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Michael Listner, Sunday, 11-1-15 November 2, 2015

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Michael Listner, Sunday, 11-1-15


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Guest: Michael Listner. Topics: Space policy and space law issues. Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm. For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.

We welcomed back Michael Listner for this near end of the year review on space policy and law issues. During the first segment of this 1 hour 53 minute program, Michael started out with a review and update regarding actions in Congress concerning commercial space legislation and the Resource Utilization Act, plus some space property issues. These topics consumed most of the first segment with active discussions going into the issue of government subsidies which Michael expressed strong feelings about. He got some blow back with listener questions and even from me. He talked about liability issues and the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, focusing on federal vs. state jurisdiction. John in Freemont called to inquire about “skin in the game” by the commercial space companies and here again, Michael expressed strong views and options. Doug suggested it would be more appropriate to refer to the commercial in commercial crew as public-private instead of just commercial. Michael supported Doug’s comments.

In the second segment, Michael switched to the topic of the RD-180 Ban which he explained in detail. Adrian challenged some of Michael’s comments on subsidies as well. Michael also spoke out against wanting to cooperate with China in space. Listen to his reasons and explanations behind his perspective. Later in the segment, Andrew in Finland took issue with Michael’s comments on not doing things with China and seemed to criticize Cong. Wolf for his congressional lead on not talking with China based on “one religiously-driven representative.” This opened up a mini-policy program of not doing business as usual with offenders of basic human rights though as we all know we are very hypocritical about the application of this policy. Michael joined in this mini discussion with Andrew and myself which was the final topic of the day. Earlier in the second segment, commercial crew was discussed as was the European Code of Conduct, the British cubesat regulatory policy, and the fact that Israel joined COPOUS and the House re-authorized the Ex-Im bank. This brought us back to Michael’s perspective on subsidies talked about in the first segment.

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog above. You can reach Michael Listner through me or his new blog, https://spacethoughtsblog.wordpress.com.


1. John - November 17, 2015


Appreciated your perspective on TSS.

Sorry for late question.

I thought I understood politics but this one stumped me: why would democrats support commercial space initiatives and republicans want to maintain the government status quo at NASA? Seems backward to me.


Michael J. Listner - November 22, 2015

Thanks for your question John.

The moment you think you understand politics you need to take a cold shower, grab a cup of coffee and then reconsider whether you really understand politics.

That being said, I believe what is going on with commercial crew is a clash of philosophy and space policy. Make no mistake, the GOP is being bashed for their hesitancy over commercial crew is political posturing by space enthusiasts, and the push for commercial crew by the Administration through Bolden is poltical posturing by the Administration. If you listen to Bolden’s lamentations about commercial crew, it is pretty clear they are disguised political talking points designed more to bash the GOP than to promote commercial crew as are comments by most enthusiasts. The GOP can read between the lines and know what’s going. On the other hand, the GOP certainly is considering its constituency in its decision not to fully fund commercial crew.

However, I firmly believe there is an underlying concern of whether a commercially-owned launch capability from which NASA buys launch services can be profitable in the long term. A government owned launch capability supported by contractors does not have a profit expectation beyond what the support contractors require.

If NASA contracts out all its manned-space capabilities, which requires them to buy a ride to space in the same manner we are doing now with the Russians, and those companies cannot do it profitably, those companies could end up going out of business, which means Congress would have to prop them up financially through subsidies. The crux of the question then is whether commercial crew can operate profitably as a business? Many space enthusiasts believe they can operate profitably, but it’s not a certainty. Dr. Griffin made a salient point when he last appeared on The Space Show where he remarked that government takes upon itself critical activities that are not economically viable for the private sector. Like him or not, that point is spot on.

That’s a précis of my thoughts. I hope I was able to answer your question. Now, that I’ve claimed to understand politics, I will heed my own advice and take a cold shower and grab a cup of coffee.

2. Andrew - November 2, 2015

Thanks David and Michael for an interesting, enlightening show. For my part, apologies for raising politics and religion at the same time.

