Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government NASA Space United States

House Outlaws Obama's NASA Intervention 209

Posted by Soulskill
from the let's-argue-some-more dept.
TopSpin writes "NASA's Constellation Program and Ares rockets appear to have strong support in Congress. An appropriations bill passed by the House includes language that bars 'any efforts by NASA to cancel or change the current Constellation program without first seeking approval of Congress.' The Administration's appointed NASA leadership is being publicly hostile towards its traditional aerospace affiliations. As Charles Bolden put it to industry execs, 'We are going to be fighting and fussing over the coming year,' and 'Some of you are not going to like me because we are not going to do the same kind of things we've always done.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

House Outlaws Obama's NASA Intervention

Comments Filter:
  • Oink! Oink! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:18AM (#30414610) Homepage
    It's so very important not to change the carefully crafted pork that these projects tend to be once Congress gets their crusty little fingers on them.

    "Our minds are made up, don't confuse us with the facts".
    • Re:Oink! Oink! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheKidWho (705796) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:24AM (#30414650)

      Of course, I'm sure you've been on many decade long aerospace engineering projects to know how it should work.

      • Re:Oink! Oink! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:48AM (#30414890) Homepage

        Of course, I'm sure you've been on many decade long aerospace engineering projects to know how it should work.

        I grew up around NASA - at the KSC and JSC. I watched as the US built up the space program from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo. I watched as Congress gutted NASA after Apollo and managed to create the kludge that is the Shuttle. I watched as NASA and it's contractors managed to get the Shuttle off the ground despite the roadblocks put up in front of if.

        I know enough to realize that rocket science is hard and that Congress, as a body, is no more able to micromanage booster technology than it is able to manage, well just about anything. Congress has a near perfect track record of solving the wrong problem, solving the right problem in the wrong way which results in not solving the problem, and / or doing anything but attempting to solve the problem along with a myriad of other generic inabilities.

        Congress should make general policy and let the people that know what they are doing implement it. Congress should NOT micromanage.

        And while you're at it, I'd like a Pony.

        • Re:Oink! Oink! (Score:4, Informative)

          by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Saturday December 12, 2009 @01:49PM (#30415980) Homepage

          I watched as Congress gutted NASA after Apollo and managed to create the kludge that is the Shuttle.

          In other words, even though 'grew up' around NASA, you prefer urban legends to facts.
           

          I know enough to realize that rocket science is hard and that Congress, as a body, is no more able to micromanage booster technology than it is able to manage, well just about anything.

          Had Congress micromanaged booster technology, you'd have a point. But the fact is, a reusable booster was on NASA's menu from very early on. Even while Gemini was flying, NASA was planning the Shuttle.
           
          Heck, remember Gemini was itself a political creation. As Mercury was winding down, NASA management realized that it would be years before Apollo flew and that they needed some Buck Rogers to keep the bucks flowing, so they dusted off an unsolicited McDonnell (not yet merged with Douglas) proposal for Mercury MKII and justified it was 'a development program for Apollo'. (Despite the fact that the Apollo design was already frozen.)
           

          I watched as NASA and it's contractors managed to get the Shuttle off the ground despite the roadblocks put up in front of if.

          Roadblocks largely put in front of it by NASA itself.
           
          Despite being clearly told that budgets would be limited in the future, NASA insisted on proposing an expensive Shuttle-Station-Mars program. When rebuked by Congress, NASA responded by promising to deliver a revolutionary new spacecraft on an extremely optimistic budget and an even more optimistic schedule. Many space historians believe that NASA had convinced itself, despite abundant evidence otherwise, that the austerity of the late 60's and early 70's was an aberration and that soon happy times and near blank checks would resume shortly. More than a few believe that, institutionally, NASA retains this conviction even today.

        • You already got one [archive.org] in 2006 [slashdot.org]! And you killed it! No pony for you anymore, young man!

      • Re:Oink! Oink! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @12:26PM (#30415186)

        No, only a few years, but its pretty clear that this is not in the best interest of furthering space exploration, but rather in keeping jobs in a few congressional districts -- namely Huntsville, Alabama. Marshall Space Flight Center stands the most to lose if Ares falls through, but MSFC is in many ways a dinosaur of the Apollo era and hasn't transitioned to being a leaner, more efficient group.

