The Vacuum of Space Policy

I was born in August 1969, a few weeks after Neil Armstrong’s “small step” onto the moon. Nonetheless, I was a child of the space age, idolizing Armstrong and his fellow astronauts, scrapbooking articles on the Viking landers and Voyager probes, and building lots (and lots and lots) of model rockets. NASA’s feats and American space policy were awe-inspiring.

Yet, from today’s vantage point, it’s hard not to question the Apollo program. Yes, we got to the moon, but to what end? Of the 10 Apollo missions originally planned for the lunar surface, only seven flew, and one of them aborted its landing; the rest were cancelled. It’s as if, once the Apollo astronauts completed their initial science mission and trundled off some 800 pounds of moon rocks, policymakers asked, “OK, now what?” The mission cancellations suggest they didn’t have an answer.

That pattern played out again with Skylab, the United States’ first space station. It hosted all of three missions before it was abandoned like an orbiting foreclosed house and ultimately crashed to earth.

In fairness, other NASA manned missions fared better. The space shuttles (STS) flew 135 missions between 1981 and 2011. (Also worth remembering: two missions ended tragically.) The International Space Station (ISS) continues its manned mission that began in 2000, conducting experiments and observations. And NASA’s unmanned programs have yielded stunning achievements, as have seemingly countless other government and commercial satellites. The unmanned programs, STS, and ISS had answers to the “Now what?” question: conducting ongoing scientific research, providing services (e.g., communications, weather-monitoring, reconnaissance), and delivering and servicing satellites. Those benefits are ongoing; in contrast, Apollo brings to mind the Simpsons spoof, “The Moon of Earth.”

Spinning Global Sea Ice

NASA takes the (frozen) cake with this one.

It just released a report on global sea ice coverage that opens with the following sentence:

Sea ice increases in Antarctica do not make up for the accelerated Arctic sea ice loss of the last decades, a new NASA study finds.

NASA continued:

Growing Prosperity and Knowledge Aid Space Exploration

There has never been a better time to be alive on this planet. While many measures of wellbeing are already on a positive trajectory, humanity’s innate curiosity and enterprising spirit continue to push many individuals to seek the stars. The Rosetta mission’s successful comet landing was just the latest development. Privately-funded initiatives, such as SpaceX and Mars One, are taking the lead on a bolder project: a mission to Mars.

Interplanetary Greatness Conservatism

My Washington Examiner column this week is on the final flight of the Space Shuttle, and what looks to be the withering away of the manned space program. In 2004, President Bush announced plans for a moonbase and an eventual Mars mission. But last year President Obama effectively cancelled the moonbase, and has exhibited little desire to liberate Mars. That’s good news, I argue:

Thomas Stays the Course, Scalia Returns to the Fold

A bit lost in last week’s legal news regarding a majority of states now suing over Obamacare, the House voting to repeal Obamacare, and the anniversary of Citizens United, was the first interesting Supreme Court decision of the term.  Most notably, Justices Scalia and Thomas continued their valiant struggle to limit the scope of the constitutional misnomer that is “substantive due process” doctrine.

Obama Budget Still Goes to the Moon

The president’s new budget proposes to end NASA’s Constellation program, a Bush initiative intended to put humans back on the moon by 2020. But Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget still goes to the moon figuratively — if you stacked 3.8 trillion $1 bills, the pile would reach the moon with 20,000 miles to spare!

Gallup Poll: Federal Reserve Makes the IRS Look Good

A recent Gallup Poll surveyed the public’s impression of how various federal agencies were doing their job.  Of the agencies evaluated, on the bottom was the Federal Reserve Board.  Only 30 percent of the respondents rated the Fed’s performance as either excellent or good.  I can understand now why Chairman Bernanke felt the need to take his act on the road.  Even the IRS managed to get 40 percent of respondents to see its job performance as excellent or good.

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