Congress, Other

Would you trust space policy insights from a business publication?

Maybe you should at least take them with a grain of salt. Take this Kiplinger.com article about NASA’s post-shuttle future, including the question of funding for the space agency:

The earliest the new lunar missions could conceivably take place would be in 2020. But again, competing budget pressures are likely to push back that timetable. And politics is also intruding into the mix. “Now that Democrats have recaptured Congress, no one is interested in finding funding for Bush’s initiative,” says Alex Roland, professor of history at Duke University and a former chief historian of NASA.

That, no doubt, will come as a surprise to members of the appropriations committee in the House and Senate, which approved bills that funded NASA at above the level the president requested, and included full funding for key exploration projects. (There’s also the issue of relying on Alex Roland as an expert on current space policy developments.) The article goes on that, “The odds are that, long before another American sets foot on the moon, China’s ‘taikonauts’ will get there first.” This, despite the lack of hard evidence that China will mount a human Moon mission until at least some time in the 2020s, if even then.

The lesson: trust space policy commentary from a business publication about as much as you would non-aerospace stock tips from the pages of Aviation Week or Space News.

39 comments to Would you trust space policy insights from a business publication?

  • NASA may finally have its 2007 budget fully funded but it has not received full funding for the other years since VSE was announced in 2004. Mikulski and Hutchison are still trying to repay the promised funding for RTF, Katrina and that lost in the 2006 CR, and whatever happened to the promised additional funding for exploration when VSE was announced? What would be a surprise would be if politics had not intruded into the mix.

  • I’ve got a hundred bucks that will go to a charity of your choice if the timetable doesn’t slip as predicted, and if the congress doesn’t scale back and micromanage key parts of VSE. Haven’t they already started pulling funds from NASA for research into manned Mars exploration? Sure NASA might get more money, but it will be targeted money for specific congressional districts — not just extra money that they can use flexibly to ahcieve their goals.

    I win the bet already.

    The article wasn’t a space policy analysis, it was just a simple political analysis. Dems aren’t going to be seen as supportive of a Pub idea. Do you seriously think any chairperson is going to want to go on TV ten years from now talking about accomplishing anything with a “Bush” in it? Just watching the archive policy speech from Bush before each TV appearance (as we did with JFK and the moon, remember? Whenever there’s a report on the the moon landings, there’s JFK and that speech) will be enough to make them cry.

    Maybe they could re-label it something new. That’s probably the best chance the program has. Of course, that’s assuming that the Dems stay in power for the next 20 years. If the Pubs then come back in, the same political logic applies the other way. It’s not any one political party, it’s the dynamics and difficulty of having a president of one party announce a 20-year program and expect general support for a long time after he’s gone while the political winds continue to shift. That ain’t going to happen, in my opinion. Or if it does happen, it will take a LOT longer than it should.

    Geesh.

  • richardb

    The US isn’t likely to be the only game in town, as it is now, for big bucks space projects over the next 20 years. We already are being challenged by China, with its recent asat test, and that challenge will grow, both from a DOD and a Nasa perspective, over time as their GDP prospers. Hopefully Congress will pay attention and respond. Up till now, the only way to challenge the US was with joint ventures between the Euros and Russians. Joint ventures between governments tend to be inefficient and take too long, see Galileo for the EU. So we could take our sweet, partisan time in responding. Those days are ending.

  • Ryan Zelnio

    In answer to the main question, I think it actually depends on the business source. I put a lot of stock into political analysis done by business publications like Wall Street Journal and the Economist. Then again, I don’t trust a lot of space publications’ view on space policy either. How much more does Space News know than Bloomberg/Economist/WSJ about the bigger picture of US foreign policy towards India when it is analyzing the effects of an EADS-ISRO alliance as opposed to a Boeing-ISRO alliance? Or better yet, a business journals view on the prospect of Lockheed or Boeing winning a major government contract?

  • anonymous.space

    “‘Now that Democrats have recaptured Congress, no one is interested in finding funding for Bush’s initiative,’ says Alex Roland, professor of history at Duke University and a former chief historian of NASA.”

    “That, no doubt, will come as a surprise to members of the appropriations committee in the House and Senate, which approved bills that funded NASA at above the level the president requested, and included full funding for key exploration projects.”

    At this point, claims that Congress will support or will not support NASA or exploration in the FY08 budget are rather speculative. Congress is drawing up the current appropriations bills under the threat of a Presidential veto, which makes the bills more like public relations exercises than actual budget instruments and takes a lot of fiscal pressure off the Congress to constrain spending. Budget marks will likely be very different after the current bills get vetoed, Congress goes back to the drawing board, and new budget priorities are set in a more fiscally constrained, post-veto environment. Whether Congress will continue to meet the President’s FY08 request for NASA and/or for exploration in that kind of budget environment is a big question mark.

    Based on the performance of NASA and exploration in the FY07 budget resolution, I’d speculate “no”, but again, that’s just speculation. This is going to be a very unusual budget year, potentially on par with government shutdowns arising from the 1995 Clinton/Gingrich budget standoff.

    “(There’s also the issue of relying on Alex Roland as an expert on current space policy developments.)”

    Agreed. I don’t know the circumstances under which he left the NASA historian position, but Roland has been grinding his axe for a long time.

    “NASA may finally have its 2007 budget fully funded”

    If the President’s request is the definition of “fully funded”, NASA does not have a fully funded FY07 budget. The FY07 budget resolution effectively flatlined exploration, a reduction of over $500 million from the President’s FY07 budget request.

    “Mikulski and Hutchison are still trying to repay the promised funding for RTF, Katrina”

    Unfortunately, the Senate appropriations chairman stiff-armed Mikulski on the billion-dollar increase, so she now has to resort to a floor amendment, which is a desperate long-shot at best.

    “and that lost in the 2006 CR”

    That happened in the FY07 budget, not the FY06 budget.

    “The US isn’t likely to be the only game in town, as it is now, for big bucks space projects over the next 20 years. We already are being challenged by China, with its recent asat test”

    I wouldn’t put the ASAT test in the category of “big bucks space projects”. It launched on a mere solid-fueled, DF-21 mobile ballistic missile (developed in the 1980s), and judging from the massive debris cloud, the kill vehicle was pretty crude, too. It would probably be the equivalent of a Taurus launch for us.

    “Joint ventures between governments tend to be inefficient and take too long, see Galileo for the EU.”

    Chinese lunar aspirations don’t appear to be moving any quicker than Galileo. Less quickly, in fact, since at least the EU is funding Galileo at some level, while China has only budgetarily committed to a robotic lunar mission, and their manned program is still contemplating a small LEO station. Even if a Chinese lunar landing did happen in the next couple decades, outside us space cadets, I’m not certain that a majority of the American public and political decisionmakers would care enough about China repeating a decades-old American achievement. In fact, U.S. decisionmakers might view it as a good way for China to “waste” limited resources on something that does little to impact American interests.

    It could go the other way, too, but I’m not certain anyone in power besides Griffin and a few Congressman representing NASA districts/states cares about Chinese challenges in civil space flight. In terms of economic, foreign, and defense policy priorities, other Chinese challenges appear to be much more important.

    FWIW…

  • anonymous.space

    Not directly related to this thread, but NASA is giving up on the first block of Ares I/Orion vehicles being lunar-capable. They’re going to have to go back at some unspecified future point in time and either lighten Orion and/or improve Ares I performance to buy back the margin necessary to close the lunar architecture. For the first production run, Ares I/Orion vehicles will be capable of ISS transport only.

