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Mark Whittington, Sunday, 2-26-12 February 26, 2012

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Mark Whittington, Sunday, 2-26-12


Guest: Mark Whittington.  Topics: Space Budgets, policy, & politics.  You are invited to comment, ask questions, and discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments, questions, and any discussion must be relevant and applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright. We welcomed Mark Whittington back to the show for this 2.5 hour wide ranging discussion on space budgets, the economy, space policy and space politics, plus economic issues facing the nation and others around the world.  We also talked about space perspectives of all those running for president including President Obama and the Republican party challengers.  Mark talked about two article he wrote that were pertinent to our discussion.  These articles are (1) “Moon Base Supporters Struggle to Justify the Project:”

www.examiner.com/space-news-in-houston/moon-base-supporters-struggle-to-justify-the-project; and (2) “A Lunar Exploration Reading List for Mitt Romney:”

www.examiner.com/space-news-in-houston/a-lunar-exploration-reading-list-for-mitt-romney.  In our first segment of 45 minutes, we talked about Texas space politics & redistricting, the Johnson Space Center, & the proposed FY 13 budget.  Mark suggested Congress would rewrite most of the budget but that the Senate would likely not pass a budget so we would end up on CR.  I asked Mark how that would lead to programs being cancelled such as ExoMars if we are still on CR as those programs are embedded in the CR from year to year.  Mark described the process through administrative acts by NASA, Congress, or the President re cancellation, and what the Appropriations Committee would have to do to avoid them. For the most part, more money would need to be found for NASA but that was not likely. Mark talked about what constitutes commercial saying that for something to be really commercial, it has to be able to fail. We compared today’s commercial space programs to gov. programs in terms of Mark’s criteria.  Listeners asked about SLS & Orion, wondering if it & when SLS would be cancelled. The idea of a lunar base was discussed in light of the comments made a few weeks ago in the Florida debate by Newt.  Mark also talked about what he thought might be the space policy of the other candidates though not that much is known other than for Newt, Mitt, and President Obama.  Mark talked about cutting out other budgetary items to make room for a quality space program & he highlighted the high speed rail program.

In our long second segment, Marshall called with a question about the original Mercury astronauts still alive.  We  talked some about human factors, microgravity, and life support issues.  Listeners asked about the Chinese space program & their military buildup.  Here, I referenced the recent congressional testimony of Ronald Burgess, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  The article I referenced is at http://bigthink.com/ideas/42630.  Mark spoke at length about exploration, citing his favorite history story involving Prince Henry The Navigator of Portugal. Jim asked Mark that if he believed commercial space was the best path forward & that SLS was a bad idea, how would he go about getting more support for commercial space even at the expense of SLS.  Mark offered some concrete ideas in response to Jim’s question. John from Billings sent in a few notes & then later called to talk about why there is such an argument about SRBs as compared to liquid rocket motors.  Challenger was mentioned along with Constellation but mainly Mark said that people’s behavior tends to find ways to support their beliefs. Terry, another Texan like Mark, called to ask why Sen. Hutchinson so strongly opposes commercial space.  Mark offered a pretty good answer.  Risk taking, more on SLS, Dream Chaser & the CST 100 were discussed along with the new project, Stratolaunch. As our program drew to a close, I asked Mark to summarize space policy for 2012 which he did do but then more questions came in.  Becky wanted Mark to connect the dots vis a vis our economy & how this might impact NASA & all space development.  This led to quite a little economic discussion with Mark, myself, and Dr. Jurist who called in about that time.  As usual, I went off on my rant about space as an investment, not an expense.  Jack got in the last word asking for three key events impacting space for 2012 other than the election.  Mark said the upcoming Space X flight, what Congress does with the budget, and the planned Chinese mission later this year.  In his concluding remarks, Mark talked about the economic options facing the country & he left us with a few points to consider.  He urged us to participate in Town Hall meetings and ask the candidates space questions.

If you have comments/questions please post them The Space Show blog.  Marks blog, Curmudgeons Corner, is at http://curmudgeons.blogspot.com.


1. Andy Hill - March 4, 2012

From what I’ve seen in the media it seems like the planetary science budget shortfall may come from Com Crew rather than SLS. The almost enevitable Com Crew vs planetary science ignores the obvious point that while commercial crew is needed now, SLS could easily wait.

I find it unbelievable that the US congress would rather keep paying the Russians to transport US astronauts at ever increasing cost on a system that is beginning to look unreliable rather than spend money on US companies to get a cheaper service that it could sell to others. I sure that ESA would be only to happy to buy rides alongside NASA and Bigelow.

What is wrong with these people? Are they really that stupid?

Alistair - March 5, 2012

The Republicans oppose the President, just on spite, rather than merit, regardless of whether or not what the President’s proposals are good or not. If the shoe was on the other foot, I’m not sure if it would be much different.
We need politicans who are willing to work across the aisle to come up with the greatest good. This all or nothing approach generally ends up with nothing (i.e. no progress).
Time to clean house. IMHO, the continual fund-raising (legal bribery) is the root cause of ALL of the disfunction we have in government. If politicians didn’t have to fund raise, perhaps they’d spend more time debate issues based on merits rather than lobbyist talking points.
My two cents.

Alistair - March 5, 2012

I should clarify what I said w/rt “…Republicans oppose the President…”; I should have said, “many, but not all Republicans”.
There were just as many Democrats who opposed President Bush on spite, rather than merit.

Sorry to sidetrack the discussion away from space.

