The Looters’ Class

Here’s a proposal sure to tickle the heart of the Looters’ Class:

How We’ll Get Back to the Moon,” NASA Bulletin, September 20, 2005

This one shouldn’t pass even the laugh test. It’s whole purpose is to maintain a certain claim on the Federal budget, and to funnel the resulting taxdollars into highly specific, elite-servicing sectors of the private economy—a lot of which aren’t even U.S.-based any more. (One reason why Thursday’s South China Morning Post reported that “China, as the latest member of the space club, should have much to contribute” (Sept. 22).)

In other words: The current moonshot’s purpose does not differ in kind from the purpose that the National Aeronautic and Space Administration has always served—all of the previous moonshots, blow-ups, splash-downs, skylabs, shuttles, and space stations notwithstanding.

Nor is this contrarian line based on questions about NASA’s bugetary overreach in the wake of the serial wars that the current regime has launched and super-costly Gulf Coast hurricanes. Much less on skepticism that the “new plan lacks the pizzazz to inspire public support”—a howler we owe to the editorial voice of the New York Times.

Rather, it is based simply on the recognition that NASA exists to invent phony “peacetime” missions to maintain its institutional claim on the budget.

So here, then, is an issue for an Opposition Party to take up as part of its members’ campaign for Congress in 2006 as well as the White House in 2008: A principled opposition to the looting of the Federal budget (including regressive tax breaks and Social Security “reform”)—and the even-more-principled prosecution of those actors within the U.S. economy that live by looting the Federal budget on the model of NASA’s latest invention, the Pentagon’s serial wars and boondoggles (e.g., Lockheed – Martin‘s “integrated ‘front-end’ development of new and innovative technologies”), the planet’s most expensive and class-exclusive system for denying people access to health care, and its most class-inclusive system for locking up the same people behind bars.

I’ll vote for whomever takes a hard stand on all of this.

But we all know he/she won’t be a Democrat.

NASA’s long-term moon plan: ‘Apollo on steroids’,” Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters, September 19, 2005
US Plans New Moon Landing In 2018,” Pascal Barollier, Space Daily, September 19, 2005
A retro look to next US spacecraft,” Peter N. Spotts, Christian Science Monitor, September 20, 2005
US plans to be back on the Moon by 2018,” Catherine Elsworth, Daily Telegraph, September 20, 2005
Nasa reveals 2018 moon mission plan,” Victoria Griffith, Financial Times, September 20, 2005
Nasa plans another giant leap to the moon,” Alok Jha, The Guardian, September 20, 2005
NASA aims for a return to moon by 2018,” Mark Carreau, Houston Chronicle, September 20, 2005
NASA Reaches for the Moon as Launchpad for Mars,” Andrew Buncomb, The Independent, September 20, 2005 [$$$$$ - see below]
Back to Moon via ‘Apollo on Steroids’,” Peter Pae, Los Angeles Times, September 20, 2005
NASA Planning Return to Moon Within 13 Years,” Wayne E. Leary, New York Times, September 20, 2005
Space Vision: The Experts Split Again,” William J. Broad, New York Times, September 20, 2005
“NASA’s Back-to-the-Future Plans,” Editorial, New York Times, September 20, 2005 [$$$$$ - see below]
Shuttle Design Is Scrapped,” Jim Erickson, Rocky Mountain News, September 20, 2005
New ship for next moon trip,” David Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 2005
One Giant Leap Back to the Moon,” James Reynolds, The Scotsman, September 20, 2005
NASA details plan for craft that will fly to the moon,” Traci Watson, USA Today, September 20, 2005
NASA Unveils $104 Billion Plan To Return to the Moon by 2018,” Guy Gugliotta, Washington Post, September 20, 2005
Bonds of Earth,” Editorial, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 21, 2005
The Dark Side of the Moon,” Robert L. Park, New York Times, September 22, 2005 [also see below]

Postscript (September 23): In the Comments section to this blog, Sk34 just called the following essay to our attention—as appropriate a response to NASA’s latest “mission” to return astronauts to the moon as it was initially to the President’s January, 2004 “New Vision for Space Exploration.”

The Wrong Stuff,” Steven Weinberg, New York Review of Books, April 8, 2004

Weinberg commits one important mistake, however. And we shouldn’t let it pass uncorrected.

He tells us that throughout his analysis, he has “taken the President’s space initiative seriously”—seriously as a space initiative, that is, with greater and lesser merits from a scientific point of view, and analyzed it according to its likely contribution to this end.

This was a serious mistake on Weinberg’s behalf. Nothing proposed by the current regime deserves to be taken seriously in this sense. Quite the contrary. Whatever the proposal and the rhetoric employed to sell it, the mission of the current regime is to loot the Federal budget. Period.

The only proposals that emanate from the White House are designed for this purpose—for the sake of looting.

