Changing INA

The big news to come out of yesterday’s House Science Committee hearing featuring NASA Administrator Michael Griffin was arguably not his proclamation that the shuttle is ready to launch (it would have been news if had said anything else), but that he said that he and the administration are asking Congress to change the Iran Nonproliferation Act. Specifically, he said that he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have submitted a letter to congressional leaders requesting an amendment that, according to the Orlando Sentinel, “maintains U.S. non-proliferation principles and objectives, while also maintaining the U.S. Russia space partnership.” This is something that some members of Congress have been pushing for months, if not years, concerned that the provisions of the INA—which prohibit NASA from purchasing ISS services from Russia unless the administration finds Russia is not aiding Iran on WMD and related technologies—could keep Americans off of Russian Soyuz spacecraft starting next year. A proposed amendment to INA that would eliminate this problem is “is still being vetted”, committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert said, and will be completed “in the short term.”

That news was music to some members’ ears, after hearing for years that no changes were needed to INA. Rep Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) called the original INA “a worthy goal” that failed because neither the Clinton nor the Bush administrations failed to develop “an overture to the Russians that would give them an alternative.” “There is no reason for us not to be realistic,” he concluded, according to the transcript of the hearing (which NASA, to its great credit, posted on its web site within a few hours of the end of the hearing Tuesday afternoon).

32 comments to Changing INA

  • It’s interesting that Rohrabacher is admitting that he wasn’t being realistic before. Rather, he was mostly telling Clinton to go to hell.

    But nuclear non-proliferation is an important issue, much more important than the white-elephant space station. Even if it makes sense for Rohrabacher to backtrack, he’s doing it for a bad reason.

  • But a change to the INA allows us to buy services from the russians beyond whats already been contracted to service the “white elephant” of a station. This gives us another option to retire the orbiter on time, if S.1281 is passed.

    Non proliferation is more important then the station. But to me, space development is more important.

  • Nuclear war would be a major setback for space development.

  • Or an horrific incentive. Not that I’m advocating a scorched earth policy. I am an environmentalist.

    Space development will help prevent a nuclear war. War is partly based on a zero sum game. Opening up space resources puts a large buffer for the zero sum game. So no need to fight some wars on earth.

    If my personal agenda’s time frame was longer then 40 years, I say we can get by with out the Russian Space Company’s help. I just don’t see how contracting Energia’s services (not the Russian Space Agency’s) would undermine the INA. Then again I’m a couple of years outta touch of Energia’s political situation these days.

  • Okay i just read Donald’s post about the spacestation spuring some of the private development. Haven’t thought about it in the context of the INA before. So my risk assesment has been altered and I am begining to think the INA helps commercial space development more then it prevents nuclear war.

    So I retract my inital comment on this thread. (though still believe that space development also helps prevent war in the next few centuries)

  • I wrote a post on this earlier that somehow didn’t get posted.

    As I recall, I said: The easy solution is for the Russians to stop supporting Iran, but that doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s plate, Russia’s or the Administration’s. Certainly, the Administration is more interested in restarting our own nuclear weapons production — which serves no one’s interest, certainly not ours — than they are in non-proliferation.

    I am very torn on this issue. Important as spaceflight is, this, more than any almost other issue, is why I voted against Mr. Bush, and, unless Republican policies change pretty dramatically, will vote against whoever the Republicans try to replace him with. After spaceflight, non-proliferation (and hopefully someday abstinence) is the single most important issue of our age.

    — Donald

  • Cecil Trotter

    Robertson: “the Administration is more interested in restarting our own nuclear weapons production — which serves no one’s interest, certainly not ours — than they are in non-proliferation.”

    That is just silly Donald.

  • Well, Cecil, that may or may not be true, but simply saying so doesn’t make it true. I don’t think anyone on either side would dispute that the Bush Administration has in fact reduced most efforts at non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (especially those aimed at safely getting rid of poorly maintained and watched ex-Soviet weapons) and has worked to re-start American nuclear weapon production. I wish I did, but I don’t see anything silly about it at all. Like many things this Administration does, it is both stupid and wasteful.

