Sunday, February 22, 2009

Grand Space Development strategy headlined by Edwin Aldrin

A "Unified Space Vision," headlined by Colonel Edwin Aldrin, and purported to be a comprehensive vision of "Sustainable Space Exploration and Space Development" has been posted to The Space Movement blog maintained by Karen Shea of Abandon Reality Photography, and it can be read in its entirety, HERE.

The Abstract to the "study" by Aldrin, Hsu and Cox is reproduced as follows:

"This paper presents and recommends a strategic and Unified Space Vision (USV) for comprehensive human space exploration and space development endeavors in the 21st century, through extensive analysis of complex space policy issues, to the new U.S. Administration, the NASA transition team and the broad domestic and international community. The proposed USV is a new paradigm of space policy that aims to rectify or replace the current Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), including its implementation plan, which has been pursued via the NASA Constellation program since its announcement by George Bush in early 2004. We strongly believe that if adequately adopted, the USV should serve the long-term economic, diplomatic and exploration interests of this nation and others around the globe."

On first read, the work is far too flattering of the new administration and overly critical of the Bush administration, which, for all its faults, was at least the first administration since John Kennedy's to make any real attempt to give a focus to NASA, albeit after the Columbia disaster.

In short, this study is stained with the dogma and poor understanding of basic American politics that one reads in a badly written political manifesto. It is hardly the science study it pretends to be, including in those areas where I found myself in strong agreement with the authors.

As such, it was perhaps thought necessary to take such an approach in covering such a broad field for an audience of policy makers. As a former policy maker, however, I know the secret to longevity is to be skeptical of your own press releases.

It was refreshing to read ideas regarding the institutional flaws, borne of NASA's history and orthodoxy, always in need of reform, and also of endorsements of simple but universally hoped for concepts as on-orbit cryogenic refueling depots, which seem simple enough but are difficult. and dangerous to build, unnecessarily.

The idea of Space Development fostered on a second track, while addressing ITAR concerns for NASA as that agency devotes itself to exploration is interesting.

That Space Travel by nations fosters peace has been long acknowledged, though it may not be as well-known in the present administration.

Then there's this particularly insulting part, under Part 2, Section 5, where we are taught, "The current thrust of the Bush VSE to return humans to the Moon (and to build a costly lunar post without international participation and support) lacks political resonance. The American public and its political constituency in the U.S. congress is largely uninterested in supporting such a costly Apollo-all-over-again national program: “Been there, done that” rules apply. As a result, after receiving less than adequate funding from the Administration that proposed it, the Bush Vision for Space Exploration is unlikely to get more support from any new Administration, much less a chance of getting continued support from an Administration (like President Obama’s) that is largely surrounded by visionaries and leaders with strategic and intellectual strength."

This paragraph is hardly worthy of Colonel Aldrin, as it reads as though written by a campaign volunteer.

Congress, not the President, is entrusted with the power of the purse, and NASA is (and always has been) a creature of Congress.

I cannot believe that Colonel Aldrin could have read the National Academies' Scientific Context for the Exploration of the Moon.

If he had, of course, it is unlikely he would have allowed his name to be attached to this dismissal of the essential role the Moon must play in the long-term future of Space travel, exploration, or its development (or whatever it is you want to call the long-term survival of the species).

It is certain, for example, that India, China and Russia are each aware their own future economic development beyond 2050 may well depend on harvesting lunar resources literally under Colonel Aldrin's feet forty years ago.

The Moon is the Rosetta Stone of the Solar System, and for many other reasons, all outlined in true scientific work, we have hardly scratched its surface. Colonel Aldrin may have "been there, done that," but most of us have not.

Finally, a tale-tell way of knowing when a writer is in the grip of even a mild case of Bush Derangement Syndrome is the repeated use of the former president's last name by itself, as an epithet. Thus, the final sentence in this part of the work is just plain intellectually insulting flattery, playing to supposed prejudices the Obama White House is certain to see through as though transparent.

Edwin Aldrin is my hero, God love him.

But, an otherwise fine piece of work, not without flaws, became unnecessarily divisive by his allowance of his name to be attached to the manifestly sophomoric flattery introduced in this paragraph.

(I'll take Dr. Schmitt's intellectual strength over Colonel Aldrin's any day of the week. But the wisest move is not to offer anyone that kind of choice. The last election is over, but there's going to be another one in just 21 months.)

1 comment:

Frank said...

Actually there are several factual errors here. First, I am on the Board of Directors of a new organization made up of 24 space advocacy and business groups. This organization has as one of its reference documents the full transcript of this paper and the focus of it was not about attacking NASA, (Feng Hsu actually refers to this group " The Space Renaissance Initiative)and not about going to mars or the Moon as the main focus. If this vision is adopted, it will lead to greater developments on the Moon- (not just a science outpost)unless you passed over that point?
The main focus was a unified Strategic vision, one where NASA still exists and is doing even more exploration but a vision where Space Development is the focus. So far in all the reports I haven't read anyone picking this aspect up yet.

The Aldrin- Hsu- Cox paper talks about creating a space development authority to foster concepts that will benefit the entire space sector such as developing cheap space access and collaborating with international partners both government and private sector. This is a win win for NASA and the private space sector, it will lead to less money being spent by the government on space missions, higher volume, and economic development of the solar system starting in LEO. Most of the crticism I have read is kneejerk reaction by people who have only skimmed over this document or who do not know the authors.

And by the way, the Moon Society is part of this group as well and as far as I know initially had problems with it, but once we sat down and worked over the main points and the true focus of this document did agree with it (with some modifications) at this point there are some minor revisions being made as well so that's not even the complete version. It's not about going to the Moon, Mars or anywhere else as much as it is about providing the enabling systems and framework to develop a space economy where government missions can be much cheaper and the private sector can get much more involved. My own group- MarsDrive is part of this effort and we endorse this paper, because we have bothered to read it and understand it.