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Suppose every time a civilian or pure research plane lifted off there was an obscure law, originally passed with good intentions, that had to be regularly reauthed by Congress or no more flights. And let's just say that Congress became hyper-polarized, a do nothing body, where even the simplest, once uncontroversial act morphed into a potential hot potato in a mid term election year. Air traffic would grind to a halt.

Well, that's a fair analogy for a bureaucratic hurdle currently faced by NASA, along with contractors and customers, all waiting on a critical reauthorization before a score of rockets can be duly licensed and cleared for launch in 2014. Follow me below, deep into the cosmic weeds, and we'll review just how easy this should be to fix.

The concern is, or rather was during the early days of the commercial launch industry, that a big rocket veering off course could stray for miles in just a few seconds before streaking into a residential or commercial development like something out of a bad sci-fi movie. The example used back in the day was what happens if a Shuttle-sized vehicle goes out of control and hits Disney World, killing loads of innocent people and doing zillions of dollars worth of damage? It's an incredibly unlikely disaster, perhaps one in a billion, but we all witnessed the tragic and devastating power of a civilian aircraft impact on Sept. 11, 2001. During the height of the space-race, rockets carried way more explosive fuel, were far less reliable, and flew way faster than any airliner today.

For decades, that liability risk was taken on by the federal government. Fortunately, such a cataclysm never happened. Thanks to enormous advances in reliability, the implementation of standard self destruct mechanisms, and the use of smaller launch vehicles, it probably never will. But just in case, someone still has to stand good for it. Nowadays, it makes sense that that someone should start with the aerospace contractors who made the hypothetically defective rocket, and end with NASA and related government agencies. Thus was born the Space Launch Act of 1984, followed by the Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments of 1988 .

The Act mandates that regulators determine what's deemed the Maximum Probable Loss of a launch failure and write an insurance policy for the company to purchase. The exact insured amount required varies by the size and type of rocket and where it's launched from, but it's not uncommon to be the better part of half a billion dollars. In the extremely unlikely event that, someday, somehow, damage to third parties from falling debris exceeded even that exorbitant figure, the act auth'd the Department of Transportation to seek additional funds to pay those claims, through normal or special appropriation requests. All well and good: except this deal has expired. It has to be reauth'd by Congress and signed by the President before a bevy of pending launch licenses can be granted in 2014.

Here's the rub: the requirement for insurance and additional authority to request funding in the event of a catastrophe beyond the calculated max probable loss is applied somewhat arbitrarily. Most Department of Defense launches aren’t subject to the same redtape; DoD has its own indemnification authority, they get a special pass even though it could be the same launch vehicles made by the same aerospace firms doing the heavy lifting. In layperson's terms, NSA spy sats are go for liftoff. But if Google wants to put up a bird, or a university designed experiment is slated for orbit, or if newer, nimble companies want to bid on supplying the ISS using their much lower cost platforms, guess what? That's considered a commercial launch. Which means they're stuck waiting for Congress to get this ledge to the WH.

The good news is the Senate has already passed a three-year re-auth clearing the way. Sources close to the administration tell me the President would sign it as soon as it reaches his desk. Alas, for whatever reason, the House only passed a one-year re-auth. But I'm told there's widespread bipartisan willingness to go along with the longer, Senate version and for good reasons. We won't have to worry about navigating this particular legislative maze again until 2017. If contractors are willing to assume the lion's share of liability previously borne by taxpayers, it makes sense to lock in the longest term deal we can get them to go along with. And lastly, at the risk of sounding cynical, the more often something has to be auth'd by Congress, the more chances for it to blow up and the greater the chances some scheming lobbyist figures out a clever way to exploit that recurring annual ordeal to advance their sole client's interests at the expense of taxpayers and other missions.1

This is such a no brainer that senior lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who can barely agree on the time of day, want it done. Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD), hands down one of the sharpest members on the House Science Committee, currently serving as the key ranking dem on the Subcommittee on Space, explained, "It is my hope that a bipartisan extension will encourage the Science Committee to do its due diligence and hold oversight hearings with experts from both the FAA and industry." Edwards added, "Too often, we extend these programs while not following through on our responsibility to conduct oversight and offer responsible reforms. We must put this to bed for good and give our industry the stability they need to move forward on a level playing field with our international partners.”

