NASA, States, White House

National space policy and a local economy

As the space shuttle enters what is most likely its final year of operations, Florida’s Space Coast region is growing increasingly concerned about what will happen to the local economy once the shuttle is retired and the thousands of jobs associated with it lost, particularly with uncertainly about the agency’s future direction. In an editorial today, Florida Today calls on President Obama to mention in space in his State of the Union address.

“President Obama faces the difficult task in his State of the Union address later this month to advance his plans for economic recovery and job creation, and should use that bully pulpit to announce a bold new course for NASA that can contribute to those goals,” the newspaper argues, drawing a parallel to President Reagan’s announcement of Space Station Freedom in his 1984 SOTU speech, when “the nation was struggling to recover from a deep recession that pushed unemployment over 10 percent” like today. (Of course, by early 1984 the recovery was well underway, with unemployment around 8 percent; not quite the same situation as today.)

The editorial quotes Sen. Bill Nelson, who claims that the president’s FY11 budget will “provide some additional juice” to NASA; similar to comments he gave this week to a Florida TV station. He adds that he believes the plan will include “continued testing of a new heavy-lift rocket for future manned missions”. The “continued testing” phrase would seem to refer to Ares 1, which performed its first suborbital development test, Ares 1-X, last October, but be contrary to others rumors that Ares 1 is on the chopping block.

The real concern of the editorial, though, is the effect any policy changes would have on regional economy. Others are aware of that as well: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will be visiting KSC today as industry supporters, the Orlando Sentinel reports, “hope that the visit will lead to Crist backing the creation of a special fund to help diversify the aerospace industry” so that it’s less dependent on NASA. (Crist, it should be noted, is also a Republican candidate for the US Senate seat formerly held by Mel Martinez.) Nelson, meanwhile, assures Florida Today that he has told the White House about the potential impact of post-shuttle job losses on the Space Coast: “I have worn out those people reminding them.”

21 comments to National space policy and a local economy

  • CharlesTheSpaceGuy

    It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the President says about space in the State of the Union. He would prefer to announce something that would make a short term impact (result seen before the 2010 elections) but nothing in the space area would do that. The Ares will fly, at the earliest, by 2017 or so and will then be in flight test for two or three years. So Ares will not make a difference until after a possible Obama second term. An educational initiative would be nice but would not be significant. Short term, the announcement is loss of thousands of high tech jobs in many states – a downer. So I would speculate that space would not be a big part of the SotU speech.

  • common sense

    “He adds that he believes the plan will include “continued testing of a new heavy-lift rocket for future manned missions”. The “continued testing” phrase would seem to refer to Ares 1″

    I believe this is totally unrealistic. The only “testing” possible of a heavy LV will be that of an Ares V/Jupiter/Sidemount LV. Testing can mean a lot of different things not solely “experimental” testing. In particular Ares-1X not being Ares-1 how can we refer to “continued” testing? Ares-1X is not even a LV, it only is a suborbital (kind of) rocket with no payload. I would not try and read a lot in such a vague comment.

  • common sense

    I should add that a heavy EELV might be one such LV…

  • Loki

    Nelson’s “continued testing” remark was probably just a poor choice of words on his part, seeing how there is no testing of a heavy lift vehicle occuring now. It’s a little hard to continue testing something that hasn’t actually begun testing.

    As for the SotU speech later this month, I would expect that Obama will probably prattle on for a couple of hours about healthcare reform, jobs, and probably alernative energy and “green jobs” etc. without every really saying anything of substance (per his usual MO). If space is mentioned at all it will probably be for about 10 seconds at most, consisting of a vague statement of support for NASA, again without going into any specifics of what his plan will be. That probably still won’t come out until early February along with the 2011 budget.

    my 2 cents…

  • Robert G. Oler

    Nelson has said so many things about Obama’s space politics and policy that only one thing is clear. He is out of the loop

    Robert G. Oler

  • NASA Fan

    I’m surprised something about the future of HSF hasn’t been officially released yet. The SotU address is right around the corner; you figure Bolden knows what is going on (if he doesn’t,egad), and the government can’t keep secrets – well, except for area 51.

  • CharlesHouston

    As NASAFan says, the SotU speech must have already gone thru a few revisions. The decisions about HSF have been made, the Administration is debating about how to announce it. If it had been good news it would have been “used” already to distract from the bad economic and security news. So it is almost certainly :-( bad news and the Administration is looking for some happy news to balance it with. The mentions of international cooperation, educational initiatives, etc are almost certainly trial balloons.

