When It Comes to Space, House Republicans Prefer Big Government

Remember when President Obama admitted that the whole Bush-era "We're totally going to Mars and NASA is going to take us there!" plan was a bit, well, pie in the sky? Quite sensibly, Obama suggested that rather than continuing to fund a large and expensive government program that has yielded little for the last two decades, we should give private companies a shot at figuring out ways to get Americans off the planet for trips to the International Space Station and other appropriate off-worldly occasions.

But Congress was wary of letting space jobs leave their districts, and the Senate wound up offering a compromise plan incorporating elements of Obama's plan, while preserving constituent-friendly legacy programs, including various components of the defunct shuttle program.

The House version of the bill, which may be up for a vote as soon as this week, goes even farther to preserve the dysfunctional status quo. It would slash the cash available to private firms from the Obama-recommended figure for development of a vehicle to take American crews into orbit from $6 billion to a mere $250 million. It restores the inefficient and duplicative Ares I rocket program from Bush's Constellation program, and cuts other incentives for development of private commercial alternative vehicles to the bone.

So who is standing in the way to the push to wrest the space sector from the hands of government bureaucrats and put it in the hands of entrepreneurs? The Christian Science Monitor sums the situation up nicely:

The debate essentially pits so-called "new space" advocates and entrepreneurs against some long-established aerospace interests. Ironically, the situation finds some key Republican lawmakers supporting a (relatively) large government-only approach to human spaceflight instead of supporting a budding and increasingly competent private-sector approach, as the Democratic president has proposed.

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  • ||

    But, but... Don't you believe in AMERICA?

    Only wasteful trips to space can prove that we really do love America!

  • ||

    If the US Congress had been in charge of Western Europe in the 15th Century, the Aztecs would by now have built a pyramid where the Vatican now stands.

  • ||

    This is a hugely bad thing for manned spaceflight. It's not so much that I want subsidies for private space, but if we're going to blow the money, anyway, I'd like to blow it in an effective manner and in a way that will result in cheap access to space.

  • ||

    I only skimmed the article, but all I saw was cuts. They didn't move the money back into the NASA budget, so we're not "going to blow the money anyway".

    I'm not seeing anything objectionable here. One step closer to NASA's demise...sounds good to me.

  • ||

    My understanding is that this is about killing the alt space funding and moving it to the usual suspects.

  • Mosquevite Sandwich||

    Obama just wanted to put something public in private hands? Bullshit. That was an incidental gift to free-marketeers. Instead that moron wanted to make NASA a muslim outreach program.

    I'll happily give O some credit when due, like when he said he wouldn't use federal resources to circumvent state laws i.e. medical marijuana clinics. Oh, that's right, that asshole is still continuing that.

  • Mosquevite Sandwich||

    Additionally, I'm a big advocate of space exploration and I would much rather my tax money be "pissed away" on that than cash for clunkers.

  • The Memory Pit||

    Hmm, would this be the result of those rat-bastard evil special interest groups and lobbyists I keep hearing so much about? It's Wednesday, so I hate special interest groups and lobbyists...

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Required pandering political babble:

    Space excites the imagination (Because no one sees the bill for running a chip or a wrench up to the space station).

    Space program develops technology (???).

    National defense (must outspend the commie/nazi/haji in space or they'll bomb us from space).

    Our best and brightest (need to feed at the public trough).

    Made in America (constiuent payback).

  • ||

    TANG

  • Stormy Dragon||

    And velcro.

  • ||

    and space pens

  • tarran||

    Ironically, the situation finds some key Republican lawmakers supporting a (relatively) large government-only approach to human spaceflight instead of supporting a budding and increasingly competent private-sector approach

    That's not ironic. The republicans have always loved big government contracts going to favored companies, from the day Abraham Lincoln campaigning on a promise to implement Henry Clay's vision of big government subsidies to big business.

    Just because the Democrats abandoned support for free markets and adopted many Republican ideas (but setting the dial all the way up to 11 instead of the normal Republican 6) does not suddenly make the Republicans free market any-more that the collapse of the Soviet Union suddenly made Cuba more oppressive.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Seriously, let market demand support the private sector effort, not a proposed budget "aimed to beef-up efforts to nurture the commercial launch sector". Not every enterprise needs a government nurturing. Getting out of the way would suffice.

