Bush’s Nefarious Space Plan

Here’s what Margaret Cho had to say about the opening to the “Bush in 30 Seconds” awards on her blog :

Moby and Vernon Reid opened the show with the best version of the “Star Spangled Banner.” I’d never heard it with thrashing guitars before.

Really??? Okay, somebody needs to email Margaret and tell her about Jimi Hendrix. I was so bored with the opening I leaned to Tom and Dan and whispered “How ‘Woodstock 94′ of them.” Hell, I’m surprised Moby’s cover band didn’t end the ceremony with a 30-minute rendition of “Give Peace A Chance”.

But the Vernon Reid Experience wasn’t the lamest tribute to the sixties this week. That honor would go to Bush’s promise to send a man to the moon (35 years after we already did it) :

America has ventured forth into space for the same reasons. We have undertaken space travel because the desire to explore and understand is part of our character. And that quest has brought tangible benefits that improve our lives in countless ways. The exploration of space has led to advances in weather forecasting, in communications, in computing, search and rescue technology, robotics, and electronics. Our investment in space exploration helped to create our satellite telecommunications network and the Global Positioning System. Medical technologies that help prolong life — such as the imaging processing used in CAT scanners and MRI machines — trace their origins to technology engineered for the use in space.
. . .
Returning to the moon is an important step for our space program. Establishing an extended human presence on the moon could vastly reduce the costs of further space exploration, making possible ever more ambitious missions. Lifting heavy spacecraft and fuel out of the Earth’s gravity is expensive. Spacecraft assembled and provisioned on the moon could escape its far lower gravity using far less energy, and thus, far less cost. Also, the moon is home to abundant resources. Its soil contains raw materials that might be harvested and processed into rocket fuel or breathable air. We can use our time on the moon to develop and test new approaches and technologies and systems that will allow us to function in other, more challenging environments. The moon is a logical step toward further progress and achievement.

Trickle-down technological innovation aside, what’s the real purpose of going to the moon and Mars (aside from woo-ing voters, that is)? I like the idea of having long- and short-term goal for our space program, and I love the idea of finally getting rid of the space shuttle, but if we’re gonna spend billions on this, shouldn’t there be a better reason than because it’s “part of our character”? If we’re going to invest money in the space program, I’d think we could get a lot more bang for the buck (scientifically speaking, anyways) by spending the money on unmanned missions. Of course, that kind of spending isn’t “romantic” enough to make an election-year platform.

By Bush’s own admission, most of the funding for his new venture will come from “reallocating” billions from other NASA programs. The question is, which programs will get cut to make room for Bush’s pander-fest? Well, based on his support for teaching creationism in schools, maybe it’s NASA’s experiments into the origins of life. Maybe Bush the oilman is more turned off by NASA’s renewable energy technology. Or maybe their research into climate change and holes in the ozone layer is threatening Bush’s efforts to deny the facts behind global warming. The more you look at it, the more it seems that NASA is one of the chief producers of research that contradicts the Bush Administration’s awful policies. With Bush’s new space plan, maybe they’ve found a way to kill two birds with one stone.

18 thoughts on “Bush’s Nefarious Space Plan

  1. This just seems like such clear folly to me that I’m continually surprised when I read that it’s part of a plan to woo voters in this election year. How? By spending trillions when unemployment is so bad? How does this make the Bush administration more palatable to the poor?

  2. The thing that bothers me is the fact that right wingers KNOW that this is a transparent ploy, and they willingly embrace it as a show of leadership, all the while defending it as visionary.

    Maybe we ought to be asking why the pursuit of raw power has become so craven that it isn’t even called into question byb the so called Liberal media. Wither the morality police so constantly berating us during the Clinton years?

    Then again, MARS! That’s where they hid them WMDs!

  3. Again, as noted somewhere else (Calpundit?), this whole idea that having a moonbase will make space travel cheaper kind of escapes me. Yes, the moon has a weaker gravity than earth, but, President Moonbeam, how do we get the parts to the moon to “assemble and provision”? Let’s see, now where might that shit come from?

    I think the answer might, might, just might be that they’d have to be flown there from our fucking heavy gravity planet.