    Or, maybe you were referring to my opposition to our re-starting production. If we re-start production, that will encourage every other nation to do so, removing any moral prohibitions others may have to avoid restarting unless we do. (The most militarily powerful nation on Earth can afford to set a good example.) Our possession of new nuclear weapons does nothing to discourage the idiots of the world (North Korea, Iran) from using theirs. Re-starting our own production does nothing to increase our security and is very likely to substantially harm it.

    what I suspect will happen is that, someday probably soon somebody will again use a nuclear weapon, but in circumstances far less “understandable” than their use in WW II. I would hope that the world reaction will will be similar to that of the use of chemical weapons in WW I, which resulted in more than half-a-century of generally obayed moral avoidance.

    — Donald

  • With the new Iranian president being linked with the Iranian hostage takers, all bets are off for changing INA.

    This could be a huge problem for the republican party, either give in to evil Iran or shut down all current human space flight activities and with it all those jobs.

  • Good for the Republican party. They helped us get into this mess; I look forward to watching them get us out.

    More seriously, I agree that this is a big problem for all of us who want the VSE to succeed. What it does point out is the value of may routes to space, and if we take that lesson we can live through the short-term problem. The answers (deliberate plural) are to speed up the Constellation project (is it still called that?), and encourage outfits like SpaceX to develop their own cargo, then human, space transportation to LEO, and wish every success to the Chinese. I think the Americas Space Prize is offering too small a purse for what they want, but I wish them too every success. Fortunately, Griffin seems to be talking the right lines. Time will tell. . . .

    — Donald

  • I see only upside for the VSE from shutting down the station. The Space station part is tacked on because of political necessity not program necessity.

  • Hello, Karen,

    That may be true for the government part of VSE, but, as I’ve argued elsewhere on this list, if we want a robust commercial launch vehicle industry to develop, the Space Station’s ligistics requirement is the only large, near-term market out there. SpaceX, Kister, et al, are not going to be launching payloads to the moon for a (hopefully short) while yet. They need somebody willing to pay them to launch mass to LEO, and the only somebody available with a large mass requirement is the Space Station project.

    — Donald

  • If commercial space can’t make it without a make work project, Oh well. We will have to settle for government launchers for a while longer.

  • Now there is a dumb argument if I’ve ever heard one (sorry). Let’s avoid using a government works project so that we can continue using another set of government works projects.

    I am not aware of any time in history that a major transportation system got built up without a lot of government help even when a destination was in place. Not the airline industry, not deep sea shipping, not the rail roads, and certainly not the personal automobile, easily the most subsidized of them all. When you also have to build the destination at the same time, it just ain’t going to happen.

    The first market on a new frontier is _always_ a “government works” project of some sort. The closest exception I can think of is the Conestoga wagon trains, but that representated a rare set of circumstances where building the destination was within the reach of a single family. That is not the case where we want to go. And, how do you think the wagon train families got to the new world?

    — Donald

  • Cecil Trotter

    Well Donald lets’ examine what the Bush administration is doing about nuclear weapons proliferation. They’ve taken a hard line against North Korea; maybe if Clinton had done the same earlier we wouldn’t be talking about a NK A-bomb now. And didn’t Pakistan conduct it’s first nuclear test during Clintons admin? Libya has voluntarily given up its nuclear program, maybe after seeing what happened to Saddam? Speaking of Iraq, it certainly has no nuclear weapons program now as most everyone in the free world thought they did pre 2003. And before you argue against that point you might want to read what Clinton, Kennedy, Kerry etc. had to say about Saddam/nuclear weapons back around 2000 or so.

    As for the idea that if we don’t build more nukes the bad guys won’t, North Korea is producing/attempting to produce more already as is China.

