White House

Bush mentions the Vision (sorta)

One of the criticisms leveled at the Vision for Space Exploration is that, since President Bush’s January 2004 speech at NASA Headquarters, he has done little, if anything, to promote it publicly. A break in the silence came today, with the release of a presidential proclamation designating December 17th as Wright Brothers Day. According to the proclamation:

Today, our Nation follows the Wright brothers’ example of innovation as we continue to explore the frontiers of air and space. My Administration has outlined a vision for space exploration that includes a return to the Moon and a long term human and robotic program to explore Mars and the solar system. By working to expand the realm of the possible, we can gain a better understanding of the universe and continue the journey that the Wright brothers began more than a century ago.

This, of course, was not a public address but simply a written statement published by the White House, so it may not assuage those critics who want to see the President speak more about it publicly. (Given Bush’s current approval ratings, though, would you really want him out there talking about it?) At this point, though, the Vision arguably doesn’t need public attention from the President: it would benefit best from proper funding and some technical progress, as well as a better articulation by NASA of why we’re going back to the Moon and establishing a base there.

[A nod to Space News, which published a brief article about the mention of the VSE earlier today.]

11 comments to Bush mentions the Vision (sorta)

  • joeblow

    Is it my imagination or does the VSE described in the White House press release not jive with how Griffin & Co. are implementing the VSE? Surprisingly, there is no mention of NASA’s lunar polar base in the White House press release, only a “return” to the Moon. But there is mention of a “human and robotic program to explore Mars and the solar system”, which, if anything, has shrunk under Griffin’s tenure with the cuts to NASA’s science programs and the Mars program, in particular. I also note that “innovation” figures prominently as a theme, but there is very little innovative in the ESAS/Constellation plan. In fact, the only human space flight innovation (technical, business, or otherwise) still taking place at NASA is outside ESAS/Constellation in the underfunded COTS and prize programs.

    Am I reading too much into this, or is there a disconnect between the White House/Bush VSE and NASA’s interpretation and implementation of the VSE?

  • Joe,
    Yeah there does appear to be a real disconnect. The administration also doesn’t seem to care that much about the disconnect.

    ~Jon

  • Whoaaaa Nelly! That’s a real barn burner of a proclamation. Man, that Bush guy has just torn himself a new corn shute. And I don’t even know that that means.

    I just think the president’s got too much grits on the old plate there. Iraq. Iran. North Korea. Syria. Lebanon. The Palestinians. Carteresque poll numbers. Ice caps melting. A Democrat Congress. Laura “Stepford Wife” Bush. Dirty Dick Cheney. And that’s barely the half of it.

    He’s screwed so many things half way to Sunday that it would be rather incredible to think he could actually get us to the moon properly. I mean, Bush leading us to the ol’ moon is like a cow being led to a slaughterhouse. You kinda know how it’s going to end there, and it ain’t goin’ be pretty.

  • Mark R Whittington

    I’ll admit that I was originally unhappy that the President had not made a Rice University style speech about the VSE. But one cannot argue with the fact that the administration’s strategy of low key, but very real support is working very well, so far. VSE enjoys wide, bipartisan support in both the Congress and the public. Not even folks with Bush Derangement Syndrome seem to be too much against it.

  • Not even folks with Bush Derangement Syndrome seem to be too much against it.

    So the President’s condition has finally been given a medical term? Kind of like Lou Gherig’s disease, eh?

    About time.
    :-)

  • Ummmm…no, Shubber. Or whoever posted this.

    It is the name for the syndrome that those whose fundamental starting premise, on any political subject, is that Bush is the most evil person in the history of the universe, suffer from. Unfortunately, as you prove, it is a widespread ailment.

  • Well, being that it’s the least crucial issue the country faces right now, it’s little wonder that the lunar program generates little partisan debate or presidential attention. Especially since the landings are well into the next decade. It’s less brilliant policy than evidence of how serious things have become.

    There are still serious questions about whether the project will eventually implode. The Repubs have managed to keep a pretty good lid on things so far, but there are serious engineering and financial challenges. We’ve been hearing some about the former but less about the latter. (Note the recent unveiling of the program sans budget.) Someone with knowledge of these things told me that Steven Colbert’s recent bit about putting Rumsfeld in charge wasn’t all that far off base.