    Article here:

    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/content/?cid=5167

    Good discussion here:

    http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=8837&posts=70&start=1

    There goes the Moon…

  • The US isn’t likely to be the only game in town, as it is now, for big bucks space projects over the next 20 years. We already are being challenged by China, with its recent asat test, and that challenge will grow, both from a DOD and a Nasa perspective, over time as their GDP prospers. Hopefully Congress will pay attention and respond. Up till now, the only way to challenge the US was with joint ventures between the Euros and Russians. Joint ventures between governments tend to be inefficient and take too long, see Galileo for the EU. So we could take our sweet, partisan time in responding. Those days are ending.

    This isn’t an international space race any more. It’s not about US versus China, or others. It’s about private versus public. There will be much larger differences on that arena than in national space programs.

  • MarkWhittington

    Anon is incorrect about one thing. Later in the discussion he references it is suggested that Ares 1 is in fact Moon capable–barely.

  • Thomas Matula

    Hi All,

    Washington policy experts have a long history of selling other countries short, look at their views on Japan in the summer of 1941 and on Russian space plans in the summer of 1957. Or even Iraq in the summer of 1990 or North Vuetnam’s will to fight in the 1960’s.

    So I would take what space policy experts say about China not being able to get to the Moon before the U.S., and its importance, with a grain of salt. After all they already have a manned capsule which in theory could be upgraded for cislunar missions while CEV is still a gleam in NASA’s eye so they already points ahead in the game.

    As for China doing what the U.S already did (land humans ont he Moon.) not being important in global geopolitics – didn’t some space policy “experts” sell that idea to President Eisenhower about a Russian satellite?

  • anonymous

    “Anon is incorrect about one thing. Later in the discussion he references it is suggested that Ares 1 is in fact Moon capable–barely.”

    Actually, if you subscribe to Level 2 and do a little digging and calculating, you’ll find that statement is in fact not true. Ares I/Orion no longer meets NASA’s own (ESAS) standards for safe mass margins in the lunar architecture. She’s tons in the hole.

    And even if it were true, it’s a nit. Margins so slim that the lunar architecture barely closes with safe margins would be practically guaranteed to get eaten up over the next decade of design and development.

    “didn’t some space policy “experts” sell that idea to President Eisenhower about a Russian satellite”

    Not an accurate reading of history. Two different eras in the history of space development with different overriding concerns with respect to the Soviets.

    Eisenhower for most of the 50’s was concerned about establishing overflight rights in orbit, mainly for the purposes of reconnaissance, intelligence, and arms control (although those rights obviously became important to the civilian and commercial sectors, too). The Eisenhower White House actually wanted the Soviets to launch first so that the Kremlin could not refuse U.S. overflights later on.

    It was only after Sputnik, when the “missile gap” emerged (which was later found to be false) and Gargarin flew, that the Kennedy campaign and White House expressed concern about U.S. capabilities to build and fly big rockets and began to view space as a new front in which to compete with communism.

    FWIW…

  • richardb

    “It was only after Sputnik, when the “missile gap” emerged (which was later found to be false) and Gargarin flew, that the Kennedy campaign and White House expressed concern about U.S. capabilities to build and fly big rockets and began to view space as a new front in which to compete with communism.”

    I don’t know perhaps the Chinese have the same worries as Ike did 50 years ago.
    Plus the Chinese have obviously absorbed the lessons that space dominance is part of being a superpower. To base US policy on underestimation of a rival’s abilities is liable to be a historic blunder.

    Who could have imagined that the US could go to the moon within 10 years of launching the effort, all with many useless manufacturing and technological skills in today’s world.

  • Thomas Matula

    Anonymous

    The White House assessment on letting them go first was based on Sputnik not having a major geopolitical impact or any significant impact on domestic politics. The argument was since the U.S. was also launching a satellite for IGY it would be no big deal if Russia happend to launch first. But the policy experts were wrong.

    Also you are confusing the Kennedy presidential campaign of 1960 with the 1957/1958 events, basically the public outcry and loss of U.S. prestige globally, that led to the formation of NASA as a response to Sputnik in 1958, two years before Kennedy was elected.

    But we could debate this for ever as many books done on the issue of Sputnik and Eisenhower, just as many have been written about Japan’s response to the oil embargo in 1941. We could trade sources and books articles forever on it.

    However, to use a business publication term, Bottom line is that China has decided they want to be the top dog again, wiping away centuries of western world dominance, and space exploration, like the Olympics, is one of the arenas of combat for the hearts and minds of the world. We should not underestimate a nation producing 350,000 engineers a year with an economy that will be larger then the U.S. in the near future. Business writers already see the power of China in global markets. Hopefully the space policy experts soon will as well.

  • anonymous

    “I don’t know perhaps the Chinese have the same worries as Ike did 50 years ago.”

    Sorry, but you lost me there.

    “Plus the Chinese have obviously absorbed the lessons that space dominance is part of being a superpower.”

    Military dominance in space and leadership in civil human spaceflight are not the same thing, not by a long shot. China has no hope of achieving the former for decades to come, and the latter is arguably a distraction, in terms of technical and budgetary resources, from the former.

    “To base US policy on underestimation of a rival’s abilities is liable to be a historic blunder.”

    To overestimate a rival’s capabilities (e.g., WMDs in Iraq) arguably leads to even greater historic blunders.

    And so what if we underestimate China’s human space flight advances in the coming years and decades? What’s the worst that can happen? They plant a Chinese flag on the Moon?

    China’s human space flight program is way down the list of future Chinese threats. Missile and nuclear proliferation, foreign control of U.S. Treasury securities, trade gaps, Taiwan, arguments over petroleum resources in the South China Sea, ASATs and the development of other asymmetric instruments of war, global environmental issues associated with the rapid development of the world’s largest national population, and potential future political instability in China are all way higher.

    “Who could have imagined that the US could go to the moon within 10 years of launching the effort, all with many useless manufacturing and technological skills in today’s world.”

    Again, so what? China is clearly not pursuing an Apollo-like crash program, and even if they were, would we care that they’re spending the equivalent of tens or hundred of billions of dollar replicating an achievement that the U.S. made first decades ago? How do Chinese flags and footprints on the Moon threaten America military, economically, or politically in today’s world?

    Before pounding our chests about outdated and misleading Cold War analogies to support our human space exploration dreams, we space cadets need to take a step back, look at the big picture from a policymaker’s point-of-view, and try to understand where our pet rocks can actually help to address pressing policy issues, instead of just serving as distractions from the real problems at hand.

    And please don’t repeat Griffin’s garbage about what languages are spoken on lunar and Martian space colonies centuries from now. That argument is so far off and out of touch with policy reality, it’s laughable.

    “The White House assessment on letting them go first was based on Sputnik not having a major geopolitical impact or any significant impact on domestic politics. The argument was since the U.S. was also launching a satellite for IGY it would be no big deal if Russia happend to launch first. But the policy experts were wrong.”

    Wrong based on what perspective? The Eisenhower White House judged that establishing a precendent for the flight of U.S. intelligence assets over Soviet territory was more important than beating the Soviets in this one battle of technological prowess. Given that the U.S. quickly regained the lead in and won the war of who could build bigger and better missiles, and given how important space-based intelligence assets became to literally dozens of known and still secret international incidents in the decades to come, the Eisenhower White House looks to have been very, very right in determining that overflight was more important than losing that round of the missile race in the mid- to late-50s.

    “Also you are confusing”

    Please don’t make declarative statements about what you think is going on inside my head. Argue the facts and opinions, not the poster.

    “the Kennedy presidential campaign of 1960 with the 1957/1958 events, basically the public outcry and loss of U.S. prestige globally, that led to the formation of NASA as a response to Sputnik in 1958, two years before Kennedy was elected.”

