June 14, 2010

The Ignoble Savage: Administration Zeroes Out Return to Moon

Hatched by Dafydd

I've always considered a presidential administration's commitment to manned space exploration an excellent barometer of its belief in the grandeur of Western civilization; its belief in America's future and exceptional greatness; and its understanding of what Konstantin Tsiolkovsky meant when he said that, "a planet is the cradle of mind, but one cannot live in a cradle forever." Simply put, an administration that believes in manned space exploration -- believes in Mankind.

So it's hardly a surprise that Barack H. Obama is in the process of killing the Constellation program proposed by (of course) President George W. Bush to return human beings, Americans, to the Moon, this time to stay; to explore lunar science and geology, investigate the origins of our solar system, and exploit the vast mineralogical, energy, and environmental resources found on our nearest neighboring planet.

And it's even less of a surprise that they're doing it in a backhanded way, in violation of an act that Obama himself is about to sign into law -- while mockingly flouting it:

Constellation aimed to build upon what was arguably America’s greatest technological achievement, the first lunar landing of 1969, by launching new expeditions to the Moon and to Mars and worlds beyond. Mr Obama proposed in February that it should be scrapped because it was “over budget, behind schedule and lacking in innovation”, but he has met opposition in Congress, which has yet to approve his plan.The head of Nasa, Major-General Charlie Bolden -- an Obama appointee -- has now written to aerospace contractors telling them to cut back immediately on Constellation-related projects costing almost $1 billion (£690 million), to comply with regulations requiring them to budget for possible contract termination costs.

The move has been branded a “disingenuous legal manoeuvre” and referred to Nasa’s inspector-general for investigation. “It’s bordering on arrogance by the Administration to boldly and brazenly go forward with this approach. It shows a blatant disregard for Congress,” said the Republican Congressman Rob Bishop, of Utah, whose constituency stands to lose thousands of jobs. Two weeks ago the Senate passed legislation that compels Nasa to continue work on Constellation unless Congress directs otherwise. That legislation is due to be signed into law by Mr Obama this month while Congress continues its deliberations over his proposal to cancel the current space space progamme.

Why is Obama doing this? What is his goal? I believe the Times of London has hit upon the answer without even realizing it, as the answer controverts the received narrative of the Obamacle:

Distinguished space veterans, including the first and last men to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, have complained that the abandonment of Constellation will set America’s space capabilities on a “downhill slide to mediocrity”. They say that, while Mr Obama has outlined a vision for Nasa that includes sending people to Mars at some point, it lacks a concise plan for developing the rockets and spacecraft to get them there.

“The Administration has no planning, no programme and no idea -- they’d just have these things happen mysteriously,” Mr Bishop said. “Rockets aren’t something that Wal-Mart puts on its shelves. You have to have a plan for how you get from A to B, and Obama has just said we’ll work it as we go along and maybe some day we’ll end up on an asteroid or the Moon or somewhere. The bottom line is, those ‘maybes’ will never happen.”

In my estimation, the simple, obvious explanation is correct: Obama does not believe America is in any way "exceptional"... nor even that it should be. He believes Americans (not citizens of the world, as he is) are arrogant and imperialistic "little people" who need reining in. This can only happen under a strong central government headed by (who else?) the Philosopher King.

Americans' ambitions are too grandiose and range too widely; we need to humble ourselves. Fly to the Moon? Land humans -- Americans, yet! -- on Mars? How dare we!

This is hubris of the highest order. The president must show the whip hand every now and then in his job of Shepherd in Chief to keep his flock tame and hobbled. Baa, baa, baa.

In Mark Steyn's genius takedown of the Obamunist -- the best anyone has ever penned, says I -- he commits a nigh-Twainian epigram:

It is hard to imagine Mr. Obama wandering along to watch a Memorial Day or Fourth of July parade until the job required him to do so. That's not to say he's un-American or anti-American, but merely that he's beyond all that. Way beyond. He's the first president to give off the pronounced whiff that he's condescending to the job - that it's really too small for him and he's just killing time until something more commensurate with his stature comes along.

At the end, Steyn fingers Obama as the current leader of "a cult of radical, grandiose narcissism;" but the writer need only source "the One We Have Been Waiting For" himself to prove his claim.

A legendary and probably apocryphal tall tale has it that an ancient emperor tried to obliterate all documents that mention a national history predating himself, in the hope that future generations would believe he personally created civilization, culture, and perhaps the very world. It may be truer today than in any ancient realm, for I believe Barack H. Obama would prefer the future historians take literally his messianic claim that:

[G]enerations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment -- this was the time -- when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals.