Several influential Republicans told me they are in favor of getting a chance to vote a three-year extension thru. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), pointed out "it is important for us to provide certainty and stability to the commercial space industry by authorizing indemnification longer than just one year."

None of this is terribly controversial, there's no standard left-right political risk here. But it got tabled in the rush leading up to the holiday break and if it stays on the back-burner, that will cost real money and cause real problems, and at the worst time possible. After years of budget cuts and sequesters, NASA is underfunded just like most any other department these days, constantly being forced to do more with less. But they've still managed to do a lot, in no small part because we as taxpayers have spent a ton of good money to build and maintain the world's premier space exploration infrastructure essential for NASA and related entities to do what they do.

To have any of that expensive capacity lay fallow, waiting on a minor piece of ledge everyone seems to agree should go forward, isn't just a threat to continued progress, or a dreadful waste of public-science resources, it is money right out of our collective pockets. If dragged out, it could spiral into a series of totally unnecessary delays and the cost increases that always come along for the ride. At a time when budget hawks, supported by the occasional anti-science lunatic and associated right-wing media ideologues we all know too well, are always foaming at the mouth looking for anything that can be spun into the same-old, dreary Big Expensive Gubmint-run-amok narrative they seem to crave. In short, this could end up could leaving NASA and specific programs within the agency looking like the scapegoat for "government waste," when the waste is actually being directly caused by inaction in the House of Representatives.

The solution is surprisingly simple, even in a town like DC where damn near everything else is convoluted beyond all belief. The solution is also surprisingly satisfying, especially in an era where large companies in other industries have been more than happy to offload their all too predictable screw-ups and zillion dollar losses onto the public without a second thought. For chrisake, if any corporation is fine with standing up and spending their own money insuring our private homes and businesses, thus relieving taxpayers of that burden and take responsibility for their actions and products to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, all in return for simply being assured our government will continue to do what it has always done in the unlikely event of a national disaster, I say we freaking let them!

All that's needed for that win-win scenario to come true is for the House to get this out of committee, schedule a vote passing the routine three-year extension, send that uncontroversial measure up to the WH, and viola. Problem solved, go for launch, final frontier here we come. Not a bad way for space junkies and science aficionado's to start a new year!

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 03:15 PM PST.

Also republished by Science Matters.

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Comment Preferences

  •  One (40+ / 0-)

    of my New Year's resolutions is to write higher quality pieces with more original reporting while still preserving the organic community that makes Daily Kos so special. The piece above is my first test run and I hope it succeeded at least a little bit.

    But I did gloss over a few things for the sake of brevity, one of them being possible ulterior motives: depending on a particular year's launch schedule, there can be times when it's advantageous to one firm to be able to delay or prevent other firms from delivering their contracted payload to orbit. One hypothetical way they could do that would be to stall the reauth and thus prevent launch licenses from being award at a point when those delays would hurt their competitors and/or help them.

    I have no reason to believe that is the case now, but it is something I'll be following and blogging about should that change.

    •  I much appreciate the original content (7+ / 0-)

      I even like your typo ... and viola... the orchestra began to play.

      This fix should be a no brainer. Rocket science cannot be done effectively with annual political shenanigans.

      look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

      by FishOutofWater on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 03:23:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  We don't realize how critical space has become (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, defluxion10, elfling

      Back in June 2013, the BBC web site space correspondent put together a scenario of what would happen if all the satellites stopped working at once.

      To put it quite simply, the world can not operate without functioning satellites overhead 24/7. If something knocked them out (A Carrington event?), if we lost our ability to lift payloads to orbit, we would A) start to get into trouble very quickly, and B) it would only get worse the longer it went on.

      By now [22 hours in], the full impact of what would become known as “the day without satellites” had become apparent. Communications, transport, power and computer systems had been severely disrupted. Global business had ground to a halt and governments were struggling to cope. Politicians were warned that food supply chains would soon break down. With fears of a breakdown in public order, governments introduced emergency measures.

