Campaign '08

Mare Wobegon

We interrupt the ongoing debate about the space policies (such as they may be) of the various presidential candidates for another space policy development: what the Democratic Senate candidates in Minnesota think about space. Earlier this month in Prior Lake, Minnesota, four candidates, including one nationally-known figure, Al Franken, participated in a debate that included, incredibly enough, a very general question about funding for NASA. (One of the earlier questions, to give you a feel for the wide-ranging nature of the debate, asked whether the US should have a Department of Peace.) The article summarized the candidates’ positions, but there’s also video of the debate (skip ahead to the 15-minute mark for the section on NASA) that allows for a little more thorough summary:

  • Franken, one of two frontrunners for the Democratic (technically Democratic-Farmer-Labor, as it’s known in Minnesota) nomination against incumbent Republican Norm Coleman, said he favored NASA funding, although he did not specify at what level “It’s part of the human experience to be adventurers, to be pioneers,” he said, expressing his support for human and robotic spaceflight. “We’ve reaped tremendous benefits from the space program, in terms of innovation and technology.” He spent the rest of his time expressing his dismay for the “war on science” by the Bush Administration, including editing and suppression of climate change reports. He advocated legislation that would prohibit political appointees from editing scientific reports without the permission of the scientists who wrote them.
  • Mike Ciresi, the other frontrunner, said, “Yes, I would support further funding of NASA,” but said that the level of funding would depend on other priorities. “NASA is going to be in there, but it may be a different level of spending than in the past.” He also spoke out against the perceived war on science by the current administration.
  • Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer said he wanted to take the question about support for NASA “in a little different direction”. “Yes, I support research and development money that goes to NASA,” he said, particularly for global climate change studies. “But we also have to acknowledge that a lot of that NASA budget is designed to move forward in the militarization of space.” He didn’t specify exactly what NASA programs he thought were moving in that direction, but he did bring up a UN vote last year on space weaponization where the US was the only country to vote against it because “we have an active campaign and program to militarize space.” (The difference between “weaponization” and “militarization” appears to be a subtlety lost on him.) “So when we talk about support for NASA, of course we want to support aspects of NASA,” he concluded. “I am absolutely opposed to any country unilaterally deciding that it has the right to militarize space against the wishes against the rest of the world.” (That got one of the loudest rounds of applause from the audience in the debate.)
  • “I support the NASA budget increases and funding for it,” Jim Cohen said. “It’s exciting, it nurtures exploration, adventure, it helps inspire our children in school, maybe even helps build toys and so forth for kids.” He recalled the excitement of the Apollo 11 landing in 1969 and how that excitement had been lost since then. “The NASA funding hasn’t been balanced, as Jack [Nelson-Pallmeyer] referred to,” he said. “We need to take a look at that budget from how much is being spent towards research and development of militarizing our space.” He also said that technology developed by NASA should be shared “with the rest of the world.”

15 comments to Mare Wobegon

  • David Stever

    Is it any wonder that one of the candidates that I have never heard of before (I have lived in Minnesota for 30 years now) expresses the wackiest views about what NASA does. Mike Cerisi and Al Franken are people I could support, and their views are as close to the public’s support for NASA as you’ll find. I hope that in two years, that Senator Franken will be able to bring some money and support to get us into the Solar System in a well thought out fashion

  • Personally, I think this and other recent similar events are BIG NEWS. It’s been a long time since anyone close to the centers of power in the United States gave much of a damn about civilian space, at least when it wasn’t going wrong. Now, it’s appearing in debates and taken seriously by candidates — even Democratic ones — all over the country.

    What has changed? As I’ve argued before, I think part of it is the maturation of the generation who grew up on Star Trek and for whom space exploration is part of the background noise. You are not automatically for or against it — it just is.

    I’m not sure I’ve fully thought out what I think this development means for the future — it could hurt us as people think more carefully about priorities — but I think it’s likely to be a net good. Almost nobody says we should completely abandon human space exploration — which, as recently as the first Clinton Administration, was a frequent argument in Congress — the question has evolved into what it’s relative priority should be, both in the national budget and within NASA. That means, I think, that even in a financial environment as terrible for long-term investment as we have today, at least human access to LEO is safe. And, in the long term, since LEO “is half way to anywhere,” we’ve already won half the battle.

