Saturday, April 02, 2005

Killing NASA--End of an Era

Everyone was very excited when we landed on the moon. We went there to beat the Russians. Once we were there, we didn't know what to do next. When the last moon mission ended, my father said, "We will never go back."

The American space program and my family: My father and mother joined the Pasadena Rocket Club run out of CIT back in the nineteen thirties when they were teens. This is how they met. My dad drew a picture of a rocket and showed it to my mom and said, "This is the rocket I will build to go to Mars". She took his sketch and drew in a double bed and said, "I am going too". This is how they proposed to get married.

During WWII, because of the deaths of the American rocket team in a plane shootdown, the entire Goddard group dying, my father, at the age of 22 became the head of the American rocket program because he spoke and read German, coming from a German family. Because of the trauma of dealing with the secret rocket factories, at one point, while being shot at by the Nazis, he cut down a string of slave workers who were strung across the cave entrance by barbed wire around their necks...he went into astronomy.

This is why I was born at Yerkes. President Eisenhower, who knew him during WWII, formally requested he rejoin the rocket team because our rocket program was suffering through one spectacular failure after another, all top secret. So we moved to China Lake and I had the amusing chance to live on a secret facility. It was like being in prison and we used to play, "Escape from the Stalag" with the guards (ahem). This included tunnels.

After 1954, my father split his time between the rocket research and building observatories.

He wasn't part of the moon team because he requested to be part of the Space Telescope team. The same year the famous moon launch happened, the first Space Telescope was launched...and it fell into the Atlantic. Congress said they never wanted to fund an expensive thing like that again. And they also refused to fund further planetary missions involving human visitors.

When the Space Shuttle was proposed, Congress asked why build it. My father said, "So we can put a Space Telescope into orbit safely and service it and other platforms." I even sat in on meetings with the Pentagon where he discussed military uses for the shuttle in order to get their considerable muscle behind this. It worked. I wrote, back then, "With the Space Telescope, we will be able to see the Hand of God at the moment of Creation". This was the unofficial motto of the Space Telescope and my father used this often.

We knew the limitations of the Space Shuttle and it was a technological stop gap to establishing an L5 orbit space station which would mean no longer having to struggle in and out of the deep gravitational pool of the earth when using space. The first great mission of the shuttle was installing the most incredible thing in the world: the Hubble Space Telescope. Oh, the joy of looking at the images this great telescope has assembled!

The first shuttle destruction: President Reagan wanted to feature in major speech, the teacher in space program which was launching the first teacher. Unfortunately, a very fierce cold front swooped down deep into Florida. Winds up in NYC were ferocious. I had a dental appointment that day. Before leaving, I called my dad at his home in California to warn him about launching the shuttle. He said, "Don't worry, we never will launch under these conditions". I said, "According to the news, they are going to put the astronauts aboard now. You better stop it". He agreed and called a special meeting where they debated launching it. After consideration, they canelled the launch.

The head of NASA nixed this because Reagan was adamant. He wanted to talk to the teacher before the whole nation. Great PR for NASA and himself.

In the dental office, when the secretary ran in to yell, "The space shuttle blew up", I said, "It's OK, there were no astronauts aboard" since I assumed this happened on the pad.

"Oh no, they launched it and it blew up", she said in despair. I yelled. I ran into the lobby to watch the explosion over and over again. I called my dad from the office. He was in despair.

Let's move to today: all attempts at putting the shuttle to pasture depend on having a replacement. There is none. So the shuttle limped along, there were none built even to replace the first one that blew up. Then Bush said he would make space exploration his key stone of his State of the Union. I talked to my father, "Bush is bad luck. Something horrible will happen". My father said, "There is nothing we can do". When it disintigrated practically right over Bush's ranch, we both felt sick to our stomachs. Bad luck in big letters.

Now comes this news: when Spacedaily ran this story, I thought it was an April Fool's Joke.

Bush Cancels Space Shuttle Program

Washington DC (SPX) Apr 01, 2005
US President George W. Bush declared today that he had signed a rare Presidential Decree canceling any further expenditure of Federal funds on the US Space Shuttle program.

