NASA and Mission to Planet Earth

Share

I appreciate the opportunity to testify today on authorizationof the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Mission toPlanet Earth. I recommend that the program not be reauthorized. Ioffer three reasons for this recommendation.

First, Mission to Planet Earth is part of NASA's pattern overthe past 25 years of running costly, politically popular projectsthat are supported by powerful clients that receive taxpayerlargess. NASA's original mission was space science and exploration.The space program and NASA were born of the Cold War wish to wipeout the embarrassment of early Soviet space successes. While thegovernment has a legitimate defense role in space, commercialventures, and scientific research and exploratory ventures ideallyshould be carried out by the private sector. But in the late 1950smany Americans believed that only governments could undertake suchendeavors.

The lunar landings forever will be celebrated among mankind'sgreat human and technological achievements. Yet today NASA iswasteful and ineffective, squandering the public's good will,enthusiasm and tens of billions of dollars.

In the early 1970s, as NASA saw Moon landings curtailed and Moonbases ruled out, it sought to preserve its big budgets and staffswith another big project: the Space Shuttle. Sold to policymakersas a reusable and thus cheaper way to put payloads in orbit thanexpendable launch vehicles, in effect, NASA's mission went fromscience and exploration to freight hauling.

But rather than proving a way to make space flight as common andinexpensive as air flight, the costs of putting payloads into spacewith the Shuttle have skyrocketed. It is difficult to get goodnumbers from impenetrable NASA accounting. David Gump in his bookSpace Enterprise estimates the cost inconstant dollars went from $3,800 per pound under Apollo to $6,000with the Shuttle. Alex Roland of Duke University estimates that thecost of a Shuttle flight, including development and capital costs,is not the $350 million claimed by NASA but closer to $2 billion,which works out to about $35,000 per pound.

As it became apparent in the early 1980s that the Shuttle was acostly white elephant, NASA needed a mission to justify theShuttle's continued existence. Aside from any purported commercialor scientific benefits, an orbiting space station seemed to servethis purpose. But the cost of the station went from a promised $8billion to nearly $40 billion before the current stripped down $30billion model was redesigned in 1993. (This number certainlyunderestimates real station development, construction andmaintenance costs.)

All along NASA public relations efforts continued to charm thetaxpayer with the wonders of space. School children were and areencouraged to think up experiments that can go on the station. Andthe first teacher was to go into space on the ill-fated Challengerflight. I do not deny the excitement of space exploration. I bemoanthe sad spectacle of space enthusiasts defending programs that makespace activities more costly and less feasible against critics whodenigrate the importance of space science and exploration.

These programs needless to say enjoyed the strong support fromthe contractors that benefited from them. Indeed, the Station'ssurvival has been a testimony to the practice of giving outcorporate pork and the influence the recipients have exercised overpolicymakers.

NASA in recent years has seen environmental projects aspotential cash cows. Mission to Planet Earth is the epitome of suchan enterprise. NASA in the late 1980s had to fight turf battleswith other agencies for jurisdiction over satellites to monitor theenvironment. After all, if the Environmental Protection Agencyneeds data to fulfill its mission, that should be none of NASA'sbusiness. NASA in effect muscled in on the territory of EPA andother government agencies. The mindset at NASA still seems to bethat any activities that take place in space should be under itsjurisdiction and supervision.

Typical of NASA's political tactics, in February, 1992 it madescreaming headlines with its announcement that a huge ozone holecould be in the process of opening over the Northern hemisphere. Infine print the data were skimpy at best. Still, the agency got thepolitically correct headlines as its funding was being debated.There were few headlines months later when no ozone holedeveloped.

A second reason for not reauthorizing Mission to Planet Earth isthat this program continues to cement NASA and the government inexactly the mode of operation that discourages private sectordevelopment of space infrastructure, and that in part accounts forthe fact that we do not have space stations and Moon bases at thistime. If a government agency, say, EPA, needs data, it shouldpurchase the data, not the hardware, from the private sector.Government agencies should not be in the business of launchingremote sensing satellites into space nor owning those satellites.There are private sector providers that could collect the data,based on bids submitted to the agency wishing the information. Thisapproach would help in the development of for profit, privatesector alternatives to government functions.

Again, consider NASA's history of protecting its budgets byfreezing out true private sector alternatives. In the 1970s andearly 1980s, has private launch companies were developing andoffering creative and innovative services, federal agencies wereprohibited from contracting with these enterprises. If in thoseyears NASA had begun to contract out for services, to get out ofthe freight hauling business and back to science, we likely wouldhave a vibrant private launch sector offering services for muchless than NASA's cost for such efforts. In the 1980s SpaceIndustries of Houston offered to launch a mini-station for $750million that could take government and other payloads a decadebefore the planned NASA station. The government would not contractwith this private supplier.

Mission to Planet Earth is a project that continues this patternof bypassing private sector providers, in this case, for remotesensing information.

The third reason for not reauthorizing Mission to Planet Earthis that its mission itself is of questionable value, based onpolitical considerations rather than real science. It seems aimedmore at selectively acquiring data to push politically correctagendas than to collect information that is urgently needed bypolicymakers but cannot be acquired by other, less costlymeans.

Fear of global warming was the major impetus behind Mission toPlanet Earth. But each year reveals exactly what junk science thismission is based on. Rather than rehearse in detail the reasons whythe global warming ideology is highly suspect and certainly doesnot deserve its own multi-billion dollar federal program, I willcall your attention to the work and statements by Prof. Patrick JMichaels of the University of Virginia who has testified beforethis body on this issue at various times.

I would note that the computer models used in the mid-1980s tomake the original global warming predictions also would havepredicted, based on the data, that the atmosphere should havewarmed up by 2.0° over the past 100 years. In fact, the realamount of warming seems to be about half a degree.

I also note that using ground-based data we find that much ofthis warming took place before World War II. Yet only aboutone-third of the greenhouse gas enhancement that supposedly causesglobal warming took place before the War. Two-thirds occurredafter. You cannot have an effect, the warming, before thecause.

I note in addition that an article in the New YorkTimes of March 18, 1997 on the influence of ocean currents onglobal climate suggests that oscillating temperatures are not dueto manmade greenhouse gases.

NASA and the contractors working on Mission to Planet Earth wantto keep the project going. This is hardly surprising. But thisuprogram is another example of the federal government's misplacedpriorities, an example of a program that never should have beenstarted but possibly will continue on, sucking up taxpayers'dollars. I hope you use this opportunity to reevaluate the missionbefore it becomes yet another unneeded government activity thatpolicymakers are unable to kill because of the industrial andideological clients it supports and who, in turn, support thepolicymakers.

Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics
Committee on Science
United States House of Representatives