    I don’t see the point. These effects all stem from the same cause. Public and political reaction post-Sputnik led both to the creation of NASA and to Kennedy campaign making the “missile gap” a major plank in their platform.

    That doesn’t change the fact that a different set of priorities, based on a pre-Sputnik world, was (rightfully) driving the Eisenhower White House.

    Policy is not absolute. We have to examine priorities in the context of times and circumstances in which they are set.

    “Bottom line is that China has decided they want to be the top dog again,”

    They do? Based on what recent (e.g., post-Cold War) statements from their leaders or government?

    I’m honestly asking here. I think we have a lot of ingrained prejudices about what we think China’s intentions are. It would be interesting to see if they hold up under scrutiny, or even if a consistent set of foreign policy objectives can be derived for China. I seriously doubt that “replace the United States as the sole global superpower” is one of them.

    “wiping away centuries of western world dominance,”

    Is China really about the downfall of western culture? Again, based on what recent (e.g., post-Cold War) statements from their leaders or government?

    Again, I’m honestly asking here. I think we have a lot of ingrained prejudices about what we think China’s intentions are. It would be interesting to see if they hold up under scrutiny, or even if a consistent set of foreign policy objectives can be derived for China. I seriously doubt that “bring about the downfall of western civilization” is one of them.

    “and space exploration, like the Olympics, is one of the arenas of combat for the hearts and minds of the world.”

    This was true in the Apollo era. Among the sub-arguments for Apollo was that beating the Soviets in the space arena would be a major demonstration of the power of free world political and economic systems, a demonstration that could help sway developing countries in Africa and Asia away from communism.

    The argument doesn’t appear to be very relevant to similar and pressing foreign policy goals today. If it were, we’d see arguments for accelerated civil space spending linked to swaying the hearts and minds of, say, radical Islam. But we don’t, partly because we don’t compete with radical Islam in space, but also because these civil space goals are old hat, achieved by the U.S. decades ago. Outside space cadet circles, they simply don’t have the impact they once had.

    “We should not underestimate a nation producing 350,000 engineers a year”

    Be careful when throwing around sources about the number of Chinese engineers and scientists. Those numbers are largely self-reported, and a number of folks have pointed out that China includes categories of workers, like auto mechanics, that we would not consider in the engineering and science category.

    I don’t know that the number is wrong. I’m just saying it may need caveats.

    “with an economy that will be larger then the U.S. in the near future.”

    Assuming China and U.S. growth continues at their current pace, China’s GDP will outgrow U.S. GDP sometime around mid-century. That’s still decades away and a lot can and will change between now and then. Economics is called the dismal science for a reason (collective human behavior is an incredibly complex system), and economic projections that extrapolate recent history into future growth rates over such long periods of time are almost always wrong.

    “Business writers already see the power of China in global markets. Hopefully the space policy experts soon will as well.”

    Arguably, China’s economy is currently the fastest growing in the world and has been for several years now. But there’s a world of difference between being the current hot market, and maintaining steady economic growth over the long-term and having the political will to spend some fraction of that wealth on very extravagant national expenses like Apollo-level human space flight achievements.

    And even if another nation repeats Apollo, does it really threaten in any substantive or important way the United States? Will it really even matter to the rest of the world?

    Or would its only real purpose be to make Chinese feel good about themselves (and their government)?

    And why would we want to deny that to them?

    FWIW…

  • anonymous

    “Anon is incorrect about one thing. Later in the discussion he references it is suggested that Ares 1 is in fact Moon capable–barely.”

    I forgot to note that this is a mere rumor from an “inside source”, the only one that contradicts five pages-worth of thread content that goes in the other direction. Here’s the quote from “Danny Dot” on the nasaspaceflight.com thread:

    “I just got word from one of my inside sources that confirm Ares 1 can lift a lunar loaded Orion with very little margin.”

    Again, I urge folks to subscribe to Level 2 and take a look at the actual numbers for themselves.

    The other interesting rumor from that same post is:

    “I was also told Griffin has put the word out that for now it is retire the shuttle and support ISS and wait to see what the next administration wants to do about the moon.”

    If true, the VSE is arguably dead and Griffin its self-acknowledged executioner.

    FWIW…

  • Monte Davis

    Tom: space exploration, like the Olympics, is one of the arenas of combat for the hearts and minds of the world.

    In looking at world affairs over the last 38 years, I can’t think of a single occasion when a national leader, a political elite, or a population chose to align itself with the US rather than a contending nation or bloc because of Apollo. (Or because of Olympic medal counts!) Can you?

    I think that in their day-to-day and decade-to-decade choices, they all gave — and will continue to give — much more attention to shared (or disparate) cultural traits, to the strength/weakness of the US economy, and to our military and diplomatic dispositions. Don’t you?

    I can’t find a single historian — American or otherwise — whose take on the 1970s is “end-game in Vietnam, oil price shocks, stagflation, nascent culture wars — but proven US leadership in space made it a proud and happy decade.” Can you?

    It doesn’t diminish what was remarkable about Apollo to accept that, as anon suggests, it had much more to do with “feeling good about ourselves” at a particular moment in the Cold War than with shaping others’ choices. How we feel about ourselves is not a pointless or valueless measure (and it plays a part in many other policy choices)… but let’s not mistake it for what others think of us.

  • Albino Transit

    Word is from JSC and MSFC sources that the Ares V is 13mt shy of its required performance margins as well. This is having a ripple effect through the entire architecture. This is on top of severe problems with the Ares 1 as well. Scotty was deeply involved in the intimate details of both designs as well as Mike. You cannot “manage” physics.

    There is even consideration of going liquid fuel for the Ares 1 booster but it is forbidden to use the word RD-180 or RD-170 in any conversations.

  • Brian Swiderski

    The outcome of the 2008 presidential elections will be mixed news for VSE no matter who wins. Any Republican would be under intense pressure to reestablish “fiscal conservative” credentials after Bush’s Iraq spend-a-thon, and they might not be particularly interested in space–i.e., expect them never to announce program cancellation, but indefinitely procrastinate.

    Hillary, however, has one advantage that hasn’t been much considered (AFAIK): The possibility that Bill Richardson will be her running mate. She might or might not cancel Constellation, but if Richardson was in the White House it’s likely the program would be reconstituted in another form, possibly with more of a real budget commitment.

    Obama’s a wild card: The first black American president would be under intense pressure to excel in all possible ways, and he might want to go for a Kennedy moment.

    On balance, it’s probably better for space if Democrats take the White House. Also, a lot of work could be shifted from Marshall to Ames and/or Goddard, which tend to be more forward-looking and less sleazy. It might, just might help sow the realization that NASA’s future is tied to the Silicon Valley set, not to Big Aerospace and brooding relics of Apollo.

  • Thomas Matula

    anonymous

    Your analysis reminds me of the feeling in the U.K. following the first wold war. After the Shackleton expedition of 1920, which was cut short by his death, the U.K. redrew from serious exploration on the belief it had already proven itself and there were better places to spend the money. It was an indication that the days of the British Empire were over. They had lost the will to continue to be great.

    Your policy perspective makes me wonder if the same is indeed true for the U.S. Great nations lead the world in all areas, when they choose not to, or to rest on their laurels, they cease to be great. It is not an overnight event, just a gradual decline as others move ahead. And since emerging and non-align nations prefer to be on the winning side they just naturally drift over to the ones who are still moving forward.

    And Monte, Sputnik did have an effect on that decade being a bad one for the U.S. in that it did increase Soviet confidence in their technology and encouraged them to be bolder in their world goals. As you noted space success does build a nation’s confidence and that does have implications for the nation’s policy decision. Senator Johnson, later President, was right in his recognition of the significance of the communist moon, and of the need to counter it. And of Eisenhower’s blunder on open skies.