  • ||

    I'd be great with that if the government would really get out of the way. There are some serious regulatory impediments to a purely free market space industry.

  • Regulators||

    Oh, they're nothing compared to what we'll come up with when the private space industry really takes off. Assuming we let it.

  • ||

    Ah, but the opportunities for pork in NewSpace space tourism simply boggle the imagination. Instead of spending a paltry $25 million studying CO2 concentrations on Earth, they could spend ten times as much to put a satellite in orbit that will tell us the exact same thing.

  • ||

    It's not a general R's love corporate welfare thing. It's the relationship between R's and the defense industry. Of which the space industry is a subset. R's support the manned space program because it gives money to defense contractors, who vote for them.

  • J.R Reynolds||

    How come they weren't that smart when it came to the anti-smoking campaign? Big tobacco used to be top five in donations to the GOP.

    Also,

    Hitler was a rabid anti-smoker whom progressives admired before he started war mongering.

    Progressives went as far as trying? to remove FDR's famous cig holder from a statue, Hitler went as far as air brushing the cigars or pipe (what ever)out of the mouth of Ribbentrop/Stalin before presenting the picture to the German people.

    Coincidence?

  • ||

    Do you know who else made specious associations without citing any actual sources?

    ... Hitler.

  • No Name Guy||

    Only one of 2 things O has got right so far (ordering the killings of the hijackers is the other). Put an end to the US human space flight operation. Its a money pit that serves no purpose any longer.

    If the Gubnment must do space, then shut the shit heads at NASA down. They do for a billion, what private enterprise could do for a 100 to 500 million.

    NASA should be in the business of buying data and access for the university / science community, not building the rockets or probes themselves. Only then will the price of space access come down (as do all things when it's no longer a monopoly, especially a government monopoly).

    (says the person who happens to work for a company that is one of the two dominant providers of launch services in these United States - OK, they're technically one joint venture now, with the formation of United Launch Alliance, but the point is the same).

  • ||

    Having worked in the space industry, I think the cost difference is upwards of 10 to 1, actually. You are being conservative by estimating it would cost them as much as half to do what NASA does. I think it could be done for 1/30th.

  • Apogee||

    And there'd be free WiFi.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    "NASA should be in the business of buying data and access for the university / science community"

    Just what we need, more subsidizing of the academic cartel.

  • No Name Guy||

    Colonel Angus:

    The comment was said in the vein of:

    IF (a big IF - I'm not commenting on that aspect, which is completely different question to the HOW) it's a national priority "to do" space science (weather station on Mars, pretty pictures and measurements of the magnetic fields of Juipier and it's moons, Hubble, etc) THEN NASA should be the ones to specify what data they want to buy, and put out an open offer to industry, along the lines of:

    We'll buy XX bits of data meeting the following specifications for type, accuracy, duration, sample rates, etc, and are offering YY dollars per bit (varies by data type) for said data. We want to buy data for ZZ months / years and propose to buy at the rate of QQ bits per month. Payment by Treasury check 15 days after delivery of data.

    Compared to the current model where NASA decides what data they want, then builds the vehicle to collect it themselves, launches it (blows up the first one on launch), builds another one, launches THAT one, gets some data, then passes it on to the researchers. NASA, at one time, was the best and the brightest. No more. And they're the high cost producer to boot.

    Hazel: Yes, I was being generous. I figure it helps ones arguments to not overstate. I've had this same conversation here at work at major Seattle based aerospace company with respect to Virgin Galactic / Burt Rutan as a specific example. If NASA were to build a vehicle with similar characteristics, it would be multiples more expensive and take multiples on the schedule.

  • ¢ is not trying to be nice||

    There's no principle, libertarian or otherwise, involved here on either side.

    Obama's base is upper-class white women. They hate spaceman shit because it's for low-class "boys," one of their vile "male fantasies" with all kinda dick-shaped props and BANG-ZOOM in it. Obama's position is a little dry-hump on their hate-boners.