      If the disruption continued then each day would bring new challenges. There would be no more satellite data showing the health of crops, illegal logging in the Amazon or Arctic ice cover. Satellites used to produce images and maps for rescue workers responding to disasters would be missed, as would the satellites producing long-term records of climate. It was a tribute to the space industry that we could take all this for granted, but it was only when the satellites were lost that anyone noticed…

      So, could all this happen? Only if everything failed at once, and that is unlikely. What is certain is that the infrastructure we all rely on has become increasingly dependent on space technology. And that without satellites, the world would be a very different place.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 04:48:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The current House science committee (11+ / 0-)

    has people who probably don't believe space is real and is actually a firmament as depicted in the'm not holding my breath.

    NASA recently basically told its planetary scientists to go find other jobs. Not much hope for me for American space exploration. Meanwhile the Europeans just launched Gaia and the Chinese and Indians are going all over the place. This is not our century and I've made my peace with that.

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility (not an original but rather apt)

    by terrypinder on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 03:20:12 PM PST

    •  Science doesn't require Americans to exist. (5+ / 0-)

      Our participation in the advancement of Humanity isn't necessary; it's a privilege too many of our countrymen don't want - and don't want anyone else to have.

      (And yes I am reading the book now, sorry, been on an editing tear.)

    •  NASA needs to change their mission (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      If they officially existed to prove the existence of God, and land astronauts in Heaven, Republicans would give them unlimited funding!

      Oh and also arm all astronauts with large caliber pistols and AR-15s. (remember 'Armegeddon', with pistols on the space shuttles and fully-loaded Gatling guns mounted on the Moon rovers?)

      Momma always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun. But Momma - that's where the fun is!

      by Fordmandalay on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 03:58:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Someone in China must have read (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      at least a small part of "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and went well lets just colonize the Moon and any one giving us shit we'll just drop moon-rocks on 'em.

    •  going all over the place? (0+ / 0-)

      Create a list ...

       earth Moon
      Asteroid belt
      Kiper Belt
      Beyond the ort cloud.

      Now list where America has probes currently operating and where china and india probes currently operating .. and tell me again .. why you think china and india are going all over the place?

      Compared to America China and India are space infants and barely have any hardware in space at all compared to us.

      •  probes sending data NASA soon won't (0+ / 0-)

        have the expertise to analyze.

        it's nice we're going places. Not so nice that soon, no one will be looking.

        The US's time in space is over for now.

        Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility (not an original but rather apt)

        by terrypinder on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 04:35:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Why bother? We can outsource to China! (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DarkSyde, JML9999, geez53, unclebucky, mommyof3

    They'll do it cheaper and don't have to worry about their population as much!

    It's not like there's anything to do out there that we haven't done already.


    I don't blame Christians. I blame Stupid. Which sadly is a much more popular religion these days.

    by detroitmechworks on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 03:31:21 PM PST

    •  Getting (8+ / 0-)

      a launch thru the Chinese bureaucratic labyrinth would make getting the reauth out of the House look as simple as putting on your shoes :)

    •  Their quality sucks (6+ / 0-)

      China just launched a satellite for Peru and put it in the wrong orbit. Plus, when one cuts corners on a rocket, they tend to explode.
      Can't get to space with sweatshop labor and shoddy counterfeit parts.

      SpaceX will get Peru's next satellite and beat China on cost as well.

      •  Norm, if you have a chance, a link for each item? (0+ / 0-)



        "Daddy, every time a bell rings, a Randian Libertaria­n picks up his Pan Am tickets for the Libertaria­n Paradise of West Dakota!"

        by unclebucky on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 05:10:24 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  China just put a rover on the moon (0+ / 0-)

        We can't.


        In the end, reality always wins.

        by Lenny Flank on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 05:44:09 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Of Course We Can (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Norm in Chicago, BYw

          We have been putting rovers on Mars far more advanced than China's on the Moon. China is catching up with 1960s US space technology. Though surely not admitting where they're still falling short even there.