  • common sense

    Why in heck would you people think that NASA’s future is worth mentionning in the SofU when so many other issues are at hand? Save for anything comparable in scope to the JFK speech I cannot see why it would be and there will most certainly be nothing like JFK’s speech since there is no reason for it. Even VSE which was a major change in NASA’s policy was not annouced there…

  • NASA Fan

    @ common sense: “Why in heck would you people think that NASA’s future is worth mentioning in the SofU when so many other issues are at hand?”

    I have no expectation that NASA will be mentioned in the SoU. My point is, at this point in the life cycle of rolling out the FY11 budget, the first that really belongs to Obama, with the SoU address just around the corner, decisions have been made. Therefore, one would think it (decisions on the future of HSF) would be announced by now.

    Anyone have any guesses as to why not?

  • common sense

    @NASA Fan:

    Okay then maybe I misread your (and others’) point.

    I am almost certain that not *all* the decisions have been made and I suspect a struggle if not a fight ongoing right now at NASA and Congress about commercial space. This is only speculation but some will fight till the end to get what they want and rightfully so. This should have already been done and it has not. Hence my speculation. See here for example too

    I am sure Charles Bolden knows very well what is going on, as well as OSTP and the WH and Congress. Politics is about compromises so what/who is in the way right now?…

  • SpaceMan

    One thing to consider is that there doesn’t have to be “leaks”, that is simply the way things have been done in the past. Idle speculation is simply that, speculation, and if a group decides to do something in a different manner any speculation based on past experience wouldn’t detect or reveal the new way or any particular decisions that might be made along the way.

    Also consider why one would want to telegraph, or not, moves ahead of time to a competitor and in what way. Intelligence is an interesting exercise and understood by very few. Long term perspectives are in fairly short supply in most quarters. A word to the wise is usually sufficient.

    I am happy to wait for things to unfold in their own time since for everything there is a season. “Space” isn’t going anywhere.

  • Robert G. Oler

    NASA fan.

    my guess? I think that the administration is trying to figure out what the year 2010 looks like as it tries to recover from a pretty bad first year.

    Unlike what some right wing folks like Whittington would say, there is no real “red tide” looming now (Scott Rasmussen doesnt think so)…but if things dont change or are not perceieved to change by the summer…well this administration is in real trouble.

    They have to do something that looks like “rebuilding the economy” not rebuilding the fat cats on wall street…and I suspect that they are scheming how to pull that off and seeing if some new course “in space” is a part of that.

    At least that is what I would be telling them to do if I was in their political shop

    Robert G. Oler

  • spaceadvocate

    JFK’s space policy was a short term success mostly to his personal ego benefit, but a long term national space disaster (that our space policy is still reeling from). “Nice speeches” be damned.

    I hope Obama makes NO “JFK like” speeches/decisions. But based on the idiotic deicsions Obama and his admin have made so far in other (MUCH more important issues nationally than human space stuff) areas I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    This guy seems to only know how to press the “Print” button via FedReserve (yes, just like other Presidents before him). Not actually direct an effective and efficient policy.

  • NASA Fan

    Thanks everyone for your feedback re: ‘why no word yet on HSF from Obama’

    As I read the posts, I”m left to conclude that their remains a lack of alignment at the national level for what America and Americans want to get out of their HSF program. (hence Congress and WH don’t agree on path;hence still fighting over direction, commercial involvement, therefore no announcement wrt HSF direction as we are now on the door step of releasing the FY11 budget, yadda yadda yadda)

    The impact on lack of national alignment on HSF will of course impact NASA’s performance, short term productivity, and long term goals.

    If I was advising Obama, and I am not of course, and wouldn’t’ want to no matter how much you paid me – well, for a few million I would I guess, if I was advising Obama, I would get him to say the following:

    My fellow (pause) Americans. I have come to talk with you about our National Space (pause) policy. Upon my election as your President I asked Mr. Augustine to review the current state of NASA’s HSF programs in the context of the available expected (pause) funding. He has done a great job in that review and has provided me with a long list of ‘options’ for the future of HSF. As I have looked at those options I have worked with my advisers and other government agency heads to see what course for NASA HSF, and more broadly our national space policy, would help us move our country forward out of these difficult economic times. What is clear to me is that there is a lack of alignment among all the stakeholders , including you my fellow Americans, on what path makes the most sense in these dire economic times for our HSF program. Therefore, I am canceling HSF as a part of NASA. I know there will be disagreement on this course of action; however (pause), moving forward without alignment on the future of HSF will only condemn NASA HSF to repeat the failures of it’s past. For those familiar with the post Challenger and post Columbia investigations, it is obvious this lack of alignment allowed parochial politics to interfere in technical decisions which ultimately led to the loss of 14 brave astronauts. History will not repeat it self on my watch.

