America’s Shuttle Program in Final Count Down

Ground Control to Major Thom

At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the rotating service structure, or RSS, rolled back Sunday morning revealing space shuttle Discovery ready for launch. The rollback is in final preparation for Discovery’s scheduled 6:21 a.m. EDT liftoff Monday, Apr. 5 on the STS-131 mission. The Launch Blog can be found at and NASA TV at
April 5th marks the 4th before extinction launch of the Space Shuttle. After that it’s counting down 3-2-1 before the Space Shuttle Program becomes part of history and naturally the Space Coast is wondering what is going to happen with 5,000 or so lost jobs, now that the Obama administration has scrapped potential follow up programs from the budget.

The justification of this move is that Obama wants NASA to utilize private contractors, a surprising move from an otherwise proponent of larger government. But then again Obama is in the surprise-the-nation-mode lately considering his  switch-stand on offshore drilling just recently.
It’s part of politics or the price for pushing the healthcare bill through or it’s called Tit for Tat as famous breasts augmentation surgeon Robin Tattersall put it.

The Shuttle Program was never intended to survive beyond 2010 however and the fact that it actually has lasted this long is the result of a variant of the stratagem of “Too Big To Fail” called “Too Expensive to Abandon”.

A Rocket to Nowhere

For anyone who has taken the time to study the rise and fall of the STS Shuttle Program as it was initiated in the late 1960’s, the shuttle was indeed a Rocket to Nowhere, a truck into space. In the early years NASA could only justify the Congressionally approved dollars by teaming up with the USAirforce which in turn led to design adjustments to the Orbiter that made it in the end useless for any type of serious space exploration or scientific accomplishment.

When NASA at the second part of the Cold War introduced the International Space Station (ISS) idea, the orbit chosen was so low because the Orbiter was expensively overpowered. Launched in an oblique, low orbit that guaranteed its permanent uselessness, ISS serves as yin to the shuttle’s yang, justifying an endless stream of Shuttle missions that is now finally coming to an end.

The downfall of the Shuttle program however was created early on when tight budgets became political and many wrong design features were introduced to the Shuttle system trying to service both Air Force requirements and scientific objectives.
It was the time when NASA managers decided that they were better off making spending cuts on initial design even if they resulted in much higher operating costs over the lifetime of the program.
Of the 5 craft built over 35 years, systems were continually cannibalized, but the major financial decision was to design the aircraft for manual control, unable to perform unmanned flights.
In the end the shuttle became the most complicated piece of human technology ever built, but not very useful and prohibitively expensive to operate. Nothing in a shuttle launch ever became routine which in the end lead to the financial burden that more than half of NASA’s budget was allocated for the ever expensive shuttle program, without serving the scientific objective of space exploration.

In hindsight the shuttle program was most instrumental in bankrupting the Soviet Union, when the Russians tried to clone the orbiter at crippling expense in their impression of the Race for Space.
But beyond that, the disasters of the Challenger in 1986 and the Columbia in 2003, and the fact that the Shuttle never flew a mission to Polar orbit as was the reason for the Airforce to allocate budgets to the program, NASA’s Shuttle program was destined to fail in terms of space technology and science.

To give an example of how expensive of a toy the program had become: At the now-usual cost of around a billion dollars, Discovery Mission 95 in October of 1998 with senator/ex astronaut John Glenn aboard spent ten days engaged in the following experiments:

•    Sent cockroaches up to see how microgravity would affect their growth at various stages of their life cycle
•    Studied a “space rose” to see what kinds of essential oils it would produce in weightless environment. (in a triumph of technology transfer, this was later developed into a perfume).
•    At the suggestion of elementary school children, monitored everyday objects such as soap, crayons, and string to see whether their inertial mass would change in a weightless environment. Preliminary results suggest that Newton was right.
•    Monitored the growth of fish eggs and rice plants in space (orbital sushi?)
•    Tested new space appliances, including a space camcorder and space freezer
•    Checked to see whether melatonin would make the crew sleepy (it did not)

Somehow this reminds me of grants that are passed out here on earth to the ridicule of “Did-we really-need-to-know-that” puzzles if honey bees would turn to colored artificial plants if real plants were not available.

The end of an era

After 35 years the program is coming to an end and in hindsight many insiders admit that it has not contributed one IOTA to the challenge of space exploration. Te program has actually taken on the essentials of a Nation that once was great and now is trying to protect its safety and security at all cost including the cost of progress and innovation.

The people working at NASA are some of the best in the business, but utilizing them to repair old technology rather then experimenting new and groundbreaking structures and implementations is a waste not even Washington can afford.

If safety first has become the credo of this nation than Space Exploration should be scratched from the itinerary. NASA’s goal cannot be to have a safe space program – rocket science is going to remain difficult, challenging and risky. We remember and honor the Shuttle astronauts that died in two dreadful disasters. They knew the risk and accepted it. We, the people who pay for all this, have the right to demand that the costly space programs have some purpose beyond trying to keep its participants alive.

It was written several years ago that “even if the “worst” happens and the Shuttles are mothballed, with the the ISS left abandoned, the loss to science will have been negligible.”
It is much more important to salvage a space program that holds future for our planet; even if that requires substantial outsourcing to private enterprise, the Russians, the European Space Agency and many more. Exploring space is a global responsibility, even if national politicians are still battling on a dirtfield with howitzers and cannon balls.

Godspeed Discovery. Your mission may be futile, but you’re still an important piece of Americana. Let the countdown begin.