          It is a problem that we don't put a rover on the Moon. We should put a colony on the Moon, operating an energy base. Solar first, then build a nuke on the far side powered by the tritium there. Power the base, export to Earth, power spacecraft production and travel around the Solar System.

          So far the Chinese have been better able to do that lately by exactly one 1960s rover. Which is helping rouse the political and private US will to put our own stuff and people back on the Moon.

          "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

          by DocGonzo on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 08:04:07 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  It's a funding issue only (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          SpaceX's goal is to get launch costs cheap enough that every University can have a moon rover.  That it can be commercial activity, not just the playground of a few world powers.

          From '96 to '98 I built a solar car at the University of Illinois.  We were doing cutting edge tech, that today is in every hybrid and EV around the world.  

          Get launch costs down, and universities will have moon rover projects.  Then 20 years after that, moon rover tech will be commercial off the shelf and colony groups can start looking for water.

          China just did on the moon what we did on Mars 20 years ago 17 years ago.  And they basically just copied our designs.

  •  I simply do not believe in Space (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wildthumb, eeff, unclebucky, defluxion10

    Because it is not in my Bibel.  There is a "firmament" mentioned but absolutely no Space or "Star Trek" either even though Reagan.  Therefore:  no money for Space that do not exist!  Also:  more bombs would be awesome.

    Still enjoying my stimulus package.

    by Kevvboy on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 03:38:16 PM PST

  •  SpaceX and Orbital are launching this week (6+ / 0-)

    So this doesn't seem to be that much of a problem. Are they just using the agreement from last year?

    But yes, we do need less regulation in this regard. Industry can handle insurance without Congress being constantly involved. The less Congress has to do with it, the better off space flight is.

  •  Before this dude croaks, I'd like to see an (9+ / 0-)

    "exobiologist" walking through the Valles Marinaris looking for life or at least fossilized life.

    No, I don't need to see it, but let's just say I'd be overjoyed, just like that moment when I saw Neil Armstrong set his feet down on that lunar powder on live television.  

    "The soil under the grass is dreaming of a young forest, and under the pavement the soil is dreaming of grass."--Wendell Berry

    by Wildthumb on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 03:42:33 PM PST

  •  NASA should be a conservative's dream.... (7+ / 0-)

    .... isn't it true that a tremendous amount of new technology has come out of the space program?  Technology and ideas that then filter out into all sorts of private sector applications?

    NASA: come for the discoveries, stay for the job creation!

    The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it. - Albert Einstein

    by ERdoc in PA on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 03:43:13 PM PST

    •  Not with the antiScience trogs nt (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, geez53, oxfdblue, unclebucky, texasmom

      I want 1 less Tiny Coffin, Why Don't You? Support The President's Gun Violence Plan.

      by JML9999 on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 03:46:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm always astounded by the Flat-Earthers who are (6+ / 0-)

        all to happy to denounce science ad nauseum, until they pause to answer their phone that is now 1/3 the size of a cigarette pack and then push the start button on their microwave oven.

        I haven't read the entire King James (revised, edited, purger and sanctioned version 2.0) yet, so maybe i missed the bit where Noah saved two cell towers from the flood or Moses brought down miniature electronics on the back of the tablets.

        Don't want to go off on a rant, but it makes my neck veins bulge when some money-changer uses my grandfather's religion as an excuse to pursue unending ignorance.

        21st Century America: The distracted, superficial perception of a virtual reality. Gettov Milawn

        by geez53 on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 05:14:09 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ender, Maverick80229

          just blows my mind that clowns like Broun are on the Sci CMTE. But we also have people like Edwards. I'm telling you man, she is the real deal, when you talk to her, it becomes crystal clear in ten seconds that you are talking to a brilliant, capable polymath. If only there was some kind of IQ or science literacy test for that cmte or the entire congress.

    •  not a lot of new tech. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      if you want to do tech developement do tech developement.

      the issue is NASA does Missions, everything from
      measuring winds in the arctic and aerosols in
      the upper stratosphere to trying to land men on the moon.

