacy to his plan, used them as props. In fact, only one retired astronaut is on record supporting Obama’s plan, and he not only got to attend, but to fly on Air Force One. That astronaut was Buzz Aldrin. The rest of the Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, Harrison Schmitt, and Gene Cernan, are on record being against the plan and were not invited.
The only congressional politicians invited were Florida Senator Bill Nelson and Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas (who represents the Kennedy Space Center and north Brevard County). Both are Democrats and support Obama’s plan. Left out were Florida’s Republican Senator George LeMieux and Republican Congressman Bill Posey (who represents south Brevard County), both who oppose the plan. For supporting Obama’s plan and selling out the KSC workers and our nation’s Human Space Flight Program, both Bill Nelson and Suzanne Kosmas got to fly with the President on Air Force One.
Another guest of Obama was Al Neuharth, who is the owner of USA Today and Florida Today Newspapers. This may explain why the Florida Today newspaper has not been fighting actively for their readers and the local workers. I will leave that up to you to decide if Florida Today sold out Brevard County, as did Senator Nelson and Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas.
Though to be fair, Mr. Neuharth did write an editorial a few days later for the local paper criticizing Obama’s plan. I am not sure if he thought things over or if he wanted to keep his local customer base by playing both ends. Either way, it’s quite easy to sum up that Florida Today did not do their job for their community by asking and demanding answers from Obama with some hard questions on April 15th, or any time leading up to it.
Another person in attendance, and privileged Air Force One passenger, was the new NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Mr. Bolden is a former Shuttle Astronaut and a former general in our armed services. Mr. Bolden went out of his way to give a very “glowing” introduction for Obama. It was so “glowing”, that I half expected a priest to show up and marry the two.
I used to have great respect for Charlie Bolden as an astronaut, and though it was Senator Bill Nelson that was his patron and got him the administrator job, I still thought he would do fine. I had no idea he would sacrifice his honor and integrity and sell out our nation by being the instrument of Obama in killing our Human Space Program. I often wonder how he can look the astronauts and workers in the eye at Johnson Space Center and the other space centers around the nation when he walks the hallways. I know from visiting Johnson Space Center recently and talking with some of the employees there that they share the same view of him and Obama as the people at KSC do. I cannot begin to imagine being hated by so many thousands of your peers as Mr. Bolden is right now.
When I first heard Obama’s speech, I thought someone had put a Star Trek Movie on his teleprompter. It was so out of touch with reality that I am sure there had to be many seasoned aerospace workers watching on TV shaking their heads wondering if Obama was proposing to build a Star Ship Enterprise and applying for the position of Captain Kirk’s role. In fact, Leonard Nimoy, Spock of Star Trek Fame, once said in response to a question about Obama, “But why does he believe that the president is sincere when he says he supports NASA and human spaceflight? Nimoy had a simple explanation, “I know for sure that he’s a Star Trek fan because when I met him for the first time three years ago he did this” and put up his hand in the iconic Vulcan salute. “So that did it for me.”” Obviously Mr. Nimoy confuses a man being a fan of a Science Fiction TV show for being a supporter of Human Space Flight. As we have found out with Obama’s actions, that is just not true.
After thanking his guests and Air Force One passengers for coming, Obama named most of the previous Human Space Flight Programs done by NASA; Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. He left out Skylab and the Shuttle Program. Another thing he left out that was glaring to me was the “name” of his Human Space Flight Program. If you can’t define your space goals well enough, you can’t name it. Constellation had defined goals and had a name not only for the program, but the individual rockets, manned capsule, and lunar lander. (Ares I, Ares V, Orion, and Altair) All past programs had well defined goals and names for their programs, but not Obama’s.
He then spent a few minutes discussing the history of NASA and what it has contributed to our country and world. He then defended himself saying, “I am 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future.” Nice words, but his actions speak much louder and that is where Obama is found lacking. He acknowledged the concerns and worries of the aerospace community and the people in our nation who follow our space program and who wonder what it’s future will be. But, he so far had not mentioned our Human Space Flight program, just “space program” in general.
