Bob Werb of the Space Frontier Foundation has written a piece that suggests Obama space supporters just don’t understand the opposition to the Obama space policy. Instead of trying to understand, Werb chose instead to stereotype:
“A friend of ours in DC describes the opposition to the proposed NASA budget as the ‘homers, haters and boomers.’ The homers want as much federal spending as possible in their home state or district. The haters reflexively oppose anything at all that comes out of an Administration they despise. The boomers are nostalgic for the 60s and want to recreate the imagined glories of Apollo. Some of our most vigorous opponents affiliate with two, or even three of these disjointed fellowships.”
Let us examine the three subcategories Werb puts opponents of the Obama space policy in.
I’ve always been amused about how people like to tear their hair out about members of Congress protecting spending in their districts, as if this is an aberration. That is how the system is set up. There is a certain measure of home district enrichment in Constellation, and there is some too in the Obama space space plan. There are just different beneficiaries.
Most Congressmen, but apparently not the SFF folks, realize that, when dividing up the spoils of a new spending program, there is a certain degree of give-and-take. Going to a senator or a House member and telling him, “we’re taking away funding for a project that benefits your state or district and giving it to someone else” without offering a quid pro quo is going to have one inevitable reaction.
If one is going to make a change in space policy in the way President Obama proposes, one first has to get all the stakeholders (or at least most of them) on board. That involves, once again, give-and-take. Yes, the old program is ending, but the new one will be of so much more benefit. Obama and the folks at SFF failed in that because they actually thought they and their plan were so virtuous that everyone would have to fall into line.
The idea that there are a mass of people who will oppose anything Obama proposes because they hate Obama is a myth put out by people like Bob Werb, who are irritated that more people have not fallen into line behind the wonderful space plan. It is sort of like suggesting that millions of people would stop bathing if Obama were to preach the virtues of cleanliness.
The fact is that people hate Obama for a variety of reasons, but principally because his agenda is – well – hateful. The Obama space plan is just not perceived as being the wonderful, super-neat plan that will open up the solar system that the folks at SFF think it is. It shuts down space exploration and turns the commercial space sector into a ward of the state. That the defenders of the Obama space plan do not see this, especially the latter, considering their capitalist pretensions, is more than a little puzzling.
“Apollo” has been kind of a curse word among a certain sector of what passes for space activism. No matter what we do, we should never do anything that smacks of “Apollo.” Partly this has to do with the way Apollo ended, which had more to do with the unique political circumstances of the early 1970s than what was inherent in the program itself.
The other reason that a certain group of people hate, hate, hate anything that smacks of Apollo is that they hold to a libertarian ideology that knee jerks against anything that smacks of a government program. They would have opposed Columbus and Lewis and Clark, which, like Apollo, were government programs.
Unfortunately, the Apollo haters have no alternative, besides some vague hope of some commercial space entrepreneur finding a cheap and dirty way to go back to the Moon or on to Mars. Considering the cost of such an undertaking and the unlikelihood of an immediate economic benefit, such dreams remain, for the time being, fantasy.
There are profound national security reasons for getting American astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit, especially back to the Moon. The Moon, with its newly discovered water resources, represents the key to the rest of the solar system. Water can not only be used to supply a space settlement on the Moon, but also can be used to make rocket fuel, to top off space craft going further into the solar system, to an Earth-approaching asteroid or Mars.
The Moon also holds a great deal of potential as a source of energy. These sources include helium 3 to power future fusion power plants, as well as materials to build space-based solar power plants to beam energy back to Earth.
If the United States pulls back from returning to the Moon,because Obama just doesn’t want to, or because Werb and the Space Frontier Foundation hate Apollo, then some other country is likely to do so instead, inspired by Apollo rather than disgusted with it. And if that country is an unfriendly one, say China, the United States will find itself in big trouble.
Not only will that other country control the Moon’s resources (and you can forget about it adhering to any treaty; possession is nine-tenths of the law), it will hold the high ground overlooking Earth. George Friedman has written of the possibility of military bases on the far side of the Moon, firing projectiles disguised as space junk or meteors, attacking military and civilian targets in low-Earth orbit or even on Earth’s surface. Such a stealth projectile, launched in secret, would give no warning before striking its target.
So the idea of waiting for some plucky businessman, like a character from a Robert Heinlein novel, going to the Moon on his own without a pesky government is a non-starter if America plans on being a space-faring nation. That means the Moon has to be accessed by a government, using the model of Apollo (which after all succeeded), to ensure that it remains in safe hands. Private entrepreneurs will follow, of course, just as they did Lewis and Clark across the American West. Government protection, a space settlement as a core market, and no doubt tax incentives will make the commercial development of the Moon all the more likely than indulging in a libertarian fantasy that space can be kept a government-free zone.
But it looks like some people who like to think of themselves as space advocates would rather throw stones and be smug in their supposed virtue, rather than make deals and do the dreary task of compromise. That is why they are an impediment to opening the high frontier of space, not an asset. They are true believers, not in a space-faring future, but in their own supposed virtue and superiority. No wonder they have aligned themselves with Barack Obama, who, in that respect, is just like them.
Defeating the Homers, Haters and Boomers, Bob Werb Space Frontier Foundation, August 23rd, 2010
The Strategic Importance of the Moon, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, May 14th, 2010
More Water on the Moon Than in the Great Lakes, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, June 17th, 2010′
World’s next energy source may be just a moon away, Mark R. Whittington, USA Today, December 8th, 2010
The Next Hundred Years’ by George Friedman postulates war in space, Mark R. Whittington, Houston Space Examiner, August 26th, 2009