      So the mission gets set, a schedule gets set, and you
      take the tech you have and you push the schedule requirements down,  and perhaps you have a little money
      for some tech developement, but it's a catch-22, without
      a mission, there is no need for tech developement but
      with a mission there is no time for tech developement.

      If you look at NSF, NIH, DARPA they aren't mission oriented,
      they are tech focused, so they have lots of little
      areas and they push their sandbox.

      the hard part is there is small money for sandbox money.


      •  A Lot of New Tech (0+ / 0-)

        NASA is well known for its technology transfer:

        Estimates of the return on investment in the space program range from $7 for every $1 spent on the Apollo Program to $40 for every $1 spent on space development today.

        Many of its technologies have been transformational. Solar panels, electric refrigerators, aerogel insulators, microwave ovens - just a few in my own (consumer energy management) industry. Plus satellites for GPS, phones/TV/telecom...

        The NSF and NIH I agree. DARPA does a lot of R&D, but it's so military oriented that its ROI is blunted (and indeed reversed by waste and the damage from many of its products). NASA develops tech by actually using it for missions that are pushing human life and industry into space, which leads to technologies much more useful for everyone, more quickly diffused. Not to mention its a byproduct of improving universal knowledge rather than of killing.

        "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

        by DocGonzo on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 08:18:23 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Apollo had prime contractors. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  The only money the H.R. will ever spend on space (7+ / 0-)

    is for a fence to keep out the aliens.

  •  Back to Venus should be a priority (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, DocGonzo

    How did that planet go Greenhouse and Mars went dry.

    We need to find out.

  •  I remember the late 1950's (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, xaxnar, Anna M, geez53, texasmom

    All our rockets blowing up on the launch pad and we tried and tried to launch a satellite but every try the rocket blew up.  And all these tries were live on national TV.  In elementary school they would take us into the gym and we would all sit on the floor of the gym and get excited as the countdown came to a close - "5, 4, 3, 2, 1 liftoff" and then watch on live TV the rocket blow up.  Talk about downers when you are a little kid.

    Meanwhile the Soviets launched Sputnik and then they put a chimpanzee in space (imagine what the animal rights people would say today!)  Then to top it off Nikita Khrushchev came to the U.N. and proclaimed "We will bury you" and then he took off his shoe and started banging his shoe on the desk like a nut case.  I was only a little boy but I was scared to death and so was my mom and all her grownup friends and co-workers.

    Our failure in space, and the Soviet success, did as much as anything to get Kennedy elected President.

    "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

    by Navy Vet Terp on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 04:35:08 PM PST

    •  I remember the Ranger Lunar probes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Essentially, they were sent on a trajectory to crash into the moon, sending back pictures until impact. This is how the first closeups of the Lunar surface were obtained - and there was a long string of failures until they finally started to get things right.

      I remember a TV set up in the school auditorium, letting us watch live as the moon got closer and closer…before black out.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 04:54:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's part of what's lacking today. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        " ... and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, ...

        Common purpose, common cause, "uncertainty" as a given, not a prohibition. WE are a community, not a loose collection of Galts.

        What we have now: "OMG, I can't point and click my way to health care in less than a minute. Mission Fail"

        21st Century America: The distracted, superficial perception of a virtual reality. Gettov Milawn

        by geez53 on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 05:43:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  in point of fact, the first probe to impact the (0+ / 0-)

        moon was Soviet.

        The first satellite, the first human in space, the first woman in space, the first spacewalk, the first object on Mars, the first object on Venus--all were Soviet.

        Sadly, silly Cold War era politics still prevents many from knowing and acknowledging those tremendous human accomplishments.

        In the end, reality always wins.

        by Lenny Flank on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 06:23:27 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not what I was talking about (0+ / 0-)

          Russia and the U.S. were both sending probes to the moon over roughly the same period; the Ranger series and the Luna 2 series. Both countries were getting new information all the time, including imagery.

          Ranger 7 was the first to really do its job, in 1964, of getting close-up detailed pictures of the lunar surface. Luna 9 was the first to soft land on the moon, and send pictures back - in 1966. The Surveyor program followed suit in 1968.