    Although there certainly is much hatred of Bush out there (gee, could it be his performance in office), there’s also what you might term a Bush Whoring Syndrome, in which anything the man does – no matter how poorly – is automatically defended. This is particularly evident on many right wing blogs (Instapundit and Glenn Reynolds come immediately to mind). These “experts” who have never been to Iraq ceaselessly blame the media for coverage of a war they will never risk their precious little necks to view firsthand. They take what mistakes are made, tar most of the media with them, and then conclude that things are going well. Somehow the press coverage is the most serious problem we’re facing over there. That sounds pretty deranged.

  • Joeblow: I also note that “innovation” figures prominently as a theme, but there is very little innovative in the ESAS/Constellation plan.

    This plan will give us two key innovations. One is operational experience. Experience is far more important than any technology. There is nothing particularly technologically new in the Space Station, but anyone who thinks we are not learning a lot just in the process of building it is not paying attention. Secondly, the existance of the Space Station is leading to your second innovation, COTS. COTS would not be happening without the logistics requirements of the Space Station.

    A lunar base will give us experience living on the regolith-dominated airless bodies that domonate the inner Solar System, and it will provide the logistical “market” that will make new technology launch vehicles politically and economically possible.

    I believe that both of these drivers are more important than any individual new technology or set of technologies.

    – Donald

  • Unfortunately, as you prove, it is a widespread ailment.

    And how did I prove that? By making a joke?

    If that is “evidence” for you that I somehow think Bush is the most evil man in history, you need a refresher course on the definition of evidence.

  • joeblow

    [quote]
    This plan will give us two key innovations. One is operational experience.
    [/quote]

    Experience is not innovation. It may be desirable or necessary, but it’s not the same thing.

    [quote]
    Secondly, the existance of the Space Station is leading to your second innovation, COTS. COTS would not be happening without the logistics requirements of the Space Station.
    [/quote]

    Wrong. As another poster pointed out to you in another thread, NASA could have chosen to transfer some or all of its human space flight requirements to commercial launch service contracts years ago. NASA did so for its robotic programs some time after the Challenger accident. To bad they did not choose to do so for human space flight.

    NASA didn’t need the Space Station to create human space flight requirements for commercial launch services. NASA only needed a reason to get rid of the Space Shuttle. Although it took the lives of astronauts to make it happen, Columbia provided the impetus to COTS, not the Space Station.

    If the Columbia accident had happened in the absence of the Space Station, NASA could have purchased commercial launch services to substitute for Space Shuttle’s capabilities. In fact, without a need for Station construction, we could have rid ourselves of the Space Shuttle immediately and transitioned to commercial services sooner and with more force.

    Until Space Station construction is complete, it (and its continuing need for Shuttle’s assembly capabilities) are actually standing in the way of NASA’s transition to commercial launch services for human space flight needs.

    Besides, it’s slightly insane to justify a $60 billion Space Station (or $100 billion, depending on how you count the Shuttle flights) based on two measley COTS contracts that together add up to less than $500 million.

    A fraction of that $60 billion could have just gone directly to commercial contracts for research facilities and transportation in Earth orbit and probably produced a lot more valuable research results by now (e.g., ISF), on top of creating new space service industries.

    [quote]
    A lunar base… will provide the logistical “market”
    [/quote]

    How do you know that NASA will use a future lunar base (if its built at all) to incentivize new commercial space services? Griffin talks a good game but he won’t be Administrator then… not by a long shot.

    [quote]
    that will make new technology launch vehicles politically and economically possible.”
    [/quote]

    Sorry, but it strikes some of us as slightly insane to wait almost 20 years for some multi-ten billion dollar moonbase that stands a high chance of never getting built in the vain hope that the NASA Administrator at that time will carve out some small portion of his lunar needs for commercial space transportation or other services.

    Griffin, had he not drunk the Scotty-rocket Kool-Aid and swung the pendulum too far on job preservation, could be doing so now. There’s no technical reason to wait.

    [quote]
    I believe that both of these drivers are more important than any individual new technology or set of technologies.
    [/quote]

    That was not the point of the original post. The point is that the White House clearly has substantial innovation in mind when it comes to the lunar effort, and Griffin and his ESAS plan do not deliver on said innovation. If anything, by wasting time re-inventing the medium lift wheel with Ares I, Griffin is setting opportunities for real innovation at NASA back almost a decade.