Obama then went on talking about the lack of support in the past for NASA saying, “But we can also see it in other ways: in the reluctance of those who hold office to set clear and achievable objectives…” That is partially true. Currently NASA only receives ½ of 1 cent in funding from the federal tax dollar. But, when George Bush changed NASA’s Human Space Flight program to Constellation, he did set up “clear and achievable objectives” such as a heavy lifter, crew module, and setting foot on the Moon by 2019 to learn to live there, before moving on to Mars.
Obama then got to the “meat” of his program and outlined his “new” program:
- Increase NASA’s budget by $6 Billion over the next five years.
- That is good, but since NASA’s budget is decided year by year, it is a promise I don’t anticipate him or Congress keeping, especially after the 2012 election.
- Ramp up robotic exploration of the solar system.
- Ummm….we have been doing that for over 50 years with great success and what does that have to do with Human Space Flight?
- Send a probe to study the Sun’s atmosphere.
- Ummm…we have SOHO already there for a number of years studying the Sun’s atmosphere and once again, what does that have to do with Human Space Flight?
- New scouting missions to Mars.
- Ummm…we already have those missions on the books, being built, and prepared for delivery to Mars and once again, what does that have to do with Human Space Flight?
- An advanced telescope to follow Hubble.
- Ummm….that one is already being built and it’s called the James Webb telescope, and once again, what does that have to do with Human Space Flight?
- Earth based observation from satellites to improve our understanding of our climate and our world.
- Ummm….we already do that and have done that for over 50 years. And, once again, what does that have to do with Human Space Flight?
- We will extend the life of the International Space Station (ISS) by more than five years and use it to conduct advanced research, as well as testing and improving our capabilities in space.
- Ummm…we are already doing that and have been for over 10 years thanks to the Shuttle Program. Sigh, at least this has something to do with Human Space Flight though right now we will be paying the Russians over $55 million per astronaut for a ride there.
- Work with private companies to reach the ISS and make getting to space easier and cheaper.
- Well at least that’s Human Space Flight Program, but no private company has ever, nor will in the near future, place a Human crew into LEO. Maybe he means they will develop transporter technology like on Star Trek?
- Change Orion’s purpose from being the main six man crew capsule and space craft for the next 30-40 years as intended by the Constellation Program to it becoming a simple pressurized capsule to use as an escape craft from the ISS if there is any problems requiring evacuation. That way, we don’t have to depend on the Russians for an emergency evacuation.
- This is a classic bait and switch folks! After September, we will be dependent on the Russians for a ride up to the ISS. We are already dependent on the Russians for a ride home during an emergency by a contract with them when the ISS was started over 10 years ago. Currently there are two Soyuz craft docked at the ISS just for that purpose. That is part of Russia’s responsibility as our partners. I can’t see the Russians forbidding our astronauts to evacuate with them if there is an emergency. Sigh, at least it’s Human Space Flight related
- Claims that early in the next decade we will be sending up many more astronauts to space on an unknown and unspecified spacecraft and launcher.
- Starship Enterprise? Well at least its Human Space Flight related.
- Claims that by 2025 we might go to an asteroid in a new, un-designed spacecraft “designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space.”
- Again, Starship Enterprise? At least it’s Human Space Flight related.
- By the mid-2030’s he believes he can send humans to orbit Mars and return them home.
- Does he expect to be dictator for life? Or does he expect all of us to forget by the mid-2030’s? At least its Human Space Flight related but very vague.
- “Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn, operate, and live safely beyond Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite.”
- Ummm…that is Constellation’s goal and the reason for going back to the Moon. To learn to live on another world that is three days away before moving on to Mars. Did this guy plagiarize parts of George Bush’s speech from six years ago?
- He claims his “program” has “clear aims and goals.”
- Who is taking our astronauts up? What are our astronauts flying on? Where are our astronauts going again? When are they going again? Are you still watching Star Trek on your teleprompter Mr. Obama?