    Republicans' base is people who wanted to grow up to be astronauts, and they couldn't, but they still think rockets with flags on 'em are cool, and the dudes who fly 'em are Great Americans. So Republicans vote for that.

    TRIGGER WARNING

  • ||

    My God, that's exactly right.

  • ||

    No the priciple is "funnel money to people who vote for you".

    People in the space industry have their interests aligned with the defense industry, and hence Republicans. The major NASA contractors are Boeing and Lockheed Martin. It has nothing to do with wanting to be astronauts. It has to do with people in the industry wanting lots of possible career opportunities.

  • ||

    It's all because NASA won't paint their rockets black, therefore NASA is a racist organization attempting to promulgate myths of white phallic superiority.

  • guy in the back row||

    awesome pic!

  • ||

    The space industry, as an offshoot of the defense industry, has always been a Republican client.

    It is ironic, but not surprising. NASA is just another way for R's to funnel money to Boeing and Northrum Grumman.

    Despite NASA's "greening" of the space program by launching lots of climate monitoring satellites, they've never really gained much support from Ds. That's because you can't hire a windfarm to build a satellite. You have to hire a defense contractor, which means the money goes mainly to Rs, or more importantly, people who don't donate a lot to your campaign, if you're a D. Even if they happen to live in a D district.

  • Regulators||

    Individuals and political action committees associated with the defense sector contributed nearly $24 million to political candidates and committees during the 2008 campaign cycle, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

    The sector has leaned Republican in the past, but ultimately its contributions tend to go to whoever is in power.After the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, the sector began to give over 65 percent of its contributions to the GOP. However, midway through the 2010 cycle, Democrats received 57 percent.

    During the last two decades, the sector has contributed a total of $150.8 million, with 57 percent going to Republican candidates.

    Open Secrets

  • Alice Bowie||

    My definition of the American phrase:
    SPECIAL INTEREST

    A SPECIAL INTEREST is a derogatory name for an INTEREST that ONE is especially NOT INTERESTED in.

    So for Conservatives:
    The following things are NOT special interests and require our attention and money:

    1. Going to MARS
    2. War
    3. War
    4. Keeping homos in the closet
    5. Denying citizen to children born from foreign parents
    6. Bringing back the coat hanger

    To Conservatives, the following things ARE special interests that should be ignored and the public has no business in taking their money:

    1. Stem cell research
    2. General scientific research in absence of their imaginary friends (God, jesus, etc.)
    3. Education
    4. The general welfare of our fellow man (I know...most of you would just say fuck my fellow man).

  • Shannon Love||

    The general welfare of our fellow man (I know...most of you would just say fuck my fellow man)

    The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.
    H. L. Mencken

    I know its hard for you to see what with the blinding glow of your halo of self-rightouness but "helping" people by forcing them into a dependency so encompassing that they might as well be livestock isn't actually contributing to their general welfare.

  • James Madison||

    If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare,
    and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare,
    they may take the care of religion into their own hands;
    they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish
    and pay them out of their public treasury;
    they may take into their own hands the education of children,
    establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union;
    they may assume the provision of the poor;
    they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads;
    in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation
    down to the most minute object of police,
    would be thrown under the power of Congress.... Were the power
    of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for,
    it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature
    of the limited Government established by the people of America.

  • Albert Camus||

    The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Alice Bowie,

    4. The general welfare of our fellow man (I know...most of you would just say fuck my fellow man).

    I just cannot see how the general welfare of my fellow man can be improved by fucking up the economy and by committing wholesale thievery. But, then again, I am no "conservative."

  • ||

    Because expanding the percentage of home owners by 5%, primarily among minorities, who couldn't afford the mortgages in the first place, which they quickly defaulted on, is quite alright, because all that can be blamed on whitey to the benefit of D's in the next presidential election.... hmmm nice how that turned out eh?

  • flye||

    As much as it pains me to agree with Gregg Easterbrook, I think asteroid defense would be a worthwhile, humanitarian goal for NASA. Certainly more practical than going to Mars.

  • ||

    I would support fully funding NASA if they promise to send the entirety of Congress and all past, present, and future presidential candidates to Mars forthwith.