          My point was I remember the Ranger missions because I saw them being shown in real time; the Soviets generally didn't admit to anything until after the fact, and only if it was a success.

          And while the Soviets may have impacted the moon first, my understanding is that the Ranger 7 probe sent back a lot of high quality imagery which raised the bar. There was a lot of back and forth in those days. "Silly Cold War" politics run both ways, it seems.

          "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

          by xaxnar on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 09:00:59 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  USSR sent up a DOG, not a chimp. (0+ / 0-)

      America sent up the chimps.

  •  Thanks for this (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    unclebucky, geez53, texasmom, DarkSyde, Witgren

    I remember growing up in the 1960s-70s thinking how "groovy" it was going to be to go to the moon in the 21st Century.  Carl Sagan and his Cosmos positivity we had back then.  Sadly, we didn't predict a Reagan and his Ayn Randian ideals would take over the country.  "2001: A Space Odyssey" became "2001: the year 9/11 happened" and America lost it's collective mind (or something like that).  Greed is good and the Common Good is bad - socialism and all that.   Sad times.

  •  Not that the downfall of the USSR (0+ / 0-)

    was a bad thing...

    ...but imagine where we'd be today if there was still a Cold War space race still going on.

    •  I tend to doubt it would've had (0+ / 0-)

      much impact - after all, we had 20 years or so after the moon race of cold war, with no appreciable space push

      •  I'd disagree (0+ / 0-)

        The space shuttle was a leap forward.  Had the Soviets not killed off their Buran program (which would have brought them even with us again), chances are, we'd have developed an even better, more modern vehicle - and perhaps even returned to the moon or went to Mars by now.

        I see the Soviets killing of Buran as the real turning point.  Basically, at that point, it was no longer a competition.

        •  It didn't meet expectations (0+ / 0-)

          Yes, we got a lot from the shuttle, don't get me wrong.  And it did provide a lot of lessons learned.  But it was not the quantum leap in space access we had hoped for.  

          In many respects, what the Soviets/Russia did with its space station program was more interesting.  

          The space race was the result of unique circumstances, and not just limited to just the fact that we had a Cold war going on.  

  •  Why is space travel a progressive cause? (0+ / 0-)

    I'm missing something here -- always have. The space program provides huge government payouts to the same megacorporations who profit from the war-machine, often for the same technology. It burns humongous amounts of fossil fuel, which we have to reduce not increase.

    OK, so it gives a few boys (and even fewer girls) some megatoys to play with, and feeds Newt's (and other people's) fantasies that when we've totally messed up this planet we can just move next door to another one.

    Why does this deserve a place on my long list of political issues to advocate for?

    •  Short list . . . (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      boji, toddsmitts, chujb, Maverick80229

      Accurate weather prediction.
      Earth science, including the data documenting global warming.
      Modern telecommunications.
      The GPS system you likely use every time you go on a car trip.

      The fact that someone could even ask this question is quite dismaying.

    •  Science advancement. Dreaming of the future. (4+ / 0-)
    •  Our knowledge of astrophysics and geology (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DarkSyde, chujb

      has been revolutionized since I was in high school. A lot of facts we knew with certainty... things like volcanism was only possible on Earth, for example, were shattered by the space program.

      The space program paid for a lot of R&D that made digital photography a consumer project, to the point where they can casually toss in a camera with your phone.

      A nontrivial percentage of our population gets television and internet via satellite.

      And you know who really had demanding, no nonsense, high reliability need for solar panels back in the 1980s and didn't mind paying a million dollars a watt to develop it? NASA.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 08:07:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, chujb, Maverick80229

      wish it wasn't, and in this case we do indeed have allies on both sides of the aisle. Space is a field where some conservatives are content to let government in. But NASA is a taxpayer funded agency that does science and drives innovation, so it's beneficial in many ways and still vulnerable to the flat earthers and austerians.

    •  Question (0+ / 0-)

      why do you assume that we can't use the resources of space to help society?  

    •  entire modern society is utterly dependent upon (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chujb, rodentrancher, Maverick80229

      space and space technology.