    As for China not wanting to be top dog again and wipe away the shame of western dominance – what do you think has been the driving force between the revolutions and great struggles China has been engaged in throughout the 20th Century?

  • al Fansome

    I agree with Anonymous that a Chinese program to pant a flag on the Moon is not the real threat.

    I agree with Matula that China does want to be top dog again (this is an predictable desire of a national identify and nationalism), and furthermore that China is likely to eclipse the American economy around the middle of this Century, and that this is a strategic issue for those who care about basic freedoms that many of us take for granted.

    NOTE: There are many things we should do to deal with this, at many different levels.

    Among the first steps –> I ask that we STOP using the term “western values”. Many of the most important “values” included in a “western values” list I would argue are universal “human values” that the large majority of people want for themselves and their children. Those who do not, or say they do not, are generally tied up in “cultural egoism” and have lower levels of education, and economic opportunity.

    We do all humans a disservice by labelling things like “freedom of speech”, “democracy”, freedom to assemble”, “freedom of religion”, “freedom of movement”, “equal rights”, etc. as “western values”.

    It is “cultural egoism” to say these are “western values”.

    I would assert that we are all just lucky to have been born in America (you did not get to choose or influence where you were born … did you?), and that it is an artifact of human civilization that these values emerged first in western civilization.

    – Al

  • We do all humans a disservice by labelling things like “freedom of speech”, “democracy”, freedom to assemble”, “freedom of religion”, “freedom of movement”, “equal rights”, etc. as “western values”.

    Kind of getting off topic, but they’re certainly not (just to take one example) Islamic values. Are you saying that Muslims aren’t human?

    They are in fact western values. Whether or not they’re transplantable to other cultures is the grand experiment that we’re currently undertaking in Iraq and the Middle East.

  • Thomas Matula

    Rand,

    Yes, that are indeed along with the idea of progress, which we take for granted, as Robert Nisbet documents in his book “History of the Idea of Progress” by Robert Nisbet (1994) ISBN: 0465030254

  • D. Messier

    Jeff, I’m not sure I trust some of the space policy insights that I read on supposedly authoritative web sites. What I’m reading here (particularly about the lunar effort) is a lot worse than what I read on other sites where we supposed to learn things. The difference is that I’m hearing the same negative news privately. Sometimes people get too close to their sources and are reluctant to question for fear of losing access (something Bush has used quite effectively in a range of areas).

    You raise some good points about the article, but I felt the question was a bit much. Since an increasingly amount of space is commercialized, I would look increasingly to business publications to provide better coverage. Then they tend to suffer from some of the same problems, particularly in failing to question closely (Enron being an example).

  • kert

    And so what if we underestimate China’s human space flight advances in the coming years and decades? What’s the worst that can happen? They plant a Chinese flag on the Moon?
    I dont know if its “worst” but of a few properly translated interviews with chinese space officials, there are statements that china does plan to industrialize moon and near earth space. They view moon as a resource land. For example, Ouyang Ziyuan, the guy in charge of the Chang’e program, is reportedly a mining and in-situ resource usage nut.

  • richardb

    I think the list of great countries that chose to step aside and let other nations explore nature is a very short one, maybe a null list. It should be obvious that the US has to lead in space and in many other endeavors or fall by the wayside to eager, risk taking nations. Anyone want to claim China is risk adverse? Lethargic? Reluctant to try to make a buck?

    The American people have grown comfortable in the delusion that because we are Americans our thoughts, culture and assumptions are better than others. Our mass media has grown very fat with a mindset as ingrown as a toenail. It’s usually hostile to the values that drove America to industrial and scientific excellence. What would the NYT, MSNBC, WaPo, LAT make of JFK(the original) on the stump in today’s America? Derision or admiration?

    I do take comfort that most news media outlets are dying as people increasingly don’t pay to read them. So we do have some hope.

  • Paul Dietz

    The problem with the ‘great nations lead’ argument is that it fails to be a justification for space spending. It confuses causes and effects. Space spending, by that argument, is a consequence, an indicator, of greatness, not its cause. If the nation is great, we don’t need to decide to spend on space, it will just happen, presumably for some real reason. If the nation isn’t great, spending on space is actually counterproductive, deluding us into ignoring an unpleasant underlying reality by presenting a facade of faux greatness.

  • Thomas Matula

    Paul,

    If that is true, great nations just naturally spend on space, and those that have fallen from greatness don’t, then what is the point of anyone being a space advocate?

    If that view is correct and the U.S. remains a great nation space exploration will continue to be funded naturally without any need for advocates for space to support it. The Moon and Mars will be explored as a side effect of greatness.

    And if the U.S. is in decline space exploration will be cut and there is nothing an advocate would be able to do to stop it as its simply the forces of history at work. Other more able nations will pick up the exploration banner for the human race.

    But then perhaps fatalism itself is symptom of national decline and its fall from power.

  • Paul Dietz

    If that is true, great nations just naturally spend on space, and those that have fallen from greatness don’t, then what is the point of anyone being a space advocate?

    Presumably, you could advocate space for some other reason that was actually internally consistent, and not just a self-contradictory appeal to national ego?

    But, yes, the ‘greatness implies exploration’ idea does have bizarre implications. This is reason to be skeptical of the idea.

  • richardb

    Lets cut thru the dialectic. Can someone start a list of “great” countries that weren’t leaders in science or exploration? Space in 2007 is the greatest unknown we know is something I’ll just postulate.

  • Thomas Matula

    Richard,

    Actually a fairly strong body of research along those lines already exists in the field of business and economic policy.

    In the “The Birth of Plenty : How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created” William Bernstein (2004 McGRaw-Hill) points out the freedom to pursue science, and the funding for it, is one of the key factors that triggers the technological advances that generates economic wealth for a nation. National power (i.e. greatness) is then a natural consequence of the nation’s prosperity. Countries (Spain was an example) that fail to recycle their wealth to continue this cycle, either through ideology or fiscal focus in other directions, generally fail to sustain their greatness. By contrast first Holland, and then England when conditions deteriorated in Holland, and then the U.S., rode the cycle to economically dominate the world and create the prosperity we take for granted today.

    In “The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy” Kenneth Pomeranz (Princeton University Press, 2000) reaches a similar conclusion from a different direction. He notes that by all economic evidence Western Europe and China were near parity in wealth (standard of living) and technology in the 15th Century. Perhaps China was even ahead of Europe in terms of some areas of technology. But western Europe’s discovery and exploration of the new world generated new technologies and knowledge that enable it to rapidly advance forward creating a cycle of wealth creation and technological progress then enabled it to dominate the world by the late 18th Century. By contrast China failure to invest in technology and withdraw from exploration resulted in its gradual decline making it easy for the European powers to dominate in it in the 19th Century.

    And of course there is Michael Porter’s classic work “The Competitive Advantage of Nations” (Free Press, 1990) which also illustrates the link between national pursuits like exploration, the advanced of specific technologies, and their dominance in key industries that translate into national power. His discussion of why the U.S. dominates in aerospace, and Japan’s aerospace industry has repeatedly failed to be able to compete in global markets is especially relevant to this question.

    And then of course there is an older work by Samuel Eliot Morison entitled the “Maritime History of Massachusetts (1783-1860)” (1921 – 2004 reprint by Kessinger Publishing) that discusses the key influence on the merchant explorers of New England on the rise of U.S. power and its economic wealth. This is one I would especially regard as required reading for folks advocating alt.space policies and their possible role in enhancing the nation’s strength and prosperity. Note also that one by product of these merchant explorers, and the wealth they brought home, was the creation of a school focused on their need to advance technology you might of heard of – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    So yes, in the business policy literature there is very good evidence that pursuit of science and a bold exploration policy (i.e. Space Exploration) is an indicator of national greatness and a driver of it. When a nation redraws from such bold exploration it is a signal to the “wolves” of the world that it is on the decline and its open season on its resources and interests as its no longer able to defend them.