    Sure the US has a “bunch” of nuclear warheads already, I wonder what their average age is? Maybe 30 years, maybe more? If we want to have a credible nuclear deterrent I would think we’d want to be sure the nukes we have are reliable.

    One last thing, I notice the usage of quotation marks around the word understandable with reference to the first use of nuclear weapons. Just so you know my father and a couple of uncles came home from the Pacific because of that first usage. And a cousin of my fathers lost his life in the sinking of USS Indianapolis shortly after getting that nuke in place to be delivered to Japan.

  • Quotations belong around the word “understandable” because we directly attacked a large civilian population without warning and without the opportunity of surrender. What would your reaction be if a nation we attacked did the same to your town? I am very glad that your relatives made it home (as did my and my partner’s fathers), but they were combatents. That is a very big difference.

    I am not prepared to argue that the use of nuclear weapons in WWII was wrong, but it was not unambigously right either. It probably did encourage other countries to obtain these weapons faster than they would have had the war ended without their use, thus putting our country at greater short-term risk.

    As for Mr. Bush, I grant that his hard line probably helps in some ways, though it hurts in others and a more nuanced foreign policy would probably help more. However, while it is true that Iraq now no longer has any government-sponsored nuclear program, the current chaos there creates an ideal environment for those Russian nuclear weapons and any leftovers from the Iraqi program to make it into the hands of terrorists. Is that really an improvement? I’ll grant that you can make the Iraqi case either way, but if the goal is to control nuclear weapons, continuing to dismantle Russian weapons would have been a more effective (and far, far cheaper) use of our money.

    — Donald

  • kert

    “Fortunately, Griffin seems to be talking the right lines.”

    Griffin is talking about getting NASA even more involved in space trucking business than it is now – two NASA launch vehicles instead of the sorry one right now.

    That, in my book, is clearly very wrong lines.

  • Hello, Kert,

    I misspoke. I was referring to Mr. Griffin’s apparent support for using commercial vehicles to support some of the Space Station’s logistics requirements. I believe that as far as launch is concerned, that is the single most important thing he could do right now.

    When it comes to trying to maintain three large government launch systems (two EELVs plus a Shuttle-derived heavy lift vehicle, I fully agree with you. I argued the other day that the money tied up doing that would financially and politically sink the VSE. I’ve seen nothing that makes me change my mind.

    — Donald

  • Donald there is a big difference between government works and make work projects.

    A lot of the government works projects during the depression are still in use today and prepared us to win WW2.

    Make work projects on the other hand have no no use outside of paying people to work.

  • Well, Karen, my understanding of the history is that the Work Projects Administration projects _were_, as the name suggests, make-work projects first, and useful second.

    More importantly, I disagree with you regarding the Space Station. While I do agree that it is relatively useless for science, at least so far, it is teaching us how to _successfully_ build large structures in space. That is something we need to know. It is also providing us with experience managing a complex spacecraft when the logistics train gets disrupted. That also is something we need to know. It is experience, and nothing at all beats experience. Sure, it could have been done better and cheaper, but that in itself does not make it useless.

    I’d look to your own example: many WPA projects were considered worthless at the time, useful for nothing else than giving people something valuable to do with their lives (as if that weren’t “valuable” in and of itself!), yet, as you say yourself, many of them are still providing useful and sometimes vital services today. (If you ever visit my city, buy yourself a book called “The Stairway Walks of San Francisco.” Many of these stairs are Victorian, pre-dating the wide-spread use of automobiles, but (my guess) about half are WPA. They make walking a joy and do a lot to create the charm of this city.)

    To get back to the point, though, if the Space Station’s logistics requirements bootstrap us into cheaper transportation to orbit — and that’s the only way I see it happening any time soon — than, like many WPA projects, the station will have been worth every penny we spent on it even if it does nothing else whatsoever.

    The argument in detail is here,

    — Donald

  • Bill White

    Telling US satellite launchers they cannot use Proton and telling Lockheed they can no longer use Russian engines on Atlas V will have a bigger potential impact on Russian-Iranian relations than not buying a handful of Soyuz and Progress to ISS.