    Furthermore, since there has never been agreement on the need for or the benefits of the ISS, once it is completed it’s mission in 2016, it will be de-orbited. I do not want to send hundreds of millions of your hard earned taxes to Russia so they may fly our astronauts to the ISS; that is (pause) absurd in these tough economic times.

    All monies that would have been spent on a government led HSF program will be used to foster the advancement of commercial HSF programs. Clearly, as Burt Rutan, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson and others of their ilk are proving; when the CEO of a privately led company wants to do something, it gets done efficiently, effectively, and without partisan politics impacting what are tough technical challenges. Therefore, I will do my best working with the Depts of Transportation, the FAA, Depts of Commerce, and congress to use these freed up funds to empower the development of the National Highway System to the stars. In much the same way that Presidents Lincoln and Eisenhower took on establishing the intercontinental railroad and interstate highway systems, respectively, which provided Americans with plenty of jobs and created new industries, I am committing this nation to establish the means to tap into near earth space as a way of resolving long standing energy independence concerns, climate change concerns, and yes, potential human extinction event concerns. The possibilities for new industries, jobs, and discoveries are endless. In the short term, I will see that legislation that moves this grand adventure forward, makes the most use of the freed up NASA HSF funds to lesson the impact to the NASA HSF communities that are negatively impacted by my decision. In the short term, the next few years, I will be leading a national conversation among the new stakeholders to map out a 200 year strategic plan for implement this grand adventure. God Bless American and Good Night.

  • Robert G. Oler

    NASA Fan Well that certainly would provide foder for this board for a few days or so!

    I would oppose the ISS part. In my view ISS has become the lynchpin to an American future in space. The trick would be now that it is (almost) built…is to figure out a way to seque it off from NASA to something “different”.

    In this, if I were advising Obama (and like you I am not) would be to compare ISS with the experiments that NASA (and Hughes but you could leave that out) ran with geosyncrhonous communications satellites …first the Syncoms and then the ATS.

    I would note that after building and launching the Syncoms operation of the geosynch system was turned over to Comsat…and to parallel that NASA would turn over day to day operation of the space station to some university consortium (there are some space grant colleges) and that would include morphing the Johnson Space Center into the head of that consortium. We would use private lift etc…and just as doing that with the Syncoms freed NASA up to continue experimentation with first the ATS then the ACTS programs this should free “corporate” NASA up to do NACA things in space…and these would include…

    but on the space station we are building the infrastructure to allow free enterprise (stick it to the right wing of the GOP …sorry couldnt resist) to make use of the infrastructure that the FG had built much as it does on earth…

    there are some details here and of course word smithing…but the key is to use ISS and make it work for the economy, get out of the exploration for the astronauts sake mode and crank up space technology development.

    Robert G. Oler

  • NASA Fan

    Okay. I’ll give you the ISS till 2020..if it helps commercial HSF to get rolling…..perhaps NASA can ‘sell’ it though…

  • Commercial space (at least to orbit) could and did get nowhere until the ISS (or something similar) was in orbit to provide a commercial and political market. To provide commercial launch with a solid foothold, the ISS has to stay in business until, a)., there is some new large institutional market for logistics to orbit, or b)., some truly commercial market appears that is large enough to support large scale commercial launch, e.g., space tourism or some kind of “mother load.”

    Even in an ideal world, neither is likely to be very well established before 2020.

    — Donald

  • Robert G. Oler

    Donald F. Robertson yes.

    There were two ways to approach this….the first was to build a government run/operated but privately used space station (say mimic some of the research labs) and then move to commercial access or to do the other way, have a ISF and have government run access.

    But not even government run access was suppose to be government dominated. The entire theory of the space shuttle was that it was going to be access to space by the federal government for all sorts of private and commercial endeavors. WVB’s line about how the crew would be divided was quite specific. As were folks like Hans Marks and others.

    Problem is that NASA wants NOTHING to do with commercial or any space other then “their space”. After every shuttle went “bang” the accident was used not as a method of fixing NASA but of screwing access for everyone else but NASA people. To see how the teacher in space program has morphed you would think that Challenger went bang because the teacher in space was not a professional astronaut.