    Which is why its surprising to me that space policy experts would even question the link.

    Tom

  • Thomas,
    Then wouldn’t it make sense that what we really need to be doing is finding a way to drop launch costs through the floor, so that we can really take advantage of space?

  • Thomas Matula

    Ferris,

    Launch costs are a key technological challenge for space and always have been. The question is do we just wait around until they come down, or just move ahead now with existing costs and see how they are reduced in the future?.

    Historicaly transportation costs are driven down by demand encouraging marginal improvements through competition. So the question is how do we get such a demand driven process going with space?

    And don’t say NASA, because NASA has very limited demand for launch services, not enough to get the economies of scale needed to driven innovation. That is why COTS is a waste as are most efforts to force NASA to address the launch cost issue. You need to focus on leveraging self-interest when design policies that will actually work. At least that is how it works in Business Strategy

  • al Fansome

    FANSOME: We do all humans a disservice by labelling things like “freedom of speech”, “democracy”, freedom to assemble”, “freedom of religion”, “freedom of movement”, “equal rights”, etc. as “western values”.

    RAND: Kind of getting off topic, but they’re certainly not (just to take one example) Islamic values. Are you saying that Muslims aren’t human?

    No. They are just as human as us Americans. (I know this is getting off topic.)

    RAND: They are in fact western values.

    They are values that were initially born, grew, and flourished in the West.

    But I have not seen a compelling argument yet, to persuade me that they are nothing other than human values that will become universal, or near universal, over the long run. By “long” I mean centuries.

    RAND: Whether or not they’re transplantable to other cultures is the grand experiment that we’re currently undertaking in Iraq and the Middle East.

    History clearly shows there was a huge amount of resistance in Europe to the growth of these values. We forget, to our own peril in the Middle East, that it took centuries, and many major wars, for these values to first become widely accepted in Europe. And in America.

    In America, what we take for granted as western values were not universal until late in the 20th Century. Us enlightened westerners required a major civil war to transfer these values to people of all color. Yet, even the Civil War did not extend the benefits of these values to women, which required suffrage in the 20th Century. In addition, in the early 20th Century it was American government policy, which was called assimilation, to beat Native American children who wanted to speak their own language and practice their own religion. Talk about freedom of religion, and freedom of speech.

    In other words, Europe and America had centuries of resistance from conservative reactionaries. In many ways, the only reason that these values won over large majorities is because young people adopted them, and old people died out.

    I could make a pretty good case (and I am sure you could too) that there are conservative reactionaries still resisting certain “liberal” ideas. And the same effect is taking place — the issues are changing very slowly over time because younger generations have different views than older generations.

    To expect anything other than “resistance” from conservative reactionaries in the Middle East, and other countries, ignores the history of America and Europe.

    This is why the grand experiment in Iraq may fail, and yet we still can not conclude that what you call “western values” are nothing more than human values that luckily came to the west first.

    I am somewhat persuaded that you can’t teach adults “western values”. You need to reach them earlier.

    Our long-term hope lies in the children, and new methods to reach children.

    Our failure lies in letting the reactionaries teach the children.

    – Al

    PS — Sorry, this was pretty off-topic.

  • Paul Dietz

    Can someone start a list of “great” countries that weren’t leaders in science or exploration?

    But this putative correlation wasn’t the issue, it’s the direction of underlying causation.

    Let me propose that ‘greatness’ and ‘exploration’ have a common underlying cause — the nations in question produced great economic surpluses that could be applied in various ways. IF exploration then led to further return, these nations could exploit that. It doesn’t mean exploration (particulary if the concept is extended to space) necessarily causes a return, or contributes to the economic surplus.

  • anonymous.space

    “Actually a fairly strong body of research along those lines already exists in the field of business and economic policy.

    In the “The Birth of Plenty : How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created” William Bernstein (2004 McGRaw-Hill)

    [snip]

    In “The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy” Kenneth Pomeranz (Princeton University Press, 2000)

    [snip]

    And of course there is Michael Porter’s classic work “The Competitive Advantage of Nations” (Free Press, 1990)”

    I don’t want to dismiss these references out of hand — it’s all good work. But there’s several problems with using these kinds of general, macroeconomic, historical studies to justify specific human space exploration initiatives:

    1) There are other, arguably equally valid bodies of work “proving” that the relative advantages of different nations and cultures arise not from their socioeconomic choices about the importance of research, technology, or exploration (or anything else) but from random inequalities in the distribution of resources that those nations and cultures had to work with in the first place. In other words, it’s not the Socratic method or the Renaissance mindset or Yankee ingenuity that created a dominant, wealthy, western world. Rather, it was advantages in climate, the number and quality of edible plant and domestible animal species, the availability of ores, and exposure to diseases that gave western societies the wealth from which they could pursue intellectual inquiry in ways that other societies could not afford. “Gun, Germs, and Steel” is probably the modern classic in this line of argument.

    2) Often, the historical parallels fall apart under closer analysis. For example, even if we accept the argument that the recall of China’s imperial fleet during the 1400s Ming Dynasty was a cause (and not an effect) of China’s retrenchment and decline, it’s not clear that this historical example has any relevance to, say, a national human lunar return effort today. The value of China’s imperial fleet was in its capability to conduct trade with other economic powers, exchange ideas with other cultures, and exert influence on other nations — none of which applies to human lunar return effort because there’s obviously no one to trade with, exchange ideas with, or influence on the Moon.

    3) These general, macroeconomic, historical studies don’t provide a useful argument that informs choices about how to address today’s specific policy challenges going forward. Even if we accept the type of argument that Presidential science advisor Vannevar Bush made after WWII and the Manhattan Project — that historically taxpayer spending on science and technology has paid off so the government should continue to support it — the argument doesn’t tell a policymaker where to specifically spend dollars in the future. For example, today the White House and Congress can choose to put additional R&D dollars into cancer research, technologies to mitigate climate change, economically competitive investments like nanotechnology breakthroughs, weapons research, or more space exploration (and any dozens of other R&D choices). Just knowing that taxpayer investment in research and engineering has paid off for societies in the past is not enough to make the hard choices about how much is the right amount to spend on R&D today and where specifically it should be spent. A general, macroeconomic argument about the past benefits of these kinds of investments does not help NASA compete against these other R&D priorities (as well as other federal priorities) for dollars going forward.

    4) Finally, if we step out of the ivory economic analysis tower and look hard at what rationales and justifications have actually driven decisionmakers to fund or pursue exploration in the past, it’s never been some academic argument about the economic benefits of exploration. It’s always been some very concrete, very specific issue or problem — usually (I’d argue always) driven by fear or greed — that the exploration effort directly addresses or resolves. Kennedy didn’t choose a human lunar landing because an economic study told him that the goal had the highest ROI; he chose it because his advisors thought that goal gave the U.S. the best chance of demonstrably beating the Soviets in the space and rocket arena. The Spanish crown didn’t fund Columbus because of an economic study about the past benefits of exploration; they wanted a new trade route to the East. The Viking-age Ericssons didn’t leave Norway and travel to Greenland and Vinland because of economics; they were fleeing the forces of a powerful king whom they had ticked off.

    When it comes to federal funding, the challenge for human space exploration advocates (myself included) is not to make general appeals to the value of science, technology, and exploration investment. Nor is it to apply outdated Cold War justifications for human space exploration in the absence of a real human space exploration competitor. The challenge is to find in today’s policy environment, what are the pressing issues or problems that a human space exploration effort can help address or solve and articulate how a specific human space exploration effort will address and solve them.