    I am absolutely opposed to an Iranian A-bomb – – that said – – a ban on Soyuz/Progress flights funded with US tax dollars has essentially zero geo-political impact. INA allows some Congress-folk to thump their chests but otherwise is cheap symbolism that hurts us more than them.

  • I would not be opposed to make work projects. If we had high unemployment and nothing usefull we could think of doing, but the station is deverting us from going back and developing the Moon. The Moon is much harder and more expensive but it will also have vastly higher pay offs than the station which requires every avaliable dollar.

  • Karen, I don’t disagree with you here. However, the lunar base is still a relatively distant prospect whatever the Space Station’s future. The Station is an existing market right now. We need a market — now — to encourage that commercial launch industry that will be vital to resiliantly supporting any base in space, on the moon or elsewhere.

    Also, I disagree with Greg about the likely disposition of the Space Station. Even if we follow through in leaving the project circa 2015 (which I think highly unlikely), for geopolitical and financial reasons the Russians and Europeans will keep the project going at least in some form. Nobody is going to simply abandon the project, even if they should.

    And, I still disagree with you about the _total_ uselessness of the Space Station. But, I’ve already said that so I’m not going to repeat it now.

    — Donald

  • Cecil Trotter

    “the _total_ uselessness of the Space Station”

    I’ve never said (in seriousness at least) that ISS was “totally” useless, just that it is far from being worth 100 plus billion. The US would have had, I believe, a better cheaper station if we had done Space Station Freedom at ~26 degrees inclination with ESA, Japan and Canada as partners.

  • I don’t necessarily disagree with you (though, without the Russians, for better or worse I don’t think the station would have politically survived). But what we have, here and now, is a circa $100 billion Space Station that is already partially deployed. If my model is even partially correct and we can use it to achieve some of our launch goals, it is even more wasteful to fail to use what we’ve got, especially since there is no replacement market on the near horizon.

    — Donald

  • Donald,

    As long as we have a space station a moonbase will remain distant.

    I don’t except the space station to be funtional in 2010 let alone beyond. If I were a commercial launch provider I would not have a business plan which is highly dependent on the station.

  • Then, I believe, they will have no business plan at all and we are doomed!

    Launching a few hand-fulls military and commercial satellites a year does not a commercial launch industry make. At best, any lunar base will not be a market for a decade or more, especially if they go for an HLLV. That pushes the kind of large market that could drive dramatic improvements in launch prices far over the horizon. In that future, we _may_ deploy a lunar base with HLLVs (though, as I’ve expressed, I have my doubts), but it won’t be a market for SpaceX, et al. Near-term logistics costs will (by definition) be much higher for a lunar base than they are for a LEO base. Getting supplies commercially to the moon is a much higher leap than getting them into LEO; if you don’t have the Space Station in between, it will be much harder for small companies to make that leap.

    To put it another way, with a Space Station, SpaceX and company can supply it, make money, then use the profits to develop lunar transportation. Without the SS, the entreprenures to raise all the money to develop lunar transportation up front. My prediction is that they won’t be able to do it.

    We may get transportation to the moon, but it won’t be commercial and it won’t be cheap. By trying to take too big a leap, you push development of a trading economy much farther into the future.

    — Donald

  • The Moon will be a much bigger market than the space station because there are real things to do on the Moon and real resources to use so everything doesn’t need to be shipped up, but using it requires heavy equiptment.

    I have been hearing now for decades how use of LEO will drive down launch cost and make the Moon affordable. Well it hasn’t happened and it is highly unlikely to happen now. None of these possible suppliers has gotten to LEO with anything, why should we wait around for them.

    What happened to the wonders of space tourism which was going to allow suffient volume to drive down prices.

  • Karen: “None of these possible suppliers has gotten to LEO with anything, why should we wait around for them.”