      That computer you are using right now?  Were it not for satellite links, it wouldn't exist. That cellphone in your pocket?  Same thing. GPS, weather prediction, global climate monitoring, cable TV, atmospheric science, hurricane monitoring, oceanic studies, air travel, ATM machines--none of them exist without access to space.

      And that's just the "me me me" stuff, the selfish greedy stuff that we use every day of our lives. There are also entire spheres of benefit in math and science education, materials and technology, and scientific knowledge (stuff which, to be sure, most people don't care a rat's ass about, but are still happy to live with the resulting practical benefits).

      Yes, there really is a difference between the Space Age and the Stone Age.

      In the end, reality always wins.

      by Lenny Flank on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 05:56:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Ultimate Progress (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rodentrancher, Maverick80229

      Space travel is the ultimate progressive cause. It's a government operation that returns many times its cost in actual dollars in the US economy. As a byproduct of increasing knowledge that's available to everyone, and not just within US borders. As such it demonstrates US leadership in the most admirable activity we know. Funded by taxes that are one of the best investments, demonstrating how government is an excellent way for the people to get together and do things - that often cannot be done any other way.

      As such it is the perfect rebuttal of the lie that "war is good for the economy".

      NASA's science and presentation of it inspires everyone with direct experience of our unity and interdependency. And our humble place in existence, matched by our unlimited aspirations, tempered by actually doing it.

      NASA promotes increased education, engineering and the quest for knowledge in demographics that haven't achieved proportional to their numbers, non-White/non-male engineers, scientists and explorers.

      The decentralized telecommunications that brings people together is a product of NASA and space travel. NASA is responsible for both proving the Greenhouse that we're destroying ourselves with, and ways to mitigate or even reverse it. Its science is some of the most potent antidote to the religious ignorance that underwrites our theocrats and their corporate drives to destroy all progress.

      Space travel is the epitome of progress. It is a natural prize of progressives.

      Of course, the way we do it isn't perfectly progressive. The Pentagon is far too much of NASA and space travel, laundering military budgets and war contractor giveaways under an admirable agency heading. Indeed the pollution from some NASA operations is very large - though I expect the net results of NASA operations is negative, counting its foundational work on Greenhouse science and energy/industrial efficency. NASA should account for its carbon budget, and balance it if it doesn't already. In fact a primary NASA mission should be net negative Greenhouse pollution at double the US per capita, for all its own people. Leading all other government agencies in that balanced Greenhouse budgeting.

      But those are progressive reasons to improve NASA and the space travel industry it's incubated. It's a progressive success, one of the most successful. It should be a focus for progressives to eradicate the regressive influence that collective decades of regressive presidents and Congresses, and industry (especially military) lobbyists have woven into its mission.

      NASA embodies some of the most important - and successful - progressive values. It is inspiring to so many, at home and worldwide, for that reason, not just because its work powers your smartphone. It's progress, which is progressive, right?

      "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

      by DocGonzo on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 08:36:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  More for NASA, Less for Pentagon (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    While I'm in favor of switching NASA's $20B budget with the Pentagon for its $1500B budget, I want to start by cutting the Pentagon's NASA budget.

    Every year the Pentagon uses NASA to launch $BILLIONS in spy and weapon missions and support them on the ground. That launders more Pentagon budget. That does NASA very little good, since the Pentagon missions are almost all secret, so their R&D often cannot be used by other NASA work. Indeed, by inflating the "NASA" budget it hurts NASA because it looks like NASA gets more total than it really does, so NASA gets less outside of it than if that Pentagon budget weren't carried on its books: "the NASA budget is big enough already".

    Plus the Pentagon's secret missions are certainly wasteful of money, and most probably don't secure the US (or even jeopardize us). Judging from all we know about its many other secret activities that are mostly range from boondoggles to treason.

    NASA shouldn't have to be reauthorized every year. It should have at least a $20B annual budget for public aeronautics and space R&D, exclusive of anything secret or military. Indeed it should have a $200-400B budget - and so should the Pentagon. We'll get there if we're smart.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Mon Jan 06, 2014 at 07:57:32 AM PST

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