    FWIW…

  • Thomas Matula

    anonymous.space

    I have also of Jared Diamond’s books, “Guns, Germs and Steel” and “Collapse”. His “Guns Germs & Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” is an interesting book and does much to explain why ancient civilizations may have originated where and when they did. It also explains why no real civilizations emerged in Australia, and New Guinea his area of personal experience in his studies of avian ecology. But he carries his “fate” argument (natural environmental factors) too far when looking at the origin of modern wealth and national greatness which is why although it’s a popular book in that it defuses the guilt of the west (it was our destiny based on ecology) he ignores most of the extensive body of economic research on the question which looked at similar ideas decades ago. Really Diamond’s work is basically an update of Arnold Toynbee environmental model of challenge and response.

    ” William Bernstein addresses Diamond’s hypothesis in “The Birth of Plenty” and points out it’s problems in explaining modern inequalities (since the mid 1600’s) when the key domestic animals, plants and diseases had already been distributed throughout the world. He also controls for Diamond’s hypothesis by matching countries that are identical on economic variables before one surges ahead while another declines. Why did Spain, which benefited form an early burst of exploration and a brief age of enlightenment decline while England surged forward despite its religious wars one of his examples.

    However its Kenneth Pomeranz book, “The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy” that really destroys Diamond’s arguments for the modern world. As noted China was economically equal with western Europe and probably ahead in technology at the time and was exposed to the same diseases, in fact many originated in the Asia region. And it had stresses from regional competitors like India and Mongolia the influence of which Diamond dismisses to support his hypothesis. Not to mention the new stress of western expansion which was still moving slowly. But like the U.S. view on space today, China decided there was nothing of economic value it hadn’t already discovered or needed to discover.

    As for your statement that is wasn’t economic arguments that drove those decisions on exploration and expansion. Yes, that is true as the economic research had not been done yet linking the exploration and knowledge expansion to national greatness. And if you have noted most of these books I have posted 1990 and even post 2000. Roosevelt didn’t have modern Macroeconomics to guide him on the depression, but why the decisions he made worked, such as getting people back to work and stabilizing the financial markets are explained by modern macroeconomics. And if you read president’s Kennedy’s speeches. Especially his Rice University speech, he had some inkling that great nations explore even if that argument was not used in the day to day decisions made on the Apollo program.

    Its like the old urban myth that Bumble Bees aren’t suppose to fly based on the laws of Aeronautics. Of course that was based on our knowledge of aeronautics in the 1920’s. But Bumble Bees flew anyway. And we have learned a bit about aeronautics since then, especially rotary wing aircraft, that explained quite a bit about how a Bumble Bee flies.

    A couple of books space policy experts might want to read to get up to speed on modern economic research and wealth creation, especially those that have a historian’s background, would be the “Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics” by Eric D. Beinhocker (Harvard Business School Press 2006) which outlines the huge strides in economic understanding that has emerged in the last 20 years from the application of evolutionary systems theory to it. The second would be Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery by David Warsh (W. W. Norton 2007).

    Historical research like you quoted for Spain and Apollo is useful as a source of raw economic data for studies like these, just as the detail taxonomy work and field studies of botanists on specific plants is for ecological studies. But you need to be able to step back and see the bigger picture if you want to craft successful strategies for either a nation or a country. That is the value of this line of research, it has provided the bigger picture of the impact of space policy on a country just as ecology explains why a plant’s specific strategy is successful in expanding its range.

    And this bring us back to the article that started this thread. China is advancing rapidly and has ambitions to be the foremost super power. And that means it will need to lead in space exploration and science as well. The Chinese leaders know this even if they are not familiar with the modern economic research on the linkage, just as a Bumble Bee knows how to fly without understanding aeronautical engineering. Individuals from business familiar with modern economic thought and literature recognize this and that is why they take it for granted China’s statements on mounting a manned lunar effort at face value and that they will go to the Moon.

    The question is will the U.S. be there when they do or will it have started its long decline to being a former super power like Great Britain is today? And will we apply modern economic research to space policy or just ignore it?

  • anonymous

    “But he carries his “fate” argument (natural environmental factors) too far when looking at the origin of modern wealth and national greatness”

    Not necessarily. Assuming all nations and peoples are equally smart, industrious, and innovative, if you start with a disparity in resources, those nations and peoples that started with more and better resources will amplify those advantages to a greater and greater extent over time.

    Just like the macroeconomic arguments, it’s a gross oversimplication of very complex systems and behaviors. But given that both arguments are gross oversimplifications, it’s arguable that either is (and probably both are to a certain extent) right (or wrong).

    And that’s the problem. Grossly oversimplified arguments about the past don’t inform policy debates about specific resources allocations going forward.

    “Its like the old urban myth that Bumble Bees aren’t suppose to fly based on the laws of Aeronautics… just as the detail taxonomy work and field studies of botanists on specific plants is for ecological studies.”

    Huh? How do aeronautical or biological analogies advance this argument? These analogies doesn’t change the fact that policy decisions about specific resource allocations have not been made on the basis of macroeconomic policy in the past and still are not made on that basis today.

    It’s like saying that ecological studies of arboreal environments determine whether I decide to plant a maple or elm tree in my front yard.. The studies are interesting academically, but they don’t impact real world decisions, at least not at the level of policy that we space cadets are interested in (e.g., investment in NASA or human space exploration versus other R&D or federal programs).

    “China is advancing rapidly and has ambitions to be the foremost super power.”

    As I asked earlier in the thread, where is the evidence that China wants to take on the responsibility of being the world’s leading superpower? Where are the Kruschev-like, shoe-stomping “we will bury you” U.N. speeches from China’s leaders?

    There’s no doubt that China is pursuing a “One China” (including Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mongolia) policy. There’s even evidence that China may want to be the foremost regional power in East Asia. But world superpower? I’d be interested if anyone knows of any quotes to that effect from China’s leaders (I’m genuinely asking), but I haven’t seen such myself.

    “And that means it will need to lead in space exploration and science as well.”

    Even if we assume China wants to eclipse the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower, does China have to lead the U.S. in space exploration (or science) to become a superpower? The Soviet Union never landed cosmonauts on the Moon and never had a robotic space exploration program that matched NASA’s but they were arguably a world superpower on par with the U.S. for a half-century. And of all the causes attributed to the downfall of the Soviet Union, their space program certainly wasn’t one.

    Heck, some Soviet science was downright backwards and they still maintained superpower status for a half-century. And again, of all the causes attributed to the downfall of the Soviet Union, bad Soviet science certainly wasn’t one.

    “And will we apply modern economic research to space policy or just ignore it?”

    I guess I didn’t make myself clear enough. The problem with macroeconomic arguments is that they’re macro. Even if you believe them, they only tell us that we should generally spend resources on science and technology. They don’t tell us how much we should spend in each budget cycle or in what specific technical areas.

    The White House and Congress don’t debate whether they should spend taxpayer dollars on science and technology. That’s a given. They debate how much in each annual budget, towards what national goals, in which agencies, and on what programs. We space cadets gotta get down to brass tacks if we’re going to inform those arguments. Continuous appeals ivory tower academic studies or outdated Cold War rationales won’t cut the mustard inside the Beltway.

    FWIW…

  • Thomas Matula

    You are either not reading what I wrote or just don’t seem to understand it.

    The problem with historians like yourself is you get so hung up on minutia you fail to see the big picture. Nor are you able to move beyond the accepted beliefs of your field.