As long as we keep this in mind (i.e., once we disabuse ourselves of the fallacy that the regime would waste its time undertaking scientific missions, rather than larceny, and look at the Federal budget and the regime’s taxing and spending proposals the way that a looter looks at a treasure chest), everything else falls neatly into place.

Still. In its own right, Steven Weinberg’s “The Wrong Stuff” is a superb commentary.

FYA (“For your archives”):

The Independent (London)
September 20, 2005, Tuesday
SECTION: First Edition; FOREIGN NEWS; Pg. 26
HIGHLIGHT:The astronaut Eugene Cernan walks on the moon as part of Apollo 17′s mission in 1972. Nasa is planning to return

Mankind is one serious step closer to returning to the Moon today after Nasa unveiled a $ 100bn (£55bn) plan to send a new generation of astronauts on lunar missions as a precursor to manned flights to Mars.

The space agency’s administrator, Michael Griffin, outlined the project, which he said fulfilled President George Bush’s ambition to see a return of manned lunar missions.

Wary of critics seizing on the cost of the venture ” following the Gulf coast’s multi-billion dollar brush with Hurricane Katrina, Mr Griffin called on Americans to show some long-term vision. ‘When we have a hurricane, we don’t cancel the Air Force. We don’t cancel the Navy. And we’re not going to cancel Nasa,’ he said.

The programme will see the development of the long-awaited successor to the ageing space shuttles, which promises to be ‘ten times safer’, according to Mr Griffin.

It also served as a remarkable reminder of how little has changed since the Apollo missions which last delivered an astronaut to the Moon in 1972. The project, for example, will use solid rocket fuel and will require the return capsule to land on solid ground with the use of parachutes. But Mr Griffin said that it should be thought of as ‘Apollo on steroids’. A four-person lunar expedition crew would make use of a Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) fitted with solar panels and there would also be the ability to extract fuel from the Moon, he said.

‘We had many review boards and review panels study this architecture as we developed it,’ he said. ‘Those groups did include several people from the Apollo generation.’ The plan outlined yesterday would require the astronauts to rendezvous in earth’s orbit with a separate pre-launched vehicle, and then make the outbound voyage to the Moon. Once in lunar orbit, all four crew members would travel down to the moon in a lander. They would depart the CEV, putting it in autopilot mode as they spent seven days on the lunar surface. By contrast, the Apollo missions involved six two-person teams landing at the Moon’s equatorial region. Each expedition had an additional astronaut who remained in lunar orbit.

Mr Griffin said that the $ 104bn return-to-the-Moon mission would also see astronauts cover much more territory than Apollo moonwalkers, who were restricted to the area around the Moon’s equator. One of the goals is likely to be an attempt to find ice that may be frozen within shadowed craters at the moon’s poles.

‘We have contacted a large group of lunar experts and asked them what the points of interest were to them,’ he said. ‘They ranged from the poles to the equator ” this architecture can service them.’ Nasa has been working on a return to manned lunar missions ever since President Bush outlined his so-called Vision for Space Exploration that could see permanent communities on the Moon as a stepping off point for missions to Mars.

Then he said: ‘Mankind is drawn to the heavens for the same reason we were once drawn to unknown lands and across the open sea. We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives and lifts our national spirit. So let us continue the journey.’

At the time, Mr Bush’s political motives were questioned and others questioned whether the proposals were part of a broader US plan to establish weapons in space.

Almost immediately the project has run into criticisms on Capitol Hill.

‘This plan is coming out at a time when the nation is facing significant budgetary challenges,’ House Representative Bart Gordon from Tennessee, said. ‘Getting agreement to move forward on it is going to be heavy lifting in the current environment, and it’s clear that strong presidential leadership will be needed.’

Mr Griffin dismissed suggestions that the cost of developing the project would be better spent on helping the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort. He said the mission was ‘long term investment for our future’ and that a lot of other hurricanes and natural disasters would likely befall the US and other countries before the 2018 launch date.

‘We must deal with our short-term problems while not sacrificing our long-term investments in our future. Experts have decided to use the project as a means of dealing with task of finding a successor to the shuttle, which has been plagued with problems.

The same problems with falling debris that doomed the Columbia in 2003 recurred in July with the launch of Discovery, promp- ting the grounding of the shuttle fleet. A mission scheduled for September has now been put back to next March. More than $ 1bn worth of damage by Katrina to Nasa facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi could push the launch date back further still.

The New York Times
September 20, 2005 Tuesday
Late Edition – Final
SECTION: Section A; Column 1; Editorial Desk; Pg. 28
HEADLINE: NASA’s Back-to-the-Future Plans

NASA has finally unveiled its plans for carrying out the ambitious space exploration program that was announced by President Bush in January 2004 but left vague and undefined ever since. The proposed new space vehicles look like a sensible way to put astronauts and cargo into space after the shuttle fleet is retired and will be built to facilitate landings on both the Moon and Mars. Michael Griffin, the new administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, deserves credit for putting real flesh on what had been little more than an aspiration. Unfortunately, the new plan lacks the pizzazz to inspire public support and will be operating under budget constraints that make delays or overruns likely.