    And provision the ships on the moon? What kind of a sci-fi fanboy wet dream is that. What do they plan on stocking up on–rocks? While the soil content of the moon might be so mineral rich that you could eat moondirt for vitamins, are we supposed to buy that there’s going to be foundries, smelting facilities, factory assembly lines to put together more Mars rovers?

    Yeah, in more like 2150 than 2015.

    And what kills me about the news is they all report this with the statement that it’s part of Bush’s goals to project vision and optimism. They state it clearly up front, “this is a ploy” then they go on to talk about the pros and cons of it, with nary a whisper of how it’s just crass opportunism.

    Once again, Bush rides someone else’s coattails.

    And for the record, you’re probably on the money there with the plan to divert money away from NASA. Short term it might have the goals they anticipate, but in the long run science always wins these debates.

    Just ask the Pope.

  4. Quote: “Also, the moon is home to abundant resources. Its soil contains raw materials that might be harvested and processed into rocket fuel or breathable air.”

    Every time I drive by a dead strip mine here in the Midwest, I say to myself, “Gosh, it sure is a shame we don’t have more places we could tear up like this…”

    Let’s get digging, boys! And let’s not stop until we can see those strip mines all the way from Earth!

    Ridiculous.

  5. like the utah phillips quote. speaking to his son’s class he said, “you’re about to be told one more time that you’re americas most valuble natural resource. have you seen what we do with valuble natural resources? have you seen a strip mine or a clear cut in the forest? they’re gonna clear cut your mind; they’re gonna clear cut your mind for the sake of prophet unless you resist because the prophet system follows the path of least resistance which is why the river runs crooked!”

    sorry… anyway, the thing that scares me is how they’ll probably use this opertunity to fire more nuclear material into the air. what was that rocket that had a few pounds of plutonium on it a few years ago? kisseney? cant remember. if that launch had gone awry we wouldve lost florida. and dont think the nuke industry aint in on this moon base thing…

  6. Although I do agree that Bush’s space plan is a farce, I don’t agree with your reasoning behind why it’s not a good idea. The reason why it’s not a good idea is that he is planning on cancelling most of what NASA is doing now to concentrate on this stuff. Bad idea. If we should have learned anything from the space program of the 60′s, it’s that concentrating totally on one goal leaves you lost once that goal is met. It would be better to divert money from other programs into NASA. Off the top of my head I would choose military spending and corporate subsidies. The beauty is the military contractors and corporations shouldn’t complain, because they’re going to get the money back in government spending.

    But the idea of going to the moon for natural resources and because it’s cheaper to get to the rest of space is not a flawed idea at all. It will take time to pay off, but it will pay off huge in the future. The idea is this. You send large unmanned rockets filled with all the raw materials you need to the moon. Then you send your astronauts. Once there they assemble the raw materials into devices which allow them to sustain themselves and to manufacture more of what they need. The moon has all the elements that earth does, including water, so you could start manufacturing new space vehicles there. Then you start really saving on the moons smaller gravity.

    Another upside is that the moon has no enviornment to screw up. You can pollute their for enternity and you won’t make a bit of difference. Kind of nice. Which leads me to another point. The most efficient kind of rocket that we could hope to manufactuer at this point in a nuclear rocket. Although they are perfectly safe, and under normal operation release negligable radiation, you’re never going to get the people here to go for lifting one of these off of earth (people complained about nuclear batteries for crying out loud). But lifting one of these off of the moon shouldn’t be a problem at all. The moon recieves more radiation from the sun every day then one of these rockets could produce in a worst case scenerio.

    While the moon does have all the same elements the earth does. It doesn’t have them all in equal quantities. Obviously there is much less water there. But there just so happens to be a lot of Helium-3. Helium-3 is so rare on earth it might as well not exist. We can make it in a lab, but that is prohibitavely expensive. What’s so good about Helium-3 you ask? Well it’s our best chance for creating sustainable nuclear fusion. Right now all our nuclear fusion experiments involve deuterium (hydrogen-2) and tritium (hydrogen-3). The problem is that they are not very sustainable and they are not very clean (i.e. they do produce a fair amount of radioactivity). If you start a fusion reaction with Helium-3 and deutrium you not only have a reaction much more likely to be sustained, it is also almost completly clean. You know what news is even better? There is enough deuterium on earth and enough Helium-3 on the moon to provide earth with energy for about a million years.