    As I noted, the studies reported on here CORRECTED for those variables of resources available you are so hung up on to identify which strategies worked for wealth creation and which didn’t. There are patterns of successful strategies and ones that fail to work. You really need to read those books and take the time to understand the research before dismissing on it even if its not from your field. I have done the same with space policy.

    As for China not wanting it greatness back, again what do you think has been behind the political history of the region the last hundred years? But here is a quote from the BBC on China’s space goals.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3874419.stm
    Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
    [[[China aims to send a spacecraft to the Moon in three years’ time, the head of the country’s space agency, Sun Laiyan, has confirmed to the BBC.]]]

    [[[In the discussion, Mr Sun made no secret of China’s ambition to become the next space superpower.

    The Moon was a major target, he said, and the first mission should take place before Beijing hosts the Olympic Games in four years’ time.]]]

    But then he’s only the head of China’s space agency so he probably doesn’t know why China is in space.

    BTW that lunar mission is still on track.

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2007-05/20/content_6127181.htm

    Here is some more analysis of China’s space goals.

    http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/asiapcf/east/10/12/china.rocket/index.html

    China’s leaders seek space boost

    By Willy Wo-Lap Lam
    CNN Senior China Analyst
    Monday, October 13, 2003 Posted: 4:35 AM EDT (0835 GMT)

    [[[“The space program will enable Hu and Wen to claim they have finally realized the ‘Four Modernizations’ goal laid down by former leaders including the late Premier Zhou Enlai and late patriarch Deng Xiaoping,” said a veteran party cadre.

    Moreover, the current so-called Fourth Generation leadership hopes the man-in-space game plan will ignite a mega-tonnage of patriotism, upon which the party relies to sustain national cohesiveness given the obsolescence of Communist ideology.]]]

    And here is a book you might want to read about Deng Xiaoping by David Shambaugh (Deng Xiaoping – Portrait of a Statesman” Clarendon 1995) who points out that the goal of most of China’s political reformers has been “attainment of great power status”. (page 2).

    I could find more, but really any contemporary book on Chinese politics or 20th Century will say basically the same.

    But then all you really need to do is talk to Chinese students in the U.S. as I used to in my classes. Ask them how they see the future of their country relative to the U.S. Many are not bashful about it. As they put it the U.S. is old, New China is young, and the young must replace the old. Sure the U.S. did great things once like go to the Moon, but that is ancient history. China’s going in the future.

    Space as an extension of science policy and history is fun, but you really need to start to look at the bigger picture in your analysis. Really, you need to move beyond the Beltway mindset into the real world. Otherwise space policy will continue to be as useless to the nation’s future as it has been since the 1970’s. That is also a symptom of national decay, failure to see the world beyond the King’s court (or national capital), a form of group think.

    BTW, as I noted earlier IF national greatness is determined by luck as Jared Diamond argues then why even bother with policy analysis or space advocacy, just let luck take its course. Fate will guide the decision makers.

    But anyway this will be my last post on it. Its not my job to provide a mini-seminar in modern economics for you or on why nations are successful. As noted there are many good books on it. Read them if you want to expand your horizons, don’t simply dismiss them because they come from a different field then yours or because they don’t specifically mention space.

  • […] here, such as with this post from earlier this week, the comments evolve (or, perhaps, devolve) into a discussion about whether the US will be […]

  • anonymous.space

    “You are either not reading what I wrote or just don’t seem to understand it.”

    Huh? How can anyone tell from a blog know what anyone else has read or understands? Since when does blog participation give someone clairvoyant superpowers?

    I read and understood what was written. I simply disagree with the conclusion you draw from your own argument. It involves a leap of logic that is not supported by the evidence.

    One cannot leap from a macroeconomic study about the historical benefits of science and technology investments to the conclusion that the U.S. government should pursue a $100 billion program today to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020. Such a study only generally supports a conclusion that this type of investment is usually a good thing. It does not support an argument that this particular investment, at this particular point in time, and at this particular level is a good thing.

    “The problem with historians like yourself”

    Where did I (or anyone else) say that I was an historian?

    FYI, I do have an economic background and have published econometric studies. It’s precisely because of that background that I’m aware of the limits of macroeconomic analysis and what truths it can and cannot claim.

    And besides, what’s wrong with studying history? The quoted macroeconomic studies are precisely that — studies of the historical impact of science and technology investments.

    “is you get so hung up on minutia you fail to see the big picture.”

    First, please don’t make this personal. Argue the facts and logic, not the poster.

    Second, federal R&D budget decisions are hardly minutae. In any one fiscal year, the White House and Congress have to decide how to allocate tens of billions (hundreds of billions over the five-year runout) of taxpayer dollars between defense, medical, energy, basic, NASA, and other R&D types. Although there are economic studies that can marginally inform these choices, the ones quoted are not them.

    Third, big civil space policy decisions — what targets (Moon, NEOs, Mars, outer moons, extrasolar planets), towards what purposes (scientific inquiry, economic security, national security), with what means (observatory, robotic probe, sample return, human expedition), on what timeframes (by the end of this decade, by the end of the next decade), and with what transportation (Shuttle-derived, EELV-derived, clean-sheet) — also do not qualify as minutae. As we are seeing in the current budget and mass shortfalls of the Ares I/Orion architecture, there are huge policy decisions that determine success or failure of such exploration efforts and these decisions are not informed in the least by macreconomics.

    “Nor are you able to move beyond the accepted beliefs of your field.”

    Again, don’t make this personal. Argue the facts and logic, not the poster.

    And on the contrary, economics is my field (among a couple others).

    “As I noted, the studies reported on here CORRECTED for those variables of resources available you are so hung up on”

    Don’t make this personal. Argue the facts and logic, not the poster.

    And since when does referencing a study to the contrary qualify as being “hung up” on something?

    “There are patterns of successful strategies and ones that fail to work.”

    The only “pattern” or “strategy” espoused in this argument so far is that science and technology investments usually pay off for nations. I hesitate to call that a “pattern” or a “strategy”, but I agree the statement is generally true. But that statement, by itself, hardly justifies NASA’s existence or the existence of a human space exploration program, nevertheless support for a specific human lunar return effort.

    Heck, among exploration alternatives, one could argue that a program of ocean resource exploration and exploitation would garner much greater returns at much less cost and much more quickly than anything we do at the Moon in the coming decades, maybe even centuries. The value of volatiles and metals on the Moon have nothing on the untapped petroleum, natural gas, and methane hydrate potential, nevertheless the biological and metallurgical potential, of Earth’s oceans. Even more so when the costs of extracting resources from the Moon are compared to the costs of extracting resources from the oceans.

    I’m a space cadet too, and I’m not arguing that we should strip mine the oceans’ floors. But the point is that we can’t jump from an assertion about the value of science and technology investments in general to assertions about the value of particular types of science and technology investments on the basis of these kinds of macroeconomic arguments alone. Other policy, technical, and even economic arguments have to enter before those decisions can be made (or at least properly informed).

    “You really need to read those books and take the time to understand the research before dismissing on it even if its not from your field.”

    [rolls eyes]

    Thanks for the reading assignment.

    FWIW, I read and have two of the three original quoted sources (Pomeranz and Porter) sitting in my library.

    “I have done the same with space policy.”

    [rolls eyes again]

    If you say so, but the evidence is not on display here. I don’t have clairvoyant superpowers so I’ll have to take your word for it.

    “As for China not wanting it greatness back, again what do you think has been behind the political history of the region the last hundred years?”

    Oh, I don’t know… suffering from, defending against, and containing Japanese imperialism? Defending against intra-communist struggles and border disputes with the former Soviet Union? Putting down (rightfully or wrongly) with student and popular political uprisings? Reclaiming lost territories like Hong Kong, Mongolia, and Taiwan that Chinese leaders believe (rightfully or wrongly) belong to “One China”? Managing what is arguably the largest and fastest transition from a developing to developed country that any nation has undergone?