  • ||

    Asteroid defense would mean building enough terrestrial telescopes to determine if any large asteroids are going to hit the Earth soon. In the unlikely event any are found, THEN it would justify spending money on capabilities in space.

  • HuntsvilleRocketBoy||

    I'm with No Name and Hazel. With a profit incentive and the elimination of the need to do whatever is necessary to procure the next federal contract, the cost for space travel will decrease significantly.

    Likewise, Republican voters are pretty stupid when it comes to the space industry. We just nominated a normally fiscally conservative buffoon in this congressional district - fiscally conservative on everything but space and defense, which are the biggest pork producers in this part of Alabama.

    - from an undercover location deep within the bowels of the space industry

  • Mr Chartreuse||

    I still miss Huntsville, great mid-sized city (also where I saw Michael Jordan playing baseball, with Birmingham).

  • Shannon Love||

    I think jobs for voters is the primary dynamic here. Nasa work is greatly concentrated in a handful of communities to such an extent that its loss can be major blow to the community. Any politician who represents those communities will commit suicide

    However there is also a cultural undercurrent.

    From the beginning, the manned space race was an exercise in national greatness political theater. The technological and scientific benefits were merely a side effect. It was a type of high tech potlatch in which we demonstrated our superiority to the Soviets by performing technological feats they could not match (a game the Soviets started in the 30s) It remains a powerful symbol of American achievement, especially for the baby boomers.

    So we have the (mostly) Republicans who embrace symbols of American Greatness versus (mostly) Democrats who mostly shun them (the President couldn't bring himself to wear a flag pin when he was a Senator.) No doubt many Democrats are actually eager to end programs if doing so takes America down a peg while Republicans will spend ridiculous amounts of money to keep that from happening. Both are silly.

    As a practical matter, I would argue that for the future of private space flight, the last thing we want to do make the emerging sector heavily dependent on government funding. Since that seems to be the Democrats plan, it will better in the long run to flush a few billion down loo with dead end old school NASA project than it will be to get the new private sector hooked on the government's financial smack.

  • Shannon Love||

    That first paragraph should have read:

    I think jobs for voters is the primary dynamic here. Nasa work is greatly concentrated in a handful of communities to such an extent that its loss can be major blow to the community. Any politician who represents those communities will commit electoral suicide if he doesn't vote to keep those jobs.

  • ||

    I disagree with your last part. Despite the (agreed) potentially poisonous effects of government smack, I don't think the answer is to deny private space enterprises the government as a customer.

    It's inevitable that the state (mainly the defense industry) WILL be spending money buying and launching satellites. They should buy from a private source instead of an in-house operation, the same way they buy socks for soldiers. No point in running a separate in-house textile factory.

    Besides, the main customer is going to be the state, whether we like it or not.

    I'd love it if private space had hundreds of private customers to choose from. We're not there yet.

  • Shannon Love||

    I agree that we can't avoid government as a customer but we can avoid the whole defense industry setup where the government dictates what private companies build. It would be better if the government made due with off the shelf components created by market forces. I worry the current plan will just create a version of the military-industrial complex.

    (I would prefer it if the military space program was simply run by the military. I get nervous when we mix the two.)

    I think that once you eliminate military spending, most space spending is actually private money going into the very lucrative satellite industry. We should concentrate private efforts there instead of hitching ourselves to the government wagon.

  • Black Bush||

    Mars, bitches!

  • Rhea||

    Don’t get me wrong, I like space explorations but don’t you think that in this time, money (which comes from us, working and average people) should be spent to a more humane way. Job creation, loans, housing, etc, should be our focal point and not throw money on the street were the “rich” will still have the “privilege” to put into their pockets.

    We help Americans move to Asia for jobs and prosperity. Learn more at http://www.pathtoasia.com

  • Jake Z||

    I think space is super gay.

  • googaw||

    NewSpace is a fraud. It's government spending dressed up in pseudo-libertarian language. They claim to be "commercializing" space when they have nothing to do with real space commerce (such as communications satellites) but instead pursue NASA's Cold War era economic fantasies and, when surprise surprise they can't get any private customers, lobby for NASA contracts right alongside the traditional sci-fi fraud artists. They delude even some libertarians who seem to think that space is made out of magic pixie dust that revokes the laws of economics when you leave the atmosphere.