    Sticky question that. Goes back to the apollo/mercury era. Where there were no experts in the aerospace industry, so a bunch of startups or pre exsisting companies started in on the field. Some had aeronautical experience, others did not. There was competetion, and it was good. It spurred innovation, helpd keep prices low. Over the years these companies merged and got bought out until 90% of them became a part of Boeing or Lockheed. As this Duopoly was evolving, Lobbyists pursued congress to make it so it was tough for new companies to enter the field. During the early 90’s to help reduce the costs (at least thats what they said) NASA hired a contractor (United Shuttle Alliance) to operate the shuttle. It so happens today this Contractor is owned equally by both Lockheed and Boeing. So they had a monolopy on LEO and in monopolies there is no incentive to drive down costs.

    As to were new startups are at, well untill recently the laws put on the books basicaly shut the door on any new companies trying to entr the market. Recently new legislation has passed that is begining to open the door. And also Mike Griffin is more commercial friendly and is being Nicer to these startups, and i expect an interesting annoucments along those lines this october.

    Also it was tough for the new startups in the 80’s and 90’s to get money. Venture captilist always seemed to have a uncle or buddy in NASA. and NASA had a “not invented here” mentality which then the buddies told the venture capitalist. “If it were possible we would already be doing it.” a good book that explained Nasa’s underhandedness in detail is Lost in Space by Greg Klerkx.

    So in short, the providers were all but barred from the launch pad until recently.

  • I am all for competition but I seem to remember the 90’s a little different than you do. I remeber it being hard to keep all the startup launch companies who were planning to launch tourists, satelite constellations and win the X-prize. I also remember numerous states having space ports to accomadate these startups. Now most of these companies and spaceports are gone. That is because they were mostly smoke and no fire. It is easy to go around making snazzy presentations, doing press releases of what you plan to do, even building mock ups. Unfortunatly space is hard and unforgiving so actually launching is difficult.

    Back it 1998-1999 I expected to see numerous groups try for the X-prize and many leave holes in the desert. But there was only one real test which won it. Looking at the result of the X-prize shows that space is expensive and there are no cheap ways around, at least none we have thought of so far.

    Ther real problem now with reducing government launch costs is space is a jobs program and to cut costs is to cut jobs. We need to get space to a point where it justifies itself. Unfortunately most NASA stuff isn’t justifiable and the military side we can’t talk about.

  • The 90’s startups failed primarily the hoops they had to jump through. It was stuff that wasn’t in the press that caused these to fail.

    As for the X-Prize, the Divinci Project was on SS1’s heals but since Burt won it no incentive to get it done. And these guys were a canadian group. They had a more friendly climate to get the needed permits. Burt’s company has been around since the 80’s they knew the red tape so was able to be persistant in getting certified. Since then the laws have been relaxed for suboribital flight a,d precedence has been put down to make it easier to liscense oribtal flights.

    I remember the 90’s that way too, but i also looked to why they failed. It wasn’t techincal reasons, it was political.

    Governments will never reduce the cost to LEO. Its just not in there nature to be effcient. What they can do is supply a market so the private sector has incentive to lower the costs to orbit to increase there profit. With Cost plus all its does is ensure that the job gets done, not thats its done effciently. Luckily it does appear that fixed cost contracts are in NASA’s future.

    Getting into LEO is, in the long term, going to be the most expensive part of Space Development. It will only be through compeating launch vehicals made by different companies will the technical cost to get LEO will go down. And it will be only high volume flights with rock solid proven safety record will the economic price to LEO will fall.

    Kistler, t/Space, SpaceX all have a good chance of helping the first part. But its up to the Government and NASA to secure a market so there are enough flights initially to help the second part. Its that second part that costs more then the first part.

    But we can’t wait for the prices to fall to develop the Moon/Mars/Asteroids. And to do that we need NASA. Not in the part they do all the work but in they way they lease equipment from the private sector so the private sector can then use the equipment after NASA is done. (Yeah I know, I’m parroting t/Space, but its such a good idea)