There we have it: A grandiose narcissist who sees himself as simply too big for America's britches must be horrified by a program of manned space exploration, the consequences of which threaten to overwhelm his own meagre achievements, assuming one can find any, in a Noachian deluge of science, technology, and future shock. Indeed, if we indeed returned to the Moon on a permanent basis, using that as a stepping stone to Mars and the rest of the solar system, then that would likely be the only thing anyone would remember, "generations from now," about the administration of Barack Obama. Only our next faltering steps into the universe beyond; all else would be sucked down the memory hole, along with yesterday's horoscope.

How could a creature like Obama possibly live with such a rival without scratching her eyes out?

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, June 14, 2010, at the time of 10:20 PM

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The following hissed in response by: MikeR

Hmm. I'm a little surprised at this post, Daffyd - I think that all the people that I usually trust on space exploration (Jerry Pournelle, Rand Simberg, Glenn Reynolds) are uniformly very pleased at the direction the administration has taken. The reason is generally that they see NASA as having been a barrier to space exploration for a while now, with its top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. The hope is that in the new setup, private space exploration will take off, so to speak, and NASA can lend a helping hand without being too heavy-handed (jumping metaphors!) You don't agree?

The above hissed in response by: MikeR [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 15, 2010 9:07 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


If I trusted the messenger, I too would be pleased. But the way this was done -- not through logical argument in favor of Capitalism and against government control, but through stealth and backroom deals -- and the history and personal philosophy of the man in the big chair (and all the little men in highchairs who surround him)... all of this tells me that Pournelle and Instapundit and Rand Simberg (I don't know him) have fallen into the trap of imagining Barack Obama to be an honest player, when in fact he is a devious despoiler.

I had a burst of enthusiasm for this approach when it was first announced; I even wrote about it, twice. See, I too can let enthusiasm elope with reason.

The alleged Obamic plan is this (I quote my own quote, as the source has passed its expiry date):

Obama, in his Feb. 1 budget proposal, planned to increase NASA's overall funding to $19 billion in 2011 with an emphasis on science and less spent on space exploration.

He would cancel the Constellation program's Orion spacecraft and Ares rockets, after $9 billion and five years of tests. Constellation is aimed at returning astronauts to the moon in the 2020s to clear the way for a Mars mission.

Instead, Obama would spend $6 billion a year for five years to support commercial spacecraft development and pursue new technologies to explore the solar system in what the White House called "a more effective and affordable way."

But reading the current article, all we know for sure is that Constellation is being canceled. We have no idea whether that $30 billion for "commercial spacecraft development" will ever materialize, nor whether Obama will issue the necessary executive orders and push the required congressional legislation to remove the restrictions that maintain a government monopoly on space exploration.

And I now seriously doubt he has any such intention. Rather, I believe Obama's plan is to kill off government-run manned space exploration -- while keeping in place the monetary and regulatory restrictions to prevent private capital from filling the vacuum. I should have trusted my first instincts, rather than let my hope run away with my brain.

I will be utterly shocked if any support for commercial manned-space ops forthcomes from this administration; and the GOP has already shown itself to be as statist as the Democrats on this issue. Thus, at least until we reach a tipping point of payload to orbit at about a hundredth the cost of today's systems, state-run space research will be the only thing we have going.

If we continue along the technology trajectory just a little longer, governments will be unable to prevent private space enterprise, the Heinleinian (and Nivenian, Pournellian, et al) ideal. But I have the sinking feeling that Obama is striking directly at that technology trajectory itself.

The man who brought us Government Motors and Barack Petroleum cannot possibly have any intention of allowing private manned orbital operations, if he can possible prevent it. Call me cynical, but it's hard to avoid extreme skepticism in the era of Obamunism.

I want something like Constellation to continue until (a) we have an actual capitalist in the White House, or (b) we make the technological breakthroughs required for space exploitation to become affordable to completely private enterprises, as opposed to quasi-government aerospace semi-monopolies.

I am haunted by the thought that Obama's Tax-Day speech at KSC is just the spacey version of his "plan" to replace oil, natural gas, and coal energy with terrestrial solar cells and windmills: Not a path to success but a liberal rhetorical fantasy.

I'm not saying private space enterprise cannot succeed; I am saying that I have lost any hope that this particular president is really on our side. I think he's playing the space fans like a snare drum.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 16, 2010 3:32 AM

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