        Consider this: for the cost of building Ares 1-X, the test-flight that consisted of a shuttle SRB with some dummy mass on top and made up to look like an Ares 1, what was essentially the worlds largest model rocket, cost $450M -- SpaceX, has developed one working rocket and has almost completed a larger one for around the same cost. While obviously the Ares program will cost more than what a company like SpaceX will spend, since they're building bigger rockets to do riskier things, there is something wrong when a mere model costs that much.

        The problem with micromanaging NASA through congress is that the only districts where its an issue that can make a difference in an election are the ones where they want to maintain the status quo, which is not working well. Everyone else who sees it and disagrees with its handling probably aren't going to swing their vote based on it, since there are a myriad of other, more immediate things to consider as well.

        • It's worth pointing out that the SpaceX Falcon 1, based on the same technologies as the Falcon 9, failed catastrophically on four out of five flights. Ares I is intended to have a safety record of one failure in a thousand launches. Comparing the two is fair, but they're definitely not intended to be equal products.
          • by khallow (566160)

            It's worth pointing out that the SpaceX Falcon 1, based on the same technologies as the Falcon 9, failed catastrophically on four out of five flights.

            Three out of five flights. Last two were successful.

          • by khallow (566160)
            To elaborate on my previous statement, Wikipedia lists all five flights [wikipedia.org]. The last two in September 2008 and July 2009 were successful. The fourth launch had a dummy payload while the fifth launch had a paying customer (though they probably didn't pay much).
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Nyeerrmm (940927)

            Three out of five flights, and the order matters significantly. The two that have been successful are significantly different than the three that failed. They added baffles to the tanks, improved the control algorithms, changed materials. They *FIXED* all of the issues that caused the early failures. Also, if its cheaper to blow up a few unmanned rockets than it is to design it perfectly the first time, then that sounds like the right way to do it. I'd consider the reliability of the Falcon 1 the same

            • by khallow (566160)

              Everything thats ever killed an American astronaut was an unknown failure mode.

              Not really. Both Shuttle accidents occurred from known problems. Burn through of the O rings was a known problem as was the fact that the O ring material became brittle at freezing temperatures. The relevant engineers even tried to stop the fatal Challenger flight precisely for the reasons that destroyed the vehicle and killed seven people.

              Similarly, ice strikes were a known problem. There were a number of times when the Shuttles came back with extensive damage to the underbelly. They were watching for i

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Nyeerrmm (940927)

                Then I would argue that the failure mode is poor management and schedule rush -- definitely things not included in whatever safety numbers were quoted when the shuttle was being designed. The point is that whenever those 1 in 1000 numbers are pulled out they are almost meaningless -- the failures that did occur weren't included in those.

                Its like judging the safety of a car on whether or not a freak string of events is likely to blow up the car on any given trip (or the brake lines fail, or your toyota acce

          • by FleaPlus (6935)

            Ares I is intended to have a safety record of one failure in a thousand launches.

            And many in NASA management intended (and claimed that) the Space Shuttle would have a failure rate of one in 100,000 launches. Then Challenger happened. It turns out that the error rate you get from probabilistic risk assessment often ends up being very different from reality. In fact, it was stated during the Augustine Commission hearings that the sort of factors which go into the sort of "one in a thousand" failure rate you describe for the Ares I in actuality only account for an absurdly small percentag

      • Re:Oink! Oink! (Score:5, Informative)

        by ThreeGigs (239452) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @12:44PM (#30415346)

        I think you missed the point, as did anyone who modded it troll.

        The language that effectively ties NASA's hands was inserted in the bill by Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from...drum roll please.... Alabama. Where NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is located.

        And that language boils down to: "no changes". Subcontract a part of the crew module out to Russia, Germany or France? No. Not unless Congress approves. Even if it'll get Ares off the ground sooner...nope. Cancel or delay Ares I to concentrate on Ares V? Nope. Even though Russia already has, and will continue to have, the capability to put people in orbit thus rendering Ares I redundant, while what's really needed is the heavy-lift capability of Ares V.