    We have ISS, it is a good facility and has a lot of use in it. We are told that it can now support a crew size which will allow things to be done other then just keeping the darn thing running. OK the trick of federal policy is to figure out how to use that as a lever to push commercial space in The Republic and to push commercial access to the facilities of ISS.

    We are in a losing battle right now not with racing the Chinese (as Whittington would argue) but in forming the viable economic model for space. The europeans (and that includes Ivan) are on the verge of coming up with the worlds first successful model of “government/industry” access to space in Korou (spell). If the US is not careful it (and the Chinese ) are going to permanently lose all commercial lift being launched.

    If US space policy doesnt get it together we are soon going to find ISS being crewed by the Russians and supplied by the Europeans and the Japanese while folks like Whittington are shouting “race to the Moon race to the Moon”. …and the only US part in ISS is the money it takes to run it.

    And then at some point we will be hosed…because at somepoint someone is going to stumble on a killer ap from ISS (and it wont be space tourism) and it wont be American.

    Meanwhile we can all be chanting “stay the course”…seesh

    Robert G. Oler

  • The problem with NASA is its receiving just enough money to annoy the tax payers but not enough money to really get anything done!

    NASA and the politicians have been pretty much playing a penny wise pound foolish game since the end of the Apollo era. The ISS program was a way to fund a space station with international contributions but ended up costing the US at least 5 times more than Skylab. The Constellation program was a Moon base program– without the moon base architecture– that was supposed to be funded over an inordinately long period of time in order to assure the politicians that NASA wouldn’t spend too much. Now look where that’s gotten us! Now we’re looking at the possibility that NASA may not have any access to space for a decade.

    The new Flexible path concept are missions to everywhere with no necessary commitment to anywhere, again, in order to assure the politicians that NASA won’t spend too much. But the best idea that the politicians have come up with is just let private industry do it and we’ll just sit back and watch for a few decades.

    Under funding NASA has only cost the tax payers a lot more money with little to show for it. And now everyone keeps blaming NASA because we tried to fund them on the cheap instead of giving them the proper funds to get the job done.

    America use to be a can-do nation! But now we can’t build nuclear power plants anymore, or cars that anyone wants anymore, or educate our kids in a violence free environment at school anymore, or even do what a primitive pre-desk top computer culture did back in the 1960s, put a man on the moon!

    All our culture seems to want to do is sit back and complain while sending our kids off to foreign wars while funding the terrorist with the money we send over seas for oil, and while letting China, Japan, and Europe manufacture everything for us, and while we sit back and watch Reality TV as the private health insurance companies continue to suck the life out of us and our life savings! When you think about all of the sacrifices people made for this country even in recent times during the Great Depression and World War 2, its amazing how weak and selfish our society has become!

    This nation needs to get off its ass! And this country needs to be brave enough to invest in our technological future the way China and Europe are doing! There’s no logical reason why we can’t move from a fossil fuel economy to a nuclear and renewable energy economy in just a few decades. There’s no logical reason why we can’t have the best K-12 system in the world. There’s no logical reason why we can’t have a health care system as efficient as a country like Singapore which has a higher per capita GDP than the US, lower infant mortality and greater longevity, yet spends nearly 7 times less on health care per capita than we do. And there’s no logical reason why we can’t create the beginnings of a new space industrial paradigm by first establishing a permanently manned base on the moon!

  • NASA Fan


    I love what you just wrote. Great observations. Clearly you care deeply, as do many others, about the future of our country.

    And, do not look for politicians, or as Robert would say: The political industrial complex PIC, or the federal government to lead the nation towards the future you envision. Governments don’t lead, at best they follow the citizenry; mostly they squat in place.

    Sadly, NASA is an ‘arm’ of the Government, and hence, will always be caught up in the PIC dysfunction that provides the context for its operation

    Read the Rogers Commission and the CAIB, and the CAIB and you will see the impact on NASA from this dysfunction.

    Okay now, given the concerns of the citizenry (reality tv, entertain me, no can do), there is no consensus on what the citizenry wants from NASA. So, if you are a politician, as you listen to the citizenry, while you are looking to squat somewhere, you squat where you are standing – i.e. more of the same dysfunction for NASA no matter what approach Obama picks (and I think he will choose something that makes him look unique in his approach to NASA)

    Private industry has it’s own dysfunctions too.

    I guess this is just the state of humanity circa 2K10.

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