    Like the earlier macroeconomic arguments, to read the past 100 years of Chinese history as a simple struggle for superpower status is a gross oversimplification.

    China arguably wants to be the leading power in its region and among the great nations of the world. But there’s a big difference between that role and becoming the world’s sole superpower. There’s lots of evidence that China wants to become the former; not much that China wants to become the latter.

    “China aims to send a spacecraft to the Moon in three years’ time, the head of the country’s space agency, Sun Laiyan, has confirmed to the BBC.

    In the discussion, Mr Sun made no secret of China’s ambition to become the next space superpower.

    The Moon was a major target, he said, and the first mission should take place before Beijing hosts the Olympic Games in four years’ time.”

    First, it’s not clear how the journalist jumps from a lunar orbiter launching in a few years time to China having the “ambition” to become a “superpower”.

    Second, even if the “space superpower” statement did come from Sun, he leads China’s space activities. It would make sense for Sun to believe China should lead in space, just as Griffin and every other NASA Administrator thinks the U.S. should lead in space. That doesn’t mean that either country’s political leaders agree with that priority and will support it budgetarily, especially in light of other priorities.

    “BTW that lunar mission is still on track.”

    So what? So are India’s Chandrayaan lunar mission, Japan’s SELENE (less so, she’s having integration problems) and Lunar-A lunar missions, Germany’s LEO lunar mission, and NASA’s LRO (less so, she’s having cost problems) and LCROSS lunar missions. Heck, even the Ruskies are resurrecting their Luna-Glob lunar mission. In an international field crowded with no less than seven different upcoming lunar robotic missions, one Chinese orbiter hardly implies that China is about to own the Moon and all its resources.

    “The space program will enable Hu and Wen to claim they have finally realized the ‘Four Modernizations’ goal laid down by former leaders including the late Premier Zhou Enlai and late patriarch Deng Xiaoping,” said a veteran party cadre.

    Moreover, the current so-called Fourth Generation leadership hopes the man-in-space game plan will ignite a mega-tonnage of patriotism, upon which the party relies to sustain national cohesiveness given the obsolescence of Communist ideology”

    There’s nothing in this quote indicating that China views its human space flight program as holding some great economic or international advantage. On the contrary, it shows that China’s human space flight program is all about giving the Chinese people pride in themselves and their government. It’s all about demonstrating that this developing country can become a modern, developed state and about maintaining cohesive support for an outdated political ideology. There’s nothing in this quote about beating the U.S. for world superpower status.

    “But then all you really need to do is talk to Chinese students in the U.S. as I used to in my classes…”

    FWIW, I’ve spent a couple months working with professionals from the Chinese space program. I’ve also been to Beijing and presented at an international conference there. Neither of those experiences amount to a hill of beans on a blog like this. But I’ve never encountered the claimed Chinese nationalistic fervor for beating the U.S. in space or any other venue. My 2 cents is that our own fears are projected upon the statements of Chinese students and professionals that we encounter, and the equivalent of the shoe-pounding, Kruschev-like, “we will bury you” statement from a Chinese leader exists only in our Western imaginations.

    “Space as an extension of science policy and history is fun,”

    Space policy is actually its own field. You can take courses in it. It’s not a mere extension of “science policy” or history.

    Heck, even “science policy” is actually “science and technology policy” as taught in today’s government and international affairs schools.

    “but you really need to start to look at the bigger picture in your analysis.”

    [rolls eyes]

    For the umpteenth time, please stop with the empty lessons and personalization of the debate. I’m all for arguing facts, logic, and opinions. But if we don’t have counter-evidence or arguments and if we can’t avoid posting opinions without throwing thinly veiled insults at the other poster, then we really shouldn’t post. This forum is too good for that.

    “Really, you need to move beyond the Beltway mindset into the real world.”

    First, again, argue the facts and logic, not the poster.

    Second, the Beltway is the real world. The major, multi-billion decisions that affect the material direction of the nation’s civil space program are made in the White House, Congress, and at NASA Headquarters. They aren’t made in the ivory towers of university economics professors. That’s reality.

    “Otherwise space policy will continue to be as useless to the nation’s future as it has been since the 1970’s.

    This argument confuses the civil space program with space policy. If one equates human space exploration with utility (a very fallible argument but let’s go with it), then yes, the nation’s civil space program has arguably been “useless” since the end of the Apollo program.

    But space policy encompasses the arguments, both pro and con, about human space exploration, as well as all the other aspects of the civil space program (e.g., LEO development, science missions) as well as all the programs and regulations involving other space sectors (military and commercial).

    To say that space policy, or even just policy regarding human space exploration, is “useless” to the future of the nation is like saying that a Presidential debate on social security is useless to the future of the nation. One might not like any of the candidates’ positions, or even think that social security is a stupid program, but the debate will have an impact, one way or the other, on the future.

    “That is also a symptom of national decay, failure to see the world beyond the King’s court (or national capital), a form of group think.”

    This statement is pure rhetoric and hyperbole. Just because an argument comes from Washington doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, subject to misinformation, or a form of groupthink.

    The reality is that political decisionmakers inside the Beltway are better informed — through massive intelligence services, innumerable staffers, and top access to experts and non-Beltway decisionmakers — than practically anyone else on the planet. We may not agree with their politics or policies, but to say that they can’t see the world beyond the Beltway is just silly.

    With regards to groupthink, the reality is that the Beltway is cauldron of debate with two political parties and innumerable splinter-groups at each other’s throats all the time. Our favorite position may not be held by the majority at any particular point in time, but to claim that all of Washington is engaged in groupthink is goofy.

    And even if that’s not the reality, many of the arguments above do not comprise a single Beltway mentality. For example, a lot of right-wing Beltway types do portray China as superpower-hungry. I argued the exact opposite above.

    “Its not my job to provide a mini-seminar in modern economics for you or on why nations are successful.”

    No it’s not. Please don’t resort to lectures. If you want to debate facts, logic, and opinions, great. But please do drop the condenscending tone and thinly veiled insults, the mistaken assumptions about what the other poster knows or thinks, and the gradiose conclusions drawn from absent evidence.

    “As noted there are many good books on it. Read them if you want to expand your horizons,”

    Ugh… [rolls eyes]… please stop with the condescending personalization. If you are unable to stick to the facts, logic, and opinions, then don’t bother posting.

    “don’t simply dismiss them”

    Sigh… [rolls eyes again]… I specifically stated two posts ago:

    “I don’t want to dismiss these references out of hand — it’s all good work.”

    I then spent two very long posts (not counting this one) articulating several arguments about the limits of those references — why such macroeconomic arguments fail to inform the science and technology resource allocation decisions that confront actual policymakers today. To say that I dismissed those macroeconomic studies is a gross mischaracterization.

    “because they come from a different field then yours”

    Again, those macroeconomic studies are not out of a different field (at least for me). I do have an economic background, and that’s precisely why I feel compelled to correct statements about the limits of these kinds of studies for informing policy decisions (civil space or otherwise).

    “or because they don’t specifically mention space”

    It has nothing to do with whether those macroeconomic studies looked at space. As I stated two posts ago, there are major problems with applying the lessons from the Pomeranz work to modern space exploration investments because the medieval Chinese analogy breaks down under closer examination. And moreover, as I also stated two post ago, these macroeconomic studies do not address the concrete, greed-and-fear, type of rationales and justifications that actually drive real decisionmakers to invest in and undertake new programs of exploration, today or in the past.

    FWIW…

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