        Shelby wants one thing: Money in Alabama. So say bye bye to Kennedy Space center, and write off the US Government using commercially (read: private industry) available means to ferry crew to space. If SpaceX or Virgin Galactic manages to get people into LEO by 2015, NASA wouldn't be able to buy a seat without Congress' approval.

        The 'no changes' language has nothing to do with getting into space or not, and everything to do with making sure money flows to contractors in Alabama.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by FleaPlus (6935)

          The language that effectively ties NASA's hands was inserted in the bill by Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from...drum roll please.... Alabama. Where NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is located.

          It's also worth noting that Alabama's NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, which is the center most responsible for the Ares I and Constellation, has a strong tradition of mass incompetence for the past 30 years or so. While I'm sure the engineers there are quite good, the MSFC management is incredibly horrible and has a reputation for clamping down on any sort of dissent from their engineers. They literally haven't had a single successful launch development project during the time that many slashdotters have

      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        Of course, I'm sure you've been on many decade long aerospace engineering projects to know how it should work.

        You don't need to have worked on aerospace projects yourself to know that spending $35 billion to develop a medium-lift rocket+capsule which will launch to LEO at a cost of nearly $1 billion per flight is a bad deal, especially when there's so much more cost-effective alternatives. It's essentially just pork for Alabama and a few other congressionally powerful states.

    • by conureman (748753)

      All that "careful crafting" is actually a lot of hard work. I can almost hear a thousand Hayden Christensen impersonators shouting in vendorland.

    • No, it's important to congress to see expected goals met, since they've been funneling billions of dollars into NASA with the understanding that they're investing in programs like Constellation. NASA is funded by congress, not slashdot.

    • In the long run, the best way to cut port would be deliberative democracy, meaning a citizens line item veto by jury trial.

      You might for example eliminate the presidential veto but say that all laws must pass a jury trial with a large enough jury that you don't need jury selection, like say 100 to 200 people. Any group of 10% of the house or senate or 5% of each could send an advocate to argue for or against all or part of the law, and the president could send an advocate or even appear himself. If the la

    • by paiute (550198)

      I recall a story that the ill-fated solid booster rockets could have and should have been built in one piece near the launch site, but they were farmed out to Hatch's home state of Utah for political reasons. Transportation from there meant that they had to be built in segments joined with O-rings.

      Is my memory correct?

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @11:21AM (#30414626) Journal
    I wouldn't want there to be any confusion about whether scientists or defense contractors are in charge of the direction of our space program.
    • How could it be otherwise? Although Congress technically works for the taxpayers, a politician's career advancement is completely controlled by campaign contributions.
      • ...who refuse to understand how this game works.

      • by biryokumaru (822262) * <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Saturday December 12, 2009 @12:03PM (#30415000)

        Well, it can be a little more subtle than that. Eisenhower described the process thusly:

        Politicians are concerned about the welfare of their constituents. During wartime/other massive government spending in industry, more and more of those constituents become financially dependent on military/government contractor industry for jobs. To act in the best interest of their constituents, politicians are compelled to continue war, or to make other kinds of major fiscal decisions benefiting those industries.

        By promoting massive, wasteful spending on NASA, many politicians could be actively seeking the immediate best interest of their constituents.

        Representative democracy should fear the military industrial complex.

        • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

          by db32 (862117)

          Well, color me shocked. You just repeated the talking points of a Republican and didn't get modded into oblivion. Even more surprising is that it got a +5 Insightful. I wonder if the groupthink is waning, or if it is that no one knew that Eisenhower was actually a Republican. My guess is most people here didn't know he was a Republican since he sounds so different than the current breed.

          For those of you watching at home... Go look up the speech that this came from. The man had no kind words for the mil

          • You just repeated the talking points of a Republican and didn't get modded into oblivion.

            That's because they apparently don't make 'em like they used to. Nowadays the GOP seems to get the likes of what Eisenhower called "Texas Oil Millionaires."

          • Man, people think the most rational arguments are flamebait.

            I got modded the same at first for making a joke about kafka...

