Friday, May 16, 2008

Barack- Spaced Out

What the hell is it with Democratic candidates for office? Specifically, what is it with the two remaining Democratic Candidates for President? Why is it that any time I attempt to wrap my head around supporting one of these folks they seem to go out of their way to irritate me?

Case in point; take Senator Barack Obama. The chosen one is now going after NASA to fund education. As pointed out by Craig Della Penna this is just plain idiotic. Seeing as Mr. Della Penna posts at No Quarter a little due diligence was in order. No Quarter is stridently Pro-Clinton so one does have to fact check them from time to time. Well guess what? Just as advertised on page 15 of a 15 page PDF document were the offending words. "Barack Obama’s early education and K-12 plan package costs about $18 billion per year. He will maintain fiscal responsibility and prevent any increase in the deficit by offsetting cuts and revenue sources in other parts of the government. The early education plan will be paid for by delaying the NASA Constellation Program for five years, using purchase cards and the negotiating power of the government to reduce costs of standardized procurement, auctioning surplus federal property, and reducing the erroneous payments identified by the Government Accountability Office, and closing the CEO pay deductibility loophole. The rest of the plan will be funded using a small portion of the savings associated with fighting the war in Iraq."

Followers of the space program know that delaying the Constellation program is an absolute non-starter. The Space Shuttle is already old, creaky, and dangerous. The Constellation should be on the launch pad already, not on the bleeding drawing board. Postponing this vessel is to cancel the project. That means we loose a whole generation in space. If this proposal by the chosen one does not prove Barry is No JFK, what gentle reader will?

Ever since the Apollo program people have whined that we should redirect money from the space program back to priorities on earth. This is not an either or proposition; we have the skills, the means, and the ability to do both. More to the point, there is no guarantee that NASA cuts would go to earth bound concerns. It is much more likely that those funds would end in the pockets of wealthy contributors. One month in Iraq would fund NASA in style for years. We are talking robot probes of distant moons, space telescopes, ISS missions, earth research satellites, and advancing human knowledge in a myriad of different ways.

Take global warming. Do you really want to understand the mechanics of global warming? Then research Venus. Venus is a perfect pre-built natural lab to study extreme global warming. Want to understand weather patterns on earth, especially the mechanics of tropical storms? If you do, then study the gas giants Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune. Want a different perspective on Vulcanology? (That would be the study of volcanoes.) If so Jupiter's moon Titan is an excellent place to start. Want to know where the next killer asteroid or comet might be headed our way? NASA is your only help there.

NASA is sometimes too good for it's own good. After the Apollo mission started with the terrible tragedy of Apollo 1 , moon missions became almost routine. Even Apollo 13 was a magnificent failure. The Space Shuttle was even more prosaic. It took the Challenger and Columbia disasters to remind us of how hazardous these missions can be.

We are the scions of explores. We are the restless progeny of footloose and ambitious people from all over the world. Exploration is in our DNA or at least should be. How can the son of a Kenyan father deny this? How can he not understand the need to push limits and find new horizons? This is a man who exposes Hope, Change and new thinking. Some how he lost the thread and the sky literally became the limit. Why push a new frontier when you can pander to anti-intellectualism and anti-scientific notions? How better to pander and prove that you are not an egghead? Never mind that NASA's part of the federal pie is a minuscule. Paul Brenner literally lost more money in Iraq in six short months than NASA spends in several years. You could fund some very nice space missions with the contracting fraud that Haliburton has pulled off in NOLA and in Iraq during the Bush terms in office. Dick Cheney's stock options alone would probably put a very nice robotic rover on Mars.

This is not to say NASA is without issues. The agency is suffering from malaise and drift. This is manly because it has become an orphaned red-headed stepchild in government. Bureaucratic mediocrities, political hacks and toadying sycophants have brought the agency low. Lack of funding and lack of interest from Congress directly lead to the deaths of brave men and women. The public too has lost it's interest too. Now that the race for space is over we have shifted to other concerns. We forgot how important exploration is because we got lost in a side show. We forgot the technological benefits the space program gave us because those benefits have become so common place. We have forgotten that exploration is a good all by itself; it has a value over any and all other concerns. The US became great by pushing limits and boldly going into uncharted territory. Our greatest asset has been our own imagination and curiosity. Somewhere we have lost our sense of wonder. Somewhere we have lost our pioneering spirit.

It is a shame that Barack has decided to take the low road on NASA. Give the devil his due, Barack Obama has the chops to reinvigorate our passion for space exploration. The man could do it with just one speech. In stead he provided stale bromides about cutting NASA to fund other priorities. Note to Senator Hope, a NASA mission to Mars could fund a whole generation of engineers, scientists, technicians, and inventors. The return on investment would be huge.

Maybe it is because Barack has no memory of the early space program. The Mercury program started in the early 60's; Apollo was over by the mid 70's . The bitter end of Apollo, the Russian-American Apollo-Soyuz project, was more a political stunt than serious science. Obama was a wee lad then, back in the days of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. By then Space missions were no longer must-see TV. Later on the debris from the Skylab mission became the butt of a Saturday Night Live joke featuring John Belushi. (John's life was spared by Skylab's falling debris only to be cut short by his own excesses.)

Unfortunately Hillary has not clarified her position on NASA. She must have one. She is a hopeless policy wonk. The woman probably has an idea to better source the left-handed treaded titanium fasteners or whatever such thing the Shuttle uses to secure various brick-a-brack on to its surfaces. She can probably rattle off three vendors from the top of her head. She understands the history and importance of NASA better than Barack does because she remembers NASA from it's heyday. She would never rob NASA's Peter to pay Education's Paul.

One can only hope that Obama's NASA comments were a throw away; pointless, disposable boiler-plate tossed about in an election cycle to garner votes. Still the very notion is depressing. It means that Barack is far too comfortable with the received wisdom of the political class. It means he is no agent of change. It means he is a mental mediocrity with no real vision.

All Photos are from either NASA or News Services. Copyrights held by by the same.
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