The new crew exploration vehicle will be built around well-known space technologies, with booster rockets and engines derived from the shuttle program and a crew capsule like the one used in the lunar program, only bigger. That has the great advantage of letting NASA use much of its current shuttle work force on the new program and the great disadvantage of making the technology look retrograde. This approach will not excite those looking for cutting-edge hardware, but it seems reasonable at a time when reliability is the main goal.

The configuration largely eliminates the two hazards that destroyed the Columbia and the Challenger. NASA calculates that the new vehicle should be 10 times safer than the shuttle, with perhaps a 1 in 2,000 chance of a catastrophe.

The plan pays only the barest lip service to international cooperation; Europe, Japan, China and India all have lunar programs of one kind or another under way. Mr. Griffin said NASA hoped to send Americans back to the Moon by 2018 under its own program but was open to partnerships on what to do or build on the lunar surface. Given that most experts say international collaboration will be imperative on a high-cost mission to Mars, it seems desirable to enlist international partners very early.

It is hard to see how NASA can complete all the tasks on its agenda while operating on a constrained budget, which is scheduled to grow at only the rate of inflation. The agency needs to repair the damage to its facilities from Katrina, fly the shuttle safely until 2010, complete the space station by that date, fly the new crew exploration vehicle by 2012 and return to the Moon by 2018 or 2020, all the while carrying out its science, aeronautics and robotics programs. The safety valve is that NASA will carry out the exploration program on a ”go as you can afford to pay” basis, without raiding money from other space programs. That means that cost overruns may stretch out the completion dates, and leave the exploration vision a more distant prospect.

The New York Times
September 22, 2005 Thursday
Late Edition – Final
SECTION: Section A; Column 2; Editorial Desk; Pg. 31
HEADLINE: The Dark Side of the Moon
BYLINE: By Robert L. Park.
Robert L. Park, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, is the author of ”Voodoo Science: The Road From Foolishness to Fraud.”
DATELINE: College Park, Md.

THIS week NASA described plans to return astronauts to the Moon in 2018 at a cost of $104 billion. That’s nine years after President Bush leaves office. Starting from scratch in 1961, President Kennedy’s commitment to put a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth was realized in just eight years. What is going on?

The Apollo 11 moon landing on July 16, 1969, transcended the superpower struggle for world domination that had motivated it. People everywhere were awed by what was above all an inspiring demonstration of human achievement. Could lunar colonies, expeditions to Mars and even the stars be far behind?

Just three years later, however, as the war in Southeast Asia drained American resources, the era of human space exploration abruptly ended. In 36 years, no human has ventured beyond the relative safety of low-Earth orbit. Who could have imagined, on that magic night in the summer of 1969, that the moon might be as far into space as humans would ever go?

On the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, President George H.W. Bush spoke from the steps of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The president called for a return to the moon and for a human expedition to Mars. ”Like Columbus,” he said, ”we dream of distant shores we’ve not yet seen.”

George W. Bush seems driven to complete his father’s unfinished business in space, as in Iraq. But much has changed. The cold war, which provided the initial motivation for our space program, is long gone. And technological progress has superseded human space exploration. Remotely controlled instruments have become natural extensions of frail human bodies.

Much of what we yearn to discover in space is inaccessible to humans. Astronauts on Mars, locked in their spacesuits, could not venture far from shelter amid the constant bombardment of energetic particles that are unscreened by the thin atmosphere. Beyond Mars, there is no place humans can go in the foreseeable future. The great adventure of the 21st century will be to explore where no human can possibly set foot. The great quest is to find life to which we are not related. Could nature have solved the problem of life in some other way, in some other place? When we find out, we will know much more about ourselves.

Two mechanical geologists, Spirit and Opportunity, are doing this even now, by searching for evidence of water on opposite sides of Mars. They don’t break for lunch or complain about the cold nights, and they live on sunshine. They’ve been at it for nearly two years, yet their mission costs less than sending a shuttle to the International Space Station. The brains of Spirit and Opportunity are the brains of geologists back on Earth.

Progress in society is measured by the extent to which work that is dangerous or menial is done by machines. The benefits we enjoy from the space program — weather satellites, communications satellites and global positioning — come from robotic spacecraft. Few scientists are calling for a human mission to the Moon or Mars. Human space exploration is essentially over. It is too expensive and provides too little return. But politicians know that the American public identifies progress in space with human astronauts.

The Bush administration’s solution is to create an impossibly expensive and pointless program for some other administration to cancel, thus bearing the blame for ending human space exploration. The return to the moon is not a noble quest. It is a poison pill.

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