    Of course you might say fusion is a pipe dream. Well in that case, why not cover the moon with solar panels and beam the energy back to earth as microwaves? Solar panels will be hugely more efficient on the moon and you don’t have to worry about eyesores in your back yard. And unlike fusion power we have the technology to do this RIGHT NOW.

    So you can see the moon does have tons of benifts. Of course there is something even more important than getting to the moon, and it’s probably cheaper to boot and will have much better trickle down technological impact. That is a space elevator. Sounds a little wacky, but some very smart people have calculated that you could build the first space elevator for about 12 billion dollars. After that, getting things into orbit becomes almost free, and building new space elevators becomes very cheap. I’ve alread written way to much, so if you want more details on it tell me, and I can provide it offline.

  7. youve said you work in the nuclear field before, correct andrew? with all due respect, and consider this ignorant if you will, but i will never condone putting nuclear material on a rocket that cannot possibly be any more safe than the two space shuttles that have already exploded in earth’s atmosphere.

    i will never condone the possibility of spreading nulear material on such a wide scale. and. its surreal that were more scared of boogieman terrorists with dirt bombs than our own government that has fired nuke material through our atmosphere before and will do so again.

    but, i dont work in that field. thats just my ignorant opinion.

  8. I don’t work in the nuclear field. I’m just an uber-geek who’s extremlty interested and done my homework.

    You’re opinion expressed above has just quantified what I see as the problem. People are scared of the word nuclear. The nuclear material that has gone up in rockets before was already spread around the planet. It’s not like we made it. Not only that, it’s simply not that radioactive. It would be safe enough for you to hold in your hands providing you are wearing gloves.

    A coal power plant releases far more radioactivity into the enviornment than a nuclear power plant. And with a nuclear power plant we are able to contain the radioactive parts. Not only that because of the physics of half-lifes, the more radioactive something is, the shorter amount of time it will be dangerous. Quite neat.

    As in regards to the shuttles exploding. They were able to find the ‘black box’ on both of these vehicles. If they can survive the crash, it’s simple to design a nuclear battery that would survive worst cast scenerio. Give engineers a little credit.

    But I am not ignorant enough to pretend I don’t understand the problem. The population as a hard time accepting nuclear batteris (which are totally safe, and very tiny devices which aren’t any more nuclear than you’re MRI) into orbit. They’re never going to accept a nuclear rocket. That’s why the moon makes sense. Who cares about a nuclear rocket there?

    I would like to quanitfy things a little first. A nuclear rocket would, at worst case scenerio contain about as much nuclear material as what relased by Chernobyl. That may sound bad, but it works out to about 10 lbs. Now to put that into perspective the Ivy Mike nuclear bomb test from 1952 released 1023 lbs into the air. Because we were prepared for it though, no one got hurt. That’s the thing, if you were prepared for the worst, and were shooting the rocket from a platform in the middle of the pacific, you have little to worry about. If you substitute the pacific for the darkside of the moon, you have nothing to worry about. Because the nuclear materials never have to leave earth, you can simply use what’s on the moon, or a nearby asteroid.

    Of course this entire argument becomes moot if you have a space elevator. You can get things into space as easily as you do to a top of a building. And once in space things like radiation and polution loose all their meaning.

    The only reason I’m so adamant about things like this is because most people are ignorant about the facts. Ask people in america what they would rather live near: a coal or a nuclear power plant. How many of them pick the nuclear? Probably none, but it’s safer by several orders of magnitude. Everyone needs to be educated about nuclear energy. What the real dangers are and what it’s benifits are. Of course the coal and oil industries are happy to keep spreading the FUD.

  9. I’m with you, Andrew, when it comes to nuclear power. I think the potential benefits are too great to completely drop. That said, I still think we should tread very carefully.

    This “space elevator” concept is intriguing. At risk of losing my geek cred, the idea hadn’t ever occurred to me. I just read an interesting article about the emerging technology. If you have any others you recommend, feel free to post the links here.

    Although the idea sounds really cool in a science-fiction-y way, there are still a lot of potential dangers that immediately spring to mind (which I’m sure the engineers working on this have also considered). What happens if the cable snaps? Does the multi-ton payload fall hundreds of miles back toward the surface of the Earth? Would the cable act as the world’s largest lightning rod? Call me a pessimist, but I’d hope that any space elevator would have multiple cables for redundancy’s sake.