    – Donald

  • Sadly, it appears that a couple of the Senate candidates from Wobegone country gave more coherent issues on this topic than a couple of the Presidential candidates last night:

    http://www.nasawatch.com/archives/2007/11/todays_video_sp_2.html#more

    Huckabee thinks GPS came from NASA? Oy vey…

  • EDIT…

    “Sadly, a couple of the Senate candidates from Wobegone country arguably gave more coherent _answers_ [not "issues"] on this topic than a couple of the Presidential candidates last night:

    http://www.nasawatch.com/archives/2007/11/todays_video_sp_2.html#more

    Huckabee thinks GPS came from NASA? Oy vey…”

    Apologies…

  • Brian Swiderski

    “The difference between “weaponization” and “militarization” appears to be a subtlety lost on him.”

    Or perhaps he’s missing the significance of the distinction, as am I. Whether “militarization” or “weaponization,” the key point in either case is that space is used as a medium to further mass homicide. We can’t prevent those who ultimately settle out there from elaborating on the old stories of history, but we can and should say that Earth’s nations should not use space as a means of self-destruction. That at very least is common sense.

  • Jeff Foust

    Brian: space is “militarized” today, and has been for decades: the US and other countries have spacecraft in orbit for military applications, including reconnaissance, communications, navigation, missile early warning, even meteorology. When most people talk about being against “militarizing” space, they really mean “weaponizing”: placing weapons in orbit, either for other spacecraft or targets on the ground, something that hasn’t been done (except for some historical anomalies like the cannons reportedly on the early Soviet Almaz space stations, or if you’re stretching it, the survival rifles stashed away on Soyuz spacecraft.) There may be some people out there who consider navigation/communication/etc. part of a “weapons system” and thus evidence that space is weaponized, but many of those who argue against weapons in space don’t necessarily oppose the use of space by militaries for these other applications.

  • Brian Swiderski

    While space has indeed been militarized for decades, it remains an unwise practice and should be carefully limited if not halted altogether. First, because satellites used by the military are targets, and any act of destruction in orbit is indiscriminate by virtue of debris. Secondly, because there’s simply no need – the more capabilities our military has, the more diligent their political supporters are in seeking wars to justify them. The US military has become cancerous, and however beneficial their involvement in space may be vis-a-vis ORS, ultimately the overall damage they’ve done and the resources they consume far outweigh any advantages. America needs to put its rabid dog back on a leash, and keep it out of sensitive areas.

  • Al Fansome

    SWIDERSKI: While space has indeed been militarized for decades, it remains an unwise practice and should be carefully limited if not halted altogether.

    Brian,

    Have you thought through what you are saying?

    For example, what do you think would happen if the United, Russia, Europe, and every other country with nuclear bombs COULD NOT SEE what was going on around the world?

    Eliminating “space reconnaissance” would be totally destabilizing, and would lead to war.

    The most valuable “militarization” of space is the “eyes in the sky”. This should be both allowed and encouraged by ALL countries. It is critical to keeping the peace.

    Another example — what do you think will happen if we go to war without a space program? (Remember WWI? WWII? Korea? Vietnam?) Eliminating “space militarization” in the form of GPS (which enables precision strike) is not going to eliminate war — it is going to make the wars we have much much nastier, with lots of friendly and non-combatant casualties. We used huge armies, and massive bombardment campaigns, in those previous wars.

    Your suggestions about eliminating “space militarization” will

    1) Increase the chance of war, and

    2) Make the wars we enter much much worse.

    - Al

    PS — BTW, military people train for war, and train to win, but generally want to avoid wars. They are the people dying, and they get to see the dead bodies of their friends buried. The problem is people who have no first hand concept of war, who are making the decisions, and who may not fully understand the consequences of their decisions (or the positions they advocate.)

  • curious

    BTW, military people train for war, and train to win, but generally want to avoid wars.

    Oh really! I guess that explains Iraq and Afghanistan then.

    They are the people dying, and they get to see the dead bodies of their friends buried.

    I suppose those million or so civilian casualties don’t count then.

    Just like NASA and the DOD, the typical belligerent, unapologetic and unashamed militant American (that would be you) does not understand the cost of wars. This is one ashamed and apologetic America who who is able to quantify the costs of wars, who is also going to take the time to exercise my first amendment freedom of expression to proclaim right here and now – F*ck the Troops. You people are pathetic. It’s no small wonder that the state of space development is where it’s at right now.

  • Al: BTW, military people train for war, and train to win, but generally want to avoid wars. They are the people dying, and they get to see the dead bodies of their friends buried. The problem is people who have no first hand concept of war, who are making the decisions, and who may not fully understand the consequences of their decisions (or the positions they advocate.)

    I fully agree with this. See below.

    In response to curious: Long-term inmates here will know that I am no war monger, but Afghanistan was a “just” war. We were attacked. We had every right to respond.