    At least in this one White House statement (which is about all we have to go on since the original release of the VSE), the disconnect between the White House and NASA is glaring.

  • joeblow: Experience is not innovation. It may be desirable or necessary, but it’s not the same thing.

    While technically, this may be true, in the real world it is quite wrong. While it is probably impossible to put a specific percentage on it, experience leads to a great deal of innovation., and it is required for most of the rest. That, after all, is the whole idea behind the “fly a little, learn a little, fly a little more” concept that many want to return to.

    Each Apollo mission fed on the lessons of the last, resulting in very fast innovation in both the tools they had and the ways they used them to explore the lunar surface. The reason we need to return to the moon is to re-start that very fast innovation, in contrast to continuing to do paper studies in the vacuum of ignorance down here on Earth.

    NASA could have chosen to transfer some or all of its human space flight requirements to commercial launch service contracts years ago.

    Sure, they could have done that. They didn’t. They weren’t forced to — by outside events and by Congress — until the Space Station existed; there was a large political, logistical, and economic need; and their plans to fulfill that need broke down. Without the existance of the Space Station, it would have been possible to kill the Shuttle and there would have been no requirement for COTS. Without the existance of Mir, and now the Space Station, the orbital tourism market — which I think we all agree is one of the most promising markets, both now and in the future — would not have been demonstrated to those with the money to support it, probably for decades. I stand by my position.

    NASA didn’t need the Space Station to create human space flight requirements for commercial launch services.

    More importantly, I am not aware of a significant requirement for human spaceflight services beyond the Space Station at this time, and certainly a few years ago. Please enlighten me: in this, I would love to be proven wrong.

    Besides, it’s slightly insane to justify a $60 billion Space Station (or $100 billion, depending on how you count the Shuttle flights) based on two measly COTS contracts that together add up to less than $500 million.

    Yes, it is insane, but that’s the way politics works, and we would have no space activity at all (especially in space science) without a lot of economically unjustifiable decisions just like that one. If you want government help to open the Solar System, you’d better get used to “insane” processes like this.

    A fraction of that $60 billion could have just gone directly to commercial contracts for research facilities and transportation in Earth orbit and probably produced a lot more valuable research results by now (e.g., ISF), on top of creating new space service industries.

    But it didn’t, and it is a safe bet that in the absence of the politically imperatives driven by the Space Station’s existence, it wouldn’t have.

    How do you know that NASA will use a future lunar base (if its built at all) to incentivize new commercial space services?

    I don’t know that. Nobody does. But I do know that it is exceedingly unlikely to happen in the absence of a lunar base as a market, while there is a chance that it might happen if the market is there. There are no guarantees in the real world, and certainly not in the political world. All you can do is try to set up the conditions that may create the result you want. Dreaming that the United States will continue to poor money it doesn’t have into overly ambitious efforts to dramatically reduce the cost of getting to the moon for no reason is far more insane than anything Dr. Griffin is doing.

    Griffin, had he not drunk the Scotty-rocket Kool-Aid and swung the pendulum too far on job preservation, could be doing so now. There’s no technical reason to wait.

    Certainly, there is no technical reason to wait, but these decisions are not — and never will be — made purely for technical reasons. Job preservation is a huge part of the reason we have any lunar project at all, and it is a safe bet that any lunar plan that did not preserve jobs at JSC would not have had the political support to get even as far as this one has. While I have and will continue to criticize many of Dr. Griffin’s decisions, in this he did what he had to do to survive.

    by wasting time re-inventing the medium lift wheel with Ares I, Griffin is setting opportunities for real innovation at NASA back almost a decade.

    In this one item, I think you are correct. However, Dr. Griffin did it to keep the lunar effort directly tied to a Mars effort — he is trying to sneak Mars into a jobs preservation effort where it is not needed. I think this was a political, as well as a technical, mistake — but, as I’ve stated elsewhere, I think revisiting that decision before the end of the Bush Administration and the VSE has more momentum behind it, will do more political damage than continuing. Technical issues can be fixed later. Losing our fragile political coalition cannot, at least not in the foreseeable future. I think there is a chance the VSE will survive this mistaken decision; I believe it is certain not to survive a complete reversal of course at this time.

    – Donald