Alistair - March 6, 2012

I really need to quit while I’m behind.
By “The Republicans” I was more thinking of our politicians, not individuals. Most of my co-workers are Republicans, and we find a lot of common ground on a variety of issues space and non-space; just may not agree on details of solution.
I just wanted to ensure that I didn’t come across as painting people with two broad a brush (which in the original post, it does read that way). Email/posts aren’t the best way to clearly get ones point across, due to the lack of immediate (and sometimes interupting/questioning) feedback for clarification. Sorry about the confusion.

2. Alistair - March 1, 2012

While I agree that we need to get the debt under control, we’re kidding ourselves if we think only spending cuts will be the solution. The ideal solution is to grow the size of the pie and not worry about what size portion everyone gets. However, targeted tax increases (and overhauling the tax system in general) must be a part of the equation.

As an aside, the “~50% of public doesn’t pay taxes”, is a red-herring. While ~50% don’t pay any federal income tax (and that should be something that is looked at under real tax reform), everyone pays payroll taxes, FICA, sales taxes, fees and property taxes (either directly, or through their rent). Many of those not paying federal income taxes, may still owe state income taxes.

The effective corporate tax rate is approximately 21% (saw this very recently, sorry don’t have the link), which is very competitive internationally. Now, perhaps, its the big multinationals with armies of accountants that are able to get their rates below the average, and the smaller business are paying closer to the actual rate. If this is accurate, then tax reforms to simplify the tax codes to level the playing field between the small and larger business, while still maintaing a competitive tax rate, should be our goal.

Having said all that, we do need to do something about the free loaders. I think it’s exaggerated by the right, but it’s not a non-existent issue. I don’t know what the solution is, but it probably should involve job training and/or other education. As Dr. Livingston said, there are some people out there who really do need the aid they are receving from the government.

Mark was spot on w/rt not really caring if a bunch of accountants get put out of work becasuse of tax reforms. I completely agree.

I’ll get off my soapbox now.

3. Alistair - March 1, 2012

Got to agree with Elliot on rail, people tend to forget (or ignore) how much the road infrastructure is subsidized by the government and states (not so much the latter these days). People also don’t realise that we spent approximately 8-9% of the Federal budget on infrastructure in the 1950s and 60’s; these roads/bridges have a 50 year design life… guess where we’re at… fifty years down the road. Thus, spending ~2% on infrastructure is not good w/rt safety and usability of roads, rails and similar infrastructure.

W/rt high speed rail, I think there is some merit to looking at improving general rail infrastructure while looking at high speed rail in a few locations that it makes sense.
High speed rail makes sense on journeys of 300-600 miles (e.g. LA to SF). It would be faster than driving or flying, even taking into account boarding/security (since flying takes a lot longer with both). Much longer than that, flying starts to make sense (although higher speeds on rail would increase the distance at which rail is faster than flying).

As Mark stated several times, there is waste within the DoD budget that needs to be looked at, in addition to waste elsewhere in the Federal budget. We could easily fund NASA at appropriate levels by eliminating waste elsewhere in the budget (and within NASA).

One thing that doesn’t get much mention is the waste in building effectively brand new, one-off spacecraft for each mission. The DoD does get a few economies of scale w/rt duplicate spacecraft within a family (e.g. WGS, GPSIIR, etc.) Still, I would think that smaller, more modular bus platforms would make sense for both the DoD and NASA. I realize there is a move to larger and more powerful platforms. The associated costs and complexity are making this look like an unwise decision. I’d rather have more, smaller platforms that are slightly less capable than a few larger ones. There are some mission requirements that drive larger platforms, but I would suggest that some of the mission requirements (not all) are really nice to have, and not required, given the additional expense, delays and complexity.

NASA would do well to use a common platform for planetary space orbiters. Right now, we build the best platform for the latest and greatest sensors, which is fantastic if your the mission scientist, but not so great if your the budget and engineering guys. I personally think that we’d be better off having more , not quite so capable planetary missions that we can send to a more diverse set of locations, than off-again/on-again ‘Battlestar Galactica’ missions that we have now. If a small program runs over budget, no big deal in cancelling said program, since another mission may be possible a few years later.

Faster, better, cheaper isn’t a bad idea (although it is often said that you can only get two out of three). We need to be able to accept some failures. As long as we learn from those failures, we’ll be better off in the long run.

4. Elliot Robert - February 28, 2012

It’s worth mentioning that America’s passenger rail industry was profitable and run by corporations prior to the 1950’s. Under Eisenhower, the fed began subsidizing the highway life style with a 300 billion dollar investment along with the fed (and mostly state) taxes that maintain our highway lifestyle.

Only with the government picking winners to begin with does passenger rail become unprofitable. If Americans were to pay for the highways proportionate to their use of them as individuals, we would come to the same realization as the rest of the world mainly, that rail is the most economical option.

I do however agree, we should walk before we run. High speed rail is expensive. We should be getting basic rail back in places where it makes sense and stop spending tax payers dollars on The Saudi Arabian slush fund(aka the Federal highway system).

Thanks for the discussion.

5. Terry in Corpus Christi - February 27, 2012

I enjoyed Mark’s comments on the show. I agree that high speed rail should should be a possible cut to allow for more space funding. That would definitely be a better use of the money. I enjoy hearing the continuing talk about Moon bases. Having a permanent presence on the moon makes so much sense. It is two days from Earth if there are any problems. I hope to see something like that in my lifetime. Just getting out of LEO would be great!

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