    Iraq, on the other had, especially since it “freed” Iran to act and took our eye away from Afghanistan, was pure insanity. Al is correct: it was, and usually is, the civilian leadership in and above the Pentagon (read Donald Rumsfeld, et al.) that get us into these messes of our own making. It is the soldiers who, unfortunately, have to get us out.

    – Donald

  • Brian Swiderski

    Al: For example, what do you think would happen if the United, Russia, Europe, and every other country with nuclear bombs COULD NOT SEE what was going on around the world?

    Inspection regimens by treaty work quite well, and can allow for low aircraft overflights and surprise visits to facilities – something that provides a great deal more responsive, accurate, and better quality information than spy satellites on fixed orbits.

    Another example — what do you think will happen if we go to war without a space program?

    Let me be clear: I would not be opposed to the military using space if necessary in an actual, declared, defensive war with a well-defined beginning and end, where failure to use space militarily could plausibly result in the destruction or conquest of the United States – which is traditionally the definition of “defense.” What I absolutely reject is the idea that space can be a playground for the military under normal conditions, or a medium in which it can “enhance its capabilities” just as a matter of course.

    Al: Eliminating “space militarization” in the form of GPS (which enables precision strike) is not going to eliminate war — it is going to make the wars we have much much nastier, with lots of friendly and non-combatant casualties

    There are other options to explore, such as UAV networks with a lot of loitering capability. But I think you miss the point – several completely unjustifiable conflicts have been all but caused by the military’s ability to undertake them conveniently, and that will get worse in the future. Also, it’s imperative that we avoid a Kessler Syndrome to keep space available for human expansion.

    Al: BTW, military people train for war, and train to win, but generally want to avoid wars.

    You’re speaking of troops, not the people who make decisions. Pentagon generals and politicians have the biggest hammer ever built, and see only a world full of nails. That must change or we’re all screwed.

  • Al Fansome

    Al: For example, what do you think would happen if the United, Russia, Europe, and every other country with nuclear bombs COULD NOT SEE what was going on around the world?

    SWIDERSKI: Inspection regimens by treaty work quite well, and can allow for low aircraft overflights and surprise visits to facilities – something that provides a great deal more responsive, accurate, and better quality information than spy satellites on fixed orbits.

    Brian,

    Please get out of your idealistic world, and face reality. If we are in a major adversarial relationship that has gone south — which is exactly the environmental condition that exists before war starts — inspection regimes don’t work well, if at all.

    Did the Soviet Union agree to “inspections” of all their facilities? Our spy satellites flying over the Soviet Union — and their spy satellites flying over the U.S. — helped prevent WWIII.

    Second, we have ZERO inherent right to fly over somebody’s facilities, or to inspect them, unless they agree.

    The suggestion that we depend on over head flights by airplanes is fantasy. The Soviet Union shot down a U2 flight over their territory. They had the legal right to do so. They told us “Do it again, and we will shoot you down again.” The U2 flights stopped.

    Now consider Soviet Union had the capability, but NOT the legal right, to shoot down satellites that pass over their territory. Over the last 50 years, the Soviet Union/Russia has NOT shot down one American spy satellite.

    Flying over somebody’s territory with an airplane is a violation of their national sovereignty. Flying over somebody’s territory with a spy satellite is legal for all nations.

    Reconnaissance satellites are a GOOD thing. They keep the peace. They are a stabilizing deterrent to war. They are legal, and everybody who wants them should have them.

    - Al

  • Brian Swiderski

    Al: Did the Soviet Union agree to “inspections” of all their facilities?

    They agreed to inspections of their nuclear forces as part of arms reduction treaties, which did far more to avoid WW3 and defuse tensions than any number of ambiguous satellite photos. Orwellian notions that trust comes from paranoia are not born out by history.

    Al: Our spy satellites flying over the Soviet Union — and their spy satellites flying over the U.S. — helped prevent WWIII.

    Quite to the contrary, satellite imagery was more often used selectively to exaggerate potential threats according to political directives. It may have been initially helpful back when the USSR was still a complete mystery, but after that it was just another component of the Frankenstein’s monster Eisenhower warned America about – the “military industrial complex” existing only to perpetuate itself. The purpose of military reconnaisance satellites has long been (and remains) to find excuses for saber-rattling and increased funding, not to provide an accurate picture.

    Second, we have ZERO inherent right to fly over somebody’s facilities, or to inspect them, unless they agree.