            I think people forget where to draw the line between disagreeability and explicitly inciting a flame war.
        • by h4rm0ny (722443)

          But those projects are funded by the taxes of the consituents, so it's not in the interests of the constituency to spend the money just for the sake of employment. That's like borrowing money on a credit card to pay off your mortgage. Besides which it doesn't even work as a means of wealth redistribution. People pay their taxes which the government ploughs into weaponry in return for which you also get some jobs for workers, but a large amount of that money gets skimmed off and into the pockets of rich peo
          • it's only a contradiction of you consider the constituents to be the people rather than big business

            large amount of that money gets skimmed off and into the pockets of rich people.

            i do believe you've hit the nail on the head. legislators are aware that this is how their policies work, as activists, economists, and journalist have brought it to their attention many times. if you consider "jobs" to be a euphemism for "constituent profit", keeping the true constituents in mind, it is a very effective policy

      • by schwit1 (797399)
        And that is why the USA is toast.

        This will not change until campaigns are publicly financed or contributions may only come from registered voters whom the candidate would represent.

  • by tomhath (637240) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @12:18PM (#30415102)
    The Obama administration still clings to the idea that the world is a friendly place full of pink unicorns and people who want to be all huggy-kissy with everyone else. There's no reason to develop technology more advanced than other countries'; we'll all play nice together like happy socialists are supposed to and not compete like evil capitalists.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      By most accounts, Obama is actually a centrist. The far right has painted him as a mad spender because of the stimulus package, but that was actually a mainstream economist viewpoint also, not just left-wing economists. And the stimulus package also had tax-cuts.

  • But any time Congress does something like this, it's really about protecting the pork.

    I'm sure the Constellation has parts built in all 50 states so everybody get's a piece of the action.

    • by Nutria (679911)

      But any time Congress does something like this, it's really about protecting the pork.

      Besides, NASA is part of the Executive Branch, and Obama is The Executive. Even I, a silly old Republican, knows that...

  • The one thing the MIC does incredibly well is fight for every last penny. Odds are, the aerospace companies view this as only the first salvo before the big fight over defense spending cuts hits.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fm6 (162816)

      Where have you been? The first salvo was fired even before Obama was sworn in. That would be when he persuaded Defense Secretary Robert Gates (who used to literally count the days until he was replaced [thinkprogress.org]) to stay on. I've often wondered how and why Obama did that. My best guess is that they agreed on an agenda of cost cutting and procurement reform [foxnews.com].

      When Gates announced his program, the defense special interests fought back — hard. And yet they lost. Mind-boggling, but true. Now that's change I can belie

      • Picking a guy who says he's going to do it isn't the first salvo of anything. By that standard, electing Barrack Obama was the first salvo in our march toward European socialism.

        Trust me. I support cutting military spending. I support moving NASA to a secondary role now that big business is finding its way into space. Hell, I support moving toward European socialism.

        The first salvo isn't talking the talk. The first salvo is destroying the leaders of the opposition. When Jack Murtha's in jail, I'll say

        • by fm6 (162816)

          Good lord, is that just some rhetorical flourish, or do you really believe that Obama's rhetoric is that of a "European socialist"? If so, try getting your information from somewhere besides Fox News. Like his own speeches and books. Even if you don't believe what he says, I think you'll find what he actually says is quite a bit different from what the right-wing pundits say he says.

          I agree that that the measures Gates has taken are puny compared with what needs to be done. But the fact that he's done anyth

  • This still need to get through the senate intact and be approved by the President before it is of any consequence.

    From http://www.rules.house.gov/POP/approps_proc.htm [house.gov]:

    Congressional action on an appropriation measure is not complete until both the House and Senate have successfully disposed of all amendments between the Houses eventually agreeing on an identical text pursuant to the Constitution - at which point the President acts on the bill.

  • by rbrander (73222) on Saturday December 12, 2009 @12:33PM (#30415256) Homepage

    NASA has always been used as a pork barrel, and the engineers who just want to fly birds have both used that shamelessly to get funded, and been victimized by it, in equal turns. It's hard to guess whether they would have created cheaper, simpler designs if feeding billions into the industrial complex (in all 50 states as often as possible) were not the more important goal than flying.