  10. Well the idea is that you build the cable out of basically a ribbon of carbon nanotubes. These are incredibly strong and incredbily lightweight. If the cable were to snap, the counterweight would shoot off into space (imagine spinning a ball on a rope and letting go). The cable is then so light that it flutters back to earth (and most of it burns up in the atmosphere before actually hitting the planet). You do actually loose anything that was travelling on the elevator at the time, but for saftey’s sake you’d build this thing in the middle of the ocean so that the falling payload doesn’t do any damage.

    There is a company here in seattle doing alot of research into the field. Here are some links:
    Here
    And here
    And here

  11. I read the links, but I’m still unclear as to what happens at the top end of the elevator. Would there be a small manned space station to receive the payloads? Or would they detach from the elevator and then launch their own propulsion?

  12. Much of that would be dependent on the kind of payload that you were off lifting. At the end of the elevator is going to be an enormous counterweight. Now since in the event that the cable ever snaps this counterweight flies off into space, it’s a bad idea to have it be a manned station. The idea though is though that the elevator extends far beyond geosynchronous orbit. Therefore you could unload your payload at geosynchronous orbit, low-earth orbit, or high-earth orbit. Some payload may be crafts that have their own propulsion. Some maybe satalites. Some maybe raw material for constructing things in space. If this was truly constructed the area around the elevator(s) would become like most other busy ports in the world. Vehicles unloading and moving cargo, manufacturing and transportation facilities, etc.

    Here is the link I probably should have given first.

  13. thanks for all those posts andrew… i was getting sick of all the anti-space liberal rhetoric all over the news and blogs… now i’m even more excited about space.

  14. No problem. Space is great, and exciting. You just don’t want to half ass it. Or you get something like the space shuttle. And that’s what I’m afraid bush’s proposal is. Just a half-ass job. Intead of telling NASA what to do. We should just give them a budget and ask them what they think the best use of the money is. Really, who do you trust more to know how to best spend the money: NASA scientists or Karl Rove?

  15. In defense of “anti-space liberal rhetoric”, I really think concentrating on a long-term goal of landing a man on Mars is a pointless waste of money that could be much better spent on either domestic programs that are routinely deemed “too expensive” or space programs that aren’t nearly as “romantic”. I’m unmoved by sweeping oratory about “man’s need to explore”. I’d rather see all that effort go towards more practical projects like environmental research, renewable energy sources, etc.

  16. The beauty of the space program is that you can explore space at the same time as you are developing renewable energy sources, and studying the enviornment. It’s just a matter of focus. That’s why I don’t necessairly agree with Bush’s proposals. You shouldn’t just say, “let’s put a man on mars and let the technology trickle down.” You should say, “How does going to mars best serve us? What can we gain from going there besides knowledge?” In terms of mars, I would say very little right now. The future of mars probably will be as a spot for manufacturing and moving asteroids into orbit around. But that’s not happening anytime soon. We need to develop a permanent precesnce in space before we can even think about that. The moon however has potential to solve many of our enviornmental and energy problems. I’ve outlined a few in my previous posts, but there are many more. Space in general has the ability to solve many of the problems we face on earth. What we need is a real plan, unfortunately Bush doesn’t have one. To exploit space and really get a return on the investment what is needed is a cheap way to get stuff to and from space. Once that happens great stuff will come about.

  17. i’m not opposed to exploring space. my “anti-space” far left blah blah blah comes from the two things wrong i see with the space program.

    1. corporate america pays nothing in, yet reaps the benefits of exploration.
    2. the dynamic of it all. its sold to us wrapped in a patriotic bow, and i’m leary of anything packaged in that manner. i think of wally george with the picture of the space shuttle behind him.

    i would also like to point out that my most of my fellow “lefties” that say they agree with me in principle on things like single payer healthcare and campaign finance refore but it is unrealistic to consider that this will happen in our lifetime. some of these folk are the the first to say they are for things like missions to mars.

    so, we can make it to mars, that is attainable, but healthcare for all is a dream that can never happen in our lifetime. i’m not insinuating we shouldnt be going to mars if its feasible, or that the money for such missions should be the money used for healthcare, but surly if mars is possible than healthcare is anything but a pipe dream. mabey we just need to dress it up in a patriotic bow…