There's nothing a politician hates more than losing control of a purse string

Trump Right to Take Hatchet to International "Orbital Turkey"

By —— Bio and Archives--February 23, 2018

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Trump Right to Take Hatchet to International Orbital Turkey
Houston, we have a problem.

That’s the way boosters of the International Space Station (ISS) see reports that the forthcoming Trump Administration budget essentially eliminates NASA funding for the orbital International Space Station (ISS) after the current authorization ends in 2024. Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz is leading the attack, blaming the “numbskulls” at the Office of Management and Budget. “As a fiscal conservative, you know one of the dumbest things you can do is cancel programs after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life ahead,” he said.

This shows 1) The term “fiscal conservative” has probably lost any real meaning, and 2) Cruz is trying to blame bureaucrats for a decision they’re not empowered to make, rather than take on his party’s head.

Fact is, even before the Russians began construction of the ISS in 1998 and an American and two Russians first occupied it in 2000, it was drawing powerful criticism from experts in various space-related fields.

“We were supposed to be having space odysseys by 2001,” said director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University Lawrence Krauss. Instead, we got a “boondoggle orbiting in space closer to Earth than Washington D.C. is to New York.”

Steven Weinberg, a particle physicist at the University of Texas at Austin and a co-recipient of the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics, labeled the station “an orbital turkey.”

Yet soon enough the U.S. and other countries were adding their modules to the Russian ones, and by 2014 according to NASA the agency had paid about $75 billion for the space oddity—the lion’s share of the total. It now spends about $3-4 billion a year to maintain the station, with the rest kicked in by Russia and 14 other countries. By comparison, the entire National Cancer Institute research budget for FY 2018 is just over four billion.

Initially, the ISS was supposed to shut down in 2020, but four years ago Congress extended its life to 2024. So it’s still getting four more years of funding than originally intended.

Yet for all its building and operating costs, the research returns are essentially nil. Sure, NASA has a huge list of experiments performed aboard the ISS with very impressive-sounding verbiage. But fact is, you can’t do anything aboard ISS that can’t be done far more cheaply on earth except that the gravity there is slightly less. (It’s called “microgravity.” While people seem to think there’s no gravity on the ISS, it’s actually about 0.88 percent that of the earth.)

So when we read that ISS experimentation has produced “novel robotic surgical techniques that may allow the successful removal of tumors previously thought to be inoperable,” we should wonder how a microgravity atmosphere could possibly have played any part in that achievement. Answer: It couldn’t.

Meanwhile many microgravity experiments can be done on reduced gravity aircraft NASA has been using since 1957 to train astronauts, charmingly dubbed “Vomit Comets.

When Cruz talks about the station’s “serious usable life” in the future, he seems to be referring to the structure itself which, admittedly, can stay in orbit a long time before its orbit decays. So what? The U.S.S. Constitution has been afloat since 1798. The best explanation for his actions is that his state is home to the Johnson Space Center, what NASA labels the “heart of” its “human spaceflight program,” and that he’s chairman of Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness. Which (surprise!) has oversight of the NASA budget.

There’s nothing a politician hates more than losing control of a purse string. At least the ranking Democrat on the Committee, Bill Nelson of Florida, was more honest in saying he would fight the shut-down simply because “Such a move would likely decimate Florida’s blossoming commercial space industry.” Florida über alles!

When will taxpayers stop footing the bill? Leaked NASA documents make reference to privatization of the ISS, but that won’t get off the launching pad. The privatization angle may be a White House ploy to show up anyone who says ISS has any real value. But short of making it a “Galaxyland” for the ultra-rich (hosted not by Mickey Mouse but Pluto, of course), private industry can’t make any more use of the space turkey than governments have.

They just don’t make basters that big.


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Michael Fumento -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Michael Fumento is a journalist, author, and attorney who specializes in health and science. He can be reached at Fumento[at]gmail.com.

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