A silly debate

Sunday’s edition of the Cumberland (Md.) Times-News promised a “faceoff” between two newspaper staffers on hoary question of whether space exploration should be done by humans or robots. If you’re looking for insightful commentary on the (space) age-old question, keep looking. The pro-robot argument reads as much like an attack on President Bush as a [...]

Earth sciences editorials

On the heels of the somewhat overblown story that NASA had changed its mission statement to delete a reference to Earth sciences come some editorials in major newspapers critical of NASA’s overall priorities. The New York Times published one such editorial Friday, claiming that “earth studies seem to be in trouble”. Evidence for this includes the cancellation of Triana (although the spacecraft isn’t mentioned by name), the delay of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, and cuts in research and analysis funding (something that affects other science programs, not just Earth science.)

A similar editorial appears in today’s Washington Post, although the claims it makes are a little sketchy. The Post claims that the Hydros mission to study soil moisture “got the ax”, although NASA intended that mission only to be a backup should one of two other missions run into problems (albeit with some confusion among the Hydros team about exactly what their status was). The editorial also claims that “NASA’s satellite network that monitors global weather patterns — including hurricane formation — is aging, and replacements may arrive late or not at all.” It’s not clear what satellites they’re referring to, since hurricane monitoring is done principally by NOAA, not NASA. It could be a reference to NPOESS, but that is a joint project among NASA, NOAA, and the DOD, whose problems have largely been beyond the control or blame of NASA. The Post also argues that “NASA is uniquely qualified to do things such as launch and maintain weather satellites.” That statement is debatable: while NASA oversees the development and launch of the GOES weather satellites, they are operated by NOAA, which also manages the overall program.

The two editorials also have slightly different recommendations about what NASA should do to rectify this problem. “Mr. Bush needs to get his head out of the stars,” the Post advises, arguing that “The White House has to either pay responsibly for its exploration programs or cancel them.” The Times, meanwhile, tacitly endorses the Senate’s billion-dollar supplemental funding proposal for NASA, saying that without it Earth sciences, and science programs in general, will be “a casualty of the administrationís insistence on completing the space station.”

CEV, COTS, and the gap

NASA’s Crew Exploration Vehicle program, a cornerstone of the Vision for Space Exploration, is now facing criticism from two sides. On Tuesday the Space Frontier Foundation released a white paper calling the agency’s CEV development plans “unaffordable and unsustainable”. The Foundation is particularly critical of the “Block 1″ CEV, designed for low Earth orbit operations, [...]

Curbing your outrage about NASA’s mission

I have been trying very hard the last several days to get worked up by the New York Times story Saturday that NASA has quietly changed the mission statement of the space agency, deleting a reference to studying the planet. I haven’t been successful, but a lot of other people, particularly in liberal neighborhoods of [...]

Thoughts on building a better NASA

Thanks to the grand publicity machine that is the Internet (and you thought it was just a series of tubes) you may have already read the op-ed I wrote for the latest issue of SEED magazine on the burdens facing NASA now and a way out. But there’s an interesting backstory about this essay worth [...]

House thanks NASA Michoud employees

By a voice vote, the House passed Monday H.Res 892, a resolution that thanks those employees of the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans who “risked their lives in dedication to the space program and faced down one of the greatest natural disasters in this Nation’s history” by staying behind at the factory during Hurricane [...]

If only it was true

It’s common knowledge in the space community that a significant fraction of the general public overestimates—often wildly—the amount of money NASA gets. A particularly egregious example of this is a letter to the editor that appeared in Monday’s issue of the Courier-Post newspaper, which serves the New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia:

I shudder when I [...]

House passes shuttle resolution

On Thursday the House of Representatives passed a resolution commending NASA for the successful completion of the STS-121 shuttle mission this month. The resolution, H.Con.Res.448, was approved by the House 415-0. The resolution is pretty standard stuff, praising the shuttle crew and the space agency for “its pioneering work in space exploration which is strengthening [...]

Light posting

Just a brief note that I’m in Las Vegas for the next several days for the NewSpace 2006 conference, which will be taking up all of my time throught the weekend. As a result, don’t expect much activity here (unless there are some good policy-related sessions or related developments during the conference) until early next [...]

A space weaponization debate forum

A reader sent me a notice about a new web site, Spacedebate.org, which describes itself as “an effort to expand the debate on the weaponization of space through a collaborative wiki-like tool for structured debate on a topic.” The site is devoted to collecting arguments and evidence on both sides of the issue. Spacedebate.org is [...]