    The Obama budget which NewSpace lauds didn't cut the NASA budget. In these tough times, it substantially increased it so we could keep spending money, not to crucially needed exports such as communications satellites, but on useless and fantastically expensive Cold War era style cathedrals like the Space Station and a trip for a handful of government employees to an asteroid (woo hoo!)

    Meanwhile, while Russian and European companies sop up the real commercial space business, we have government contractor lobbyists who fraudulently call themselves "libertarians" promoting government funding for them to take cargo and crew to said sky cathedral. Because they are fixed-price rather than cost-plus government contracts, this supposedly makes it "commercial" and creates a supposed "market". Therefore libertarians are supposed to support it, even though it's 99.5% government funded and has nothing to do with real space commerce. It's an economic fraud, like the Space Shuttle, which was supposed to dramatically lower launch costs. These projects have been nothing but a long string of socialist frauds, but starry-eyed idiots never learn, especially when one can dress up government contracting in pseudo-libertarian language.

  • gaetano marano||

    .
    .
    the House bill provides $150 million over three years and this is the RIGHT choice, since the "commercial space" can't replace the Shuttle...
    .
    ghostnasa.com/posts2/061comparison.html
    .
    gaetanomarano.it/articles/008visual.html
    .
    .
    the Boeing CST-100 faces a long list of problems...
    .
    1. the CST-100 is only a paper-capsule now and 5 years are not enough to become real
    .
    2. develop a reliable capsule needs lots of billion$ so, who pays this bill?
    .
    3. the capsule is too small for seven astronauts, so, the price-per-seat could be over $200M
    .
    4. all the rockets able to launch this capsule (Falcon, Delta, Atlas, Ariane) AREN'T man-rated
    .
    5. man-rate one of these rockets needs 5-7 years and a couple of billion$ so, who pays the bill?
    .
    6. the capsule hasn't a Service Module, so, how can it move in space and deorbit for reentry?
    .
    7. the CST-100 with SM and LAS could weigh over 20 tons, so, only the $450M Delta IV Heavy can launch them
    .
    8. the Soyuz price-per-seat always will be only 20-30% the price of a CST-100 seat, so, it can't compete
    .
    9. there are no "inflatable hotels" in space now, so, how Boeing can risk to invest now billion$ blindly?
    .
    .
    also... the Boeing CST-100 escape system is the SAME of MY idea of an "underside-LAS" proposed 3.5 years ago on my website and in/from 2007 also on several space forums and blogs!!!
    .
    gaetanomarano.it/articles/020newLAS.html
    .
    newspaceagency.com/articles/03notblueoriginidea.html
    .
    .
    and the Dragon is only a mockup now that's why SpaceX still doesn't release any real data and info about it, like these:
    .
    - payload adapter mass ________
    .
    - empty service module mass ________
    .
    - service module propellants mass ________
    .
    - empty capsule mass ________
    .
    - ejected nose cone mass ________
    .
    - max ISS pressurized cargo mass ________
    .
    - max ISS unpressurized cargo mass ________
    .
    - max returned cargo mass ________
    .
    - cargo Dragon GLOW ________
    .
    - crewed Dragon GLOW ________
    .
    - Dragon LAS mass ________
    .
    - max crew life support mass ________
    .
    - max crew+seats+spacesuits mass ________
    .
    - max mission autonomy (days) ________
    .
    - max Falcon-9 "dumb" payload to ISS orbit ________
    .
    all data should be in kg. or mT (1000 kg.)
    .
    the data of the crewed Dragon should be for a full, seven astronauts, mission
    .
    .
    however, the House bill wants NASA to continue developing something very much like the Constellation's Ares I rocket, and this is TERRIFYING because the Ares-1 (without the Orion and the real flights' hardware costs) needs over 8 years and $35 billion of R&D time and money and, most important, the current Ares-1 concept is seriously flawed (in other words, it never can have a liftoff with a 32 mT Orion+SM+propellants+LAS payload atop it)
    .
    .

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