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Flights of Fancy
by Launchspace Staff Writers
Bethesda MD (SPX) Oct 31, 2013

NASA is really taking a beating. There is no national mandate for a civil space program. After 55 years of bureaucratic evolution this agency has apparently become a purely political tool with no significant importance other than to spread pork to congressional districts.

"Flights of Fancy" hits home in an unique way. So, we thought it should be aired again in case you missed the first airing in August of this year. Robert Zimmerman got it exactly right. In an August 2013 Wall Street Journal his Op-Ed piece appeared, entitled: "No Liftoff for These Space Flights of Fancy."

All too rarely do we see something as frank and honest as this description of a space program that has become a pure political football. It would be funny if not so sad. It is a joke portrayed by politicians, but the joke is on us, the space professionals.

To quote Mr. Zimmerman, "Both (political) parties excel at feigning interest in space exploration for the purpose of justifying pork to their districts." This one sentence really says it all.

He goes even further, "The result is that America's incoherent space program is unable to accomplish anything except spend money the federal government doesn't have." What Mr. Zimmerman did not say is the government is wasting our money, our resources and our futures.

Take for example the recent pork fight over the funding of an asteroid mission. House Democrats and NASA have been trying to fund an unmanned spacecraft that would capture an asteroid, bring it closer to Earth and position it to allow astronaut visits. As expected, all 17 Democrats on the House Science committee voted for this plan.

However, Republicans don't want NASA to capture an asteroid. Instead, they want to resurrect George W. Bush's plan to send humans back to the moon. Thus, all 22 Republicans on the committee voted against the asteroid mission.

The reality is clear. Neither of these plans will ever get off the launch pad. Just look at the large mission funding patterns since Apollo, some four decades ago. Each president since Kennedy had declared some great space adventure. Congressional members use these declarations to justify sending pork to their districts.

Initial funds are spent to study the initiative, but the big bucks for building various space systems almost never materialize, because the systems are unbelievably expensive. So, the program is cancelled. A new president takes office and makes a new declaration. The cycle begins again. And in Zimmerman's words, "The pork rolls out, a new project begins, some money gets spent, and nothing gets built."

NASA is really taking a beating. There is no national mandate for a civil space program. After 55 years of bureaucratic evolution this agency has apparently become a purely political tool with no significant importance other than to spread pork to congressional districts.

Other nations are racing ahead with national space programs that are exciting, meaningful and adventuresome. In fact, the U.S. private sector space program offers the only excitement to young space engineers and entrepreneurs in this country.

Maybe, we should dissolve NASA and send all of the space pork to those who are really interested in a meaningful space program.


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