"We cannot find any justification to continue the deficit funding of a program that has no application other that proving that with enough money America can do anything," said Bush.

"The whole world knows that already, so why keep spending money on it," he added.

The announcement was made during an even rarer press conference with the Whitehouse press corps, at which the President started proceedings by handing out Easter Eggs, quipping, "it might be politically incorrect to hand these out, but don't worry we got them on discount at a Wal-Mart sale so they aren't really religious items anymore.

The Joke is Real

NASA Starts Planning to Retire Space Shuttle

Published: April 2, 2005

ASHINGTON, April 1 - Even as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration prepares to resume flights of the space shuttle, the agency has begun forming detailed plans to retire the spacecraft in five years, if not before, a top NASA official said on Friday.

The official, Michael Kostelnik, the agency's deputy associate administrator for the shuttle and the International Space Station programs, said he had established a special group within his office to deal with retiring the shuttle. Agency leaders decided to create a separate entity to deal with shuttle retirement issues so there would be no conflict of interest with the flight program, Mr. Kostelnik said in a telephone briefing with reporters.

Within a year or so, Mr. Kostelnik said, NASA will have to start the shuttle retirement process in earnest, moving toward canceling contracts for shuttle-related supplies, decommissioning some sites and redirecting or eliminating some of the work force.

Already, many of the space probe people have been terminated. The Hubble team is going to be terminated. There is a ferocious fight to use the space shuttle to fix the Hubble (someday I will tell you stories about Dr. Hubble...) which Bush is nixing and Congress has some support in defying him (unlikely this idiot will save the Hubble). As our space program literally disintigrated above Waco, Bush was talking about restarting the canned Prometheus project which was cancelled in the seventies due to fears of a nuclear ship blowing up on take off, the most dangerous time in a launch. I guess, since Bush wants to restart this, Florida doesn't mind the possibility of being evacuated for a couple of thousand years?

When the Star Wars program was first talked about, at Princeton we debated this very hard. The space exploration/colonization movement split in two. I was in the "we will only aggravate the Cold War with this and maybe even start WWIII if the Russians decide to neutralize this by force" versus the "we will rule the planet earth and then move on to rule space" imperialist faction. Within my own family, we split. My father and mother and I taking the same side, my sister and her husband taking the other side.

Well, money poured into the vast, invisible maw of the Star Wars program. It pours in even today, it has actually accelerated. At first, the excuse was, the money was well spent, it forced Russia to overmilitarize and bankrupted them. Well, hello! Here we are, hemmoraging red ink, mirroring the dead Soviet empire. Bankruptcy, anyone?

The Mars program. I can't fathom why Bush wants this particular thing. Is he planning to evacuate earth? One can only wonder. My mother and father planned to go to Mars in 1939. They would dearly love to go there. But Bush isn't them.

We just told the Europeans we are abandoning the Space Station after 2012 if not sooner. ARE WE INSANE? Guess who is going to buy this real estate at fire sale prices? Heh. The Chinese. They already said, they are going to the moon and since America militarized space, they will too. I was deep inside the big fight to pass "The Peaceful Uses of Space Treaty" at the UN during the seventies. I even debated at a luncheon in Manhattan with Will Safire over this. President Carter vacillated. Reagan was full bore militarize space and hyper imperialism. I lost. Not the first time and not the last.

But I was right and all of these gentlemen (sic) were wrong.

Why go into space? I have said this over and over: this is literally life and death. Visit Calculate how we can all perish in a meteor strike and there it is: we can and WILL be hit by a meteor eventually. My grandaddy was one of the first scientists to state that Meteor Crater was caused by a meteor back in 1900. We even have a large chunk of this meteor in my parent's home. It is very heavy and very valuable.

If we can't access space, we are sitting ducks. When America was watching OJ drive around LA, NASA was watching in horror as a major comet split up and then strung down into Jupiter causing huge storms the size of the earth. It could have been us!

There are other astronomical life death reasons to go into space. I will revisit that issue later.

NASA---do not rest in peace.

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