My comments on the matter of cooperation with China were meant as a mere counterpoint to Michael’s own assertions, which include valid concerns. I would say this is a complex issue, and one not without implications for the future.

Mr Wolf makes salient points regarding China’s human rights abuses and problems with religious freedoms. However, from reading his comments and correspondence with Bolden on China and space cooperation, it comes across as though Wolf’s main thrust for barring work with China comes from these views. Concerns other from the plight of Christians in China are secondary or not mentioned at all. Thus my contention here is not Wolf’s stance as such, but that his personal gripe – rather than those of a range of voices – is one that defines US policy towards China in space, against which there is very little room for manoeuvre, limiting strategic options. As I said, what could be at stake where is the space environment, US space leadership (at least the perception of) and the possibilities for the US and the world in the post-ISS world. Cooperation can work as a trust-building mechanism and allow us to learn a lot more about China’s space program and decision-making – and this can be done at levels that don’t involve tech transfer. And even if, as Michael contends, the implications were merely political, we should not be too dismissive of that in the current complex international environment. We could all do wi

As for the efficacy of barring cooperation on human rights grounds, I fear that this will achieve little, and maybe be harmful. As you said, this policy can be seen as hypocritical, and Beijing is swift to play that card. Thus, such policies can serve to boost Chinese nationalism, and that’s the kind of force the world could do without.

On the matter of US not standing to gain anything – other than the above points I state – China’s main space industry contractor CASC has around 170,000 people employed and, having been barred from the ISS (another matter), sought innovation, not just copying or stealing. We may see big strides being made by the Chinese in the near future. There will come a point when China will not be keen to deal with the US, whose bureaucracy and regulations could be seen to potentially hold back Chinese progress. Now, whether cooperation or competition would be best for furthering space exploration is whole new can of worms…

In sum, I’d say that there are counterpoints to the valid points Michael raised, that the situation is complex, and one man’s personal views – however well-intended and respectable – should not dominate policy. There’s a good case for a more nuanced approach – a blanket ban cuts off options for US space strategy.

Michael J. Listner - November 3, 2015


I appreciate the email question into the Show and your response here. For starters, I am fascinated by Chinese culture and history. They literally have thousands of years of history compared to the history of the United States, which is measured in mere hundreds. More importantly, China does not forget its history, and they learn from it. Regrettably, the United States does not.

From a diplomatic stand-point, we simply do not have the maturity to actively engage China in an equitable cooperative effort for outer space activities. The desire to engage with China in cooperative efforts is the product of the ideology of critical geopolitics and not the pragmatism of classical geopolitics. In other words, the desire to “cooperate” with China stems from the belief of how China should act based on a philosophy of if you do x and y than they will do z and ignores how China is really acting from a classical geopolitical standpoint.

Regrettably, the current administration’s foreign policy is based on critical geopolitics and not the reality of classical geopolitics, although considering the actions of Russia in Syria and China’s territorial in the South China Sea, it is beginning to understand that the ideology its been using to make its foreign policy decisions may be flawed.

The crux of this is the primary reason for “cooperation” with China as championed is about ideology. A agreement at this point would create great political optics and give another reason for a diplomatic celebration, but the reality is any “cooperative agreement” we enter with China into will result with us compromising to the benefit of China in order to keep the deal alive, and we would receive nothing more than political window dressings to show for it.

Cooperation with China might be possible at some point, but the United States needs to stop being so eager to do so because it presents a bargaining position entered into from a position of weakness. Negotiation in foreign policy is more about getting as much as you can in a deal and at the same time making the other side give up as much as possible while giving up as little as possible on your end. Sadly, the current diplomatic efforts do not abide by those guidelines, which would make a “cooperative” effort with China a lose-win situation in the long term.

3. Michael J. Listner - November 2, 2015

Reblogged this on Space Thoughts and commented:
My appearance on the Space Show, November 2, 2015 is now archived.

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