    And if they do not agree, despite the offer being mutual, then that in itself is highly revealing about their disposition. The advantages of pursuing mutual inspection regimens (or those handled through a mutual body) are simply obvious, and the only people on either side likely to object are those with belligerent intentions. That way you know who is in control in the government of your counterpart, regardless of their rhetoric – warmongers or reformers.

    The suggestion that we depend on over head flights by airplanes is fantasy.

    First off, the only reason the military should be doing that sort of thing anyway is an all-out war situation, so if they’re going to shoot down either satellites or cheap, mass-produced drones, the cost and logistical advantages are obviously on the side of aircraft. If they put the same money into enhancing the stealthiness, networkability, and loitering capabilities of these drones that they’ve spent on mindless fantasy projects for defending satellites, you can bet the technology could be considerably more advanced.

    Al: Reconnaissance satellites are a GOOD thing. They keep the peace.

    To paraphrase a line from the NRA, technologies don’t keep the peace, people keep the peace. The unacceptable consequences of WW3 are the reason WW3 didn’t happen, not satellite imagery – military contractors couldn’t spend their money if they’re dead from a nuclear holocaust. In fact, not a single war has been stopped by reconnaisance of any kind: If the U2 images of Cuba hadn’t shown missiles, the military would still have wanted to invade, and would have gotten their wish if Nixon had been president then. If reconnaisance showed the NVA wasn’t involved in South Vietnam, Johnson would still have sent in the Marines. And if satellites could have somehow definitively proven that Saddam didn’t have WMDs, we all know Bush would still have invaded Iraq. The government doesn’t use reconnaisance to judge threats, it uses it to look for excuses to attack countries that are already targeted, and to facilitate that attack. Our national security at this point would be greatly enhanced by reducing the capabilities of our military, and this is especially crucial as it applies to space – a medium that is already very difficult without having to fly through a Kessler shooting range.

  • Chance

    Brian, your argument is very unconvincing. If we just assume that countries that don’t allow inspection or overflight have belligerant intentions, with little or no other proof, then the only logical response on our part must be pre-emptive strike or a build up of weapons. This is the kind of thinking that caused us to go into Iraq. “They aren’t telling us everything, so they must be hiding WMDs”. Bad, bad reasoning.

    While space based assets have their limits, getting rid of them altogether just doesn’t make sense. In a single day, the CORONA sats yielded more images of the Soviet Union than did the entire U-2 spy plane program. This helped disprove the “missile gap”.

    And to “curious”. I wonder if you’d be as courageous to a soldier’s face as you are behind your keyboard? I don’t glorify all aspects of the military like some of our friends on the right, but your “f the troops” comment sickens me, and shows you inability to make a rational argument.

    http://www.space.com/news/spacehistory/nro_at_forty_000926.html

  • Brian Swiderski

    Chance: If we just assume that countries that don’t allow inspection or overflight have belligerant intentions, with little or no other proof, then the only logical response on our part must be pre-emptive strike or a build up of weapons.

    Consider: We wouldn’t bother offering mutual inspections and overflights unless our counterpart was (a)powerful enough to really threaten us, (b)of a disposition that we already regard as threatening, and (c)conducts itself with such apparent belligerence that we would need inspections and overflights to allay our concerns. If another nation refused under those conditions, it would indeed be perfectly logical to engage in a buildup, and satellite imagery wouldn’t change that one way or another. No tense situation has ever been de-escalated due to lack of evidence, and that’s the most satellites can offer in that regard.

    Chance: This is the kind of thinking that caused us to go into Iraq.

    There was no thinking involved in the invasion of Iraq. Just a whole lot of money and an upcoming Republican election season. In fact, it’s the perfect example of my point: They just interpreted the satellite imagery however they pleased, and then used it to facilitate the invasion. They could not have gotten away with such naked chicanery if the invasion weren’t so easy – they would have had to fish around for far more plausible excuses, and take their time fabricating better information. And because of that, it likely wouldn’t have happened – it couldn’t have been orchestrated in time for the election season.

    Chance: In a single day, the CORONA sats yielded more images of the Soviet Union than did the entire U-2 spy plane program. This helped disprove the “missile gap”.

    Yes, that’s true. The early recon satellites finally opened an eye on the great enigma, everyone in the know breathed a collective sigh of relief, and then……set about acting as if the exact opposite were true to get more funding for their programs. No general ever got promoted downplaying the threat of a Designated Enemy. Ditto CIA. Military satellite imagery doesn’t change anything, it only makes war easier. It just keeps getting easier and easier, more and more convenient for our government to point a finger and say “kill.” That in itself is unacceptable, but if the result is to all but deny space for an indeterminate time due to vast debris swarms, that is a threat to long-term human survival.

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