Obama then went on to explain why we were not going back to the Moon. “But the simple fact is, we have been there before.” Well he’s right. With all 6 Apollo missions, our astronauts spent about total of one week on the surface of the Moon. I am sure that most folks wouldn’t consider one-week total visit to the Moon as an appropriate amount of time to learn to live on another planet. But, Obama seems to think so. Imagine visiting the Arizona desert for one week and then declaring you don’t have to visit the United States anymore because you have seen everything that the USA has to offer. So, with a week of Moon living under our belt, he thinks we should visit an asteroid 15 years from now for a day or two, and orbit Mars 25+ years from now for just a few orbits. Sureeeeeeee.
Obama claims his new unnamed program will create more than 2,500 jobs at KSC and have a potential for generating more than 10,000 jobs nationwide but has no evidence to back that figure up. Let’s say he’s right and does create 2,500 jobs at KSC, he’s still in the hole because over 10,000 jobs and another 30,000 indirect jobs will still be lost at KSC and the Brevard County area alone. This doesn’t even count the damage done at the other space centers nationwide.
He also promised a $40 million initiative for the displaced workers at KSC, but Florida Today is already reporting that about 3.2 million will actually be used to retrain aerospace workers while the remaining amount will be used to pay for staff over seeing this money and “…tax incentive dollars for the film industry, as well as tax breaks for aircraft and boats.” Well spent already huh?
After his short speech, Obama left for Miami to attend a fundraising function at Gloria Esteban’s home. He dedicated hours to this fundraising while dedicating about 30 minutes killing our nation’s Human Space Flight Program.
Obama is a liar. Pure and simple. I know some of you are offended to hear him called a liar, but he is. He is also a coward for not facing the people whose hopes and dreams for our Human Space Flight Program are being destroyed by this man and his accomplices in Congress and NASA.
There is no new Human Space Flight Program. There is just a poorly written Powerpoint, lacking in specifics or even a name, posted on Obama’s teleprompter. No ship, no hardware, no employees, nothing but crap.
There is no destination, no idea what NASA is really going to do with Human Space Flight besides just give it up. Even his promise of jobs is a lie. He will throw some money towards KSC to hire a few folks to slap on a few new coats of paint on the buildings, and after the 2012 election, lay them all off and close KSC pretty much for good and our entire Human Space Flight Program.
Though Obama was able to get one doddering 80-year-old astronaut to back him, he could not get the other astronauts that were free to speak or the thousands of rank and file aerospace workers to back him. They know what his plan truly is, to end America’s Human Space Flight Program after 50 years of leadership.
In my humble opinion, there are some things that could be done to save America’s Human Space Flight Program:
- Increase NASA’s budget to 1 cent of every tax dollar.
- Give NASA a 10-year budget so they don’t have to compete each and every year for a new budget. NASA wastes considerable resources and time every year fighting for next year’s budget. Giving them a 10-year budget would ensure stability and ensure NASA has an administration that is concentrated on Human Space Flight instead of extending their careers at the expense of our nation and the aerospace workers who make these dreams come true. The enormous amount of money saved from not having to lobby Congress every year could be applied to Human Space Flight.
- Bring back Constellation. It is not too late. The equipment is still there, the workers are still there, and the designs are still there. This program had clear goals and milestones unlike Obama’s PowerPoint plan.
- Fire Charlie Bolden and his upper management staff at NASA. They sold out our nation and our Human Space Flight Program ceding our leadership in technology and space exploration to Russia and China. They do not deserve to be stewards of America’s Space Program.
- Elections do matter. When you continue to re-elect people to Congress over and over again without giving thought about their job performance, it does have consequences. When you elect a man who has never managed a McDonalds to manage our country, there are consequences. There are over 10,000 people at KSC that can attest to the fact elections have consequences.
- You can’t change NASA’s mission every time there is a new administration. Human Space Flight Programs require at least a decade long or longer commitment by the nation. Our nation already has six years and $10 billion dollars invested in Constellation with substantial work done and goals met though Bush, Obama, and the Democratic Congress has consistently under funded it. There is a very good reason why it’s called “Rocket Science.”