    Bottom line, I find it hard to cheer for either side when these spats come up. You always want to take the side of the homies (fund NASA, fly something cool somewhere), but NASA is spending so many millions per kilogram flown that the whole thing will ALWAYS be for a lucky tiny few as long as their big-iron design philosophy is enabled by those who LIVE to spend tax dollars (in their state).

    Silver lining though: Americans may have forgotten that their Congress has the power to tell the Executive branch "NO!". That the founders considered the legislature, NOT the executive, the first among three equals, because it directly represents the people on the most frequent election cycle.

    Who knows, this "make the executive branch moves illegal" power, now revived for the first time in years, may one day be used to make torture, fake intelligence, and war itself less likely instead of perfectly acceptable.

    • Congress can't compel the president to spend money. They went through a round of this under Nixon. While Congress can allocate funds, nothing compels the executive branch to spend them.
      • by khallow (566160)

        While Congress can allocate funds, nothing compels the executive branch to spend them.

        If the president can chose not to follow Congress's direction on spending, then Congress can chose to impeach and remove the president. They can also retaliate in more subtle ways say by gutting some program the president values.

        • Please tell me you did not type that with a straight face? Impeachment? If condoning the kidnapping and torture of people is not a high crime or misdemeanor, I'm pretty sure that exercising the Executive's rights within checks and balances isn't either.
    • That the founders considered the legislature, NOT the executive, the first among three equals, because it directly represents the people on the most frequent election cycle.

      Until the Supreme Court rules something unconstitutional. Then no one can do ANYTHING. Good thing we get to elect the Supreme Court Justi. . . Oh, wait. Well, at least their terms expi. . . Oh, wait.

      • Until the Supreme Court rules something unconstitutional.

        This itself being unconstitutional.

        Then no one can do ANYTHING.

        The best possible outcome!

        Good thing we get to elect the Supreme Court Justi. . . Oh, wait. Well, at least their terms expi. . . Oh, wait.

        Yeah, and still only 9 judges for 330,000,000 people and they never have time to hear many important cases and decide those cases as narrowly as possible? FAIL.

      • by winwar (114053)

        "Until the Supreme Court rules something unconstitutional. Then no one can do ANYTHING."

        WRONG. See Andrew Jackson and the Cherokee Indians.

        Nothing stops you from ignoring Supreme Court rulings if people are willing to support your actions.

    • by evilviper (135110)

      Silver lining though: Americans may have forgotten that their Congress has the power to tell the Executive branch "NO!".

      You clearly didn't RTFA. They need it to pass the senate, THEN they need Obama's signature.

      Yes, the Congress has the power to overrule the Executive, as well as the Supreme court, but they need a super-majority to do it, and that in an extremely rare event.

  • ...and there's no ti-i-i-i-ime for fussing and fighting, my friends.

  • Maybe before you can run for Congress you should prove you've read the Constitution. Of course since this is congress trying to assume powers of the exec branch it will never pass muster.

  • There are two numbers which are not changing: the energy in chemical rocket fuel and the mass of the earth. Those two dictate that about 90% of a rocket's liftoff mass be fuel.

    Airbreathing launch vehicles, by using oxygen from the atmosphere, get more energy per kg of fuel.

    The Virgin Galactic launcher is a step in this direction, using the carrier plane with jet engines to get part of the way up.

    The Ares is actually no improvement over the Shuttle, its the exact same set of rockets (Ammonium Perchlorate/Ru

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      There are two numbers which are not changing: the energy in chemical rocket fuel and the mass of the earth. Those two dictate that about 90% of a rocket's liftoff mass be fuel. ... (and yes, I was a rocket scientist, with Boeing, in Huntsville AL for many years, but retired now)

      As a rocket scientist then, I'm sure you realize that fuel is ~1% of the total cost of launching a rocket. By far most of the cost goes to paying the personnel working on the ground who assemble and maintain the rocket. Much of why the Ares I costs so much is because it intentionally doesn't do anything to maximize personnel efficiency (more people required == more jobs).

"Why can't we ever attempt to solve a problem in this country without having a 'War' on it?" -- Rich Thomson, talk.politics.misc

Working...