To Drill or not to Drill is the Question

Will this one day be the view from our beaches?

Well it seems we are at it once again.  The President during the campaign promised he would not permit drilling for oil off the coast of the US.  It now is clear he has changed his mind on that issue.  He has now issued his approval for setting up oil rigs and drilling off any coast that has the possibility of oil.

I guess the over whelming question here is should we, or shouldn’t we?  There are those who will fight this with every fiber of their being.  Then on the other hand there will be those who will welcome it.  Each of us have our own opinion as to what should be done.  I for one have always thought if we have oil then we should tap it and use it.  Why would we want to be beholding to foreign countries when we may not have to be?

I overheard our Senator, Bill Nelson make the argument that he was not in favor of drilling as it would take ten years for us to see the change at the pumps.  Let’s assume he is right, ( I think it would be much sooner),  At least we would be a little closer to not be dependent upon other countries.  Russia and China will be drilling off the coast of Cuba and soon.  If you think about it, we are only talking 90 miles between Miami and the Cuban coast, that would be the same oil that could be on our side of the table.

Am I for it?  Yes, I am.  I understand and appreciate the fact that there are those who are afraid of a spill and damage to our coast, that is a chance that will have to be taken.  We are faced with these types of damages daily, a tanker could hit our shores and produce heavy damage.  It is unfortunate that we simply can’t legislate a “perfect world”, there will always be those who will continue trying though.

Let me know in your comments what you think.

Controversy about High Speed Train Funding in America

Harry Reid kills MagLev between Vegas and SoCal

I should point out up front that I personally am a vocal proponent of high speed trains as a cornerstone of domestic travel and transportation. Being born and raised in the Netherlands I have witnessed the birth and advance of high speed trains intimately and can vouch for its value, ease,comfort, safety, punctuality and economic sustainability, let alone its environmentally friendly use and the easing it creates for metro road traffic congestion.

Even though there is a distinct cultural transportation difference between Western Europe and North America, essentially reflected in preferred modes of transportation, an efficient railroad system saves money, increases productivity and saves the environment. A strategic Dash Train (Sprint) circuit between the quadrouple-cities of Amsterdam – Utrecht – Rotterdam and the Hague in the Netherlands beats any attempt of sensible road travel in speed, cost and environmental impact.

But Americans love their cars and its convenience and will take them to the grocery store 200 yards away to get a bottle of wine. They also became enamored with airplanes for longer distances in the early 1970s when air travel became affordable to the masses with the introduction of wide bodies. And now, more than 30 years after Europe, Japan and even China have adopted the long term vision that high speed rail is an important contribution to all forms of transportation, the US is still battling its apparent functionality.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last week delivered a stern rebuke to aviation experts and executives who criticized the Obama administration’s interest and investments in high-speed rail.
“Let me give you a little political advice: Do not be against high-speed rail,” LaHood “threatened” the audience attending the annual FAA Forecast Conference in Washington. “The administration wants it. Americans want it. It is coming. We are going to be in the high-speed rail business,” were his exact words.
The U.S. will develop high-speed rail the same way the country developed the Eisenhower interstate highway network, LaHood said, adding that it should not be seen as bad news for aviation.
“People are still going to fly,” he said. “But we need alternatives and options. People want high-speed rail, so get with the program.”

LaHood’s comments followed an FAA conference panel about on-time airline operations that featured several aviation experts attacking the Obama administration’s financial commitment — $8 billion, so far — to develop fast passenger train service.
A very shortsighted, self-serving remark from an “airline lobbying politically conservative think tank” questioned if it made sense to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to create a new mode of travel that competes with a self-supportive one, using the argument that supposedly nowhere in the world rail recovers capital costs, a remark that is at the very least deceptive and at best a lie.

In further discussions however another side of the coin became visible when aviation officials claimed that because there’s precious little public funding available, this should be targeted for important aviation programs like NextGen air traffic control and airport operations, immediately rebuking its own previous statement of being self supportive.
American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey came out by saying that, it’s the government’s responsibility to keep today’s system vibrant and pay for the costly NextGen air traffic control system, which relies on GPS technology.
Aviation officials also claimed their industry has borne the costs of the national campaign against terrorism more than other business segments. The added security measures, they said, have added expense to air transportation, making it a more costly and less desirable mode of travel. “Why airlines are singled out to bear the fight against terrorism escapes me,” Arpey said. “I would argue that airlines should not pay for national defense.”

With 800 billion in defense budgets I would consider this remark poppycock or ignorance, the choice is up to Arpey. Sure all the Homeland Security issues around air travel have made this mode of transportation inconvenient for consumers and it is not easy for airlines’ operations, but to claim that the Airlines are paying for national defense would be a slap in the face of the taxpayer, in my opinion.

Apparently this was also the opinion of James Crites, executive vice president of operations for Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, who quickly pointed out that the airline industry has done a bad job selling Next Gen technology.
“We have to bring back the value of our product”, he said “and high-speed rail could actually boost aviation by improving overall transportation in the U.S. “I don’t see it as competition,” he said. “I see it as a complementary mode.”

And that is exactly the strategic approach for high speed rail versus airline transportation.

A Brookings Institute report (, “Expect Delays: An Analysis of Air Travel Trends in the United States,” released last October said the U.S. should look at starting high speed rail links between major metro centers that are 200 and 500 miles apart, specifically those now served by congested air hubs.
“Many of these aviation corridors offer an excellent customer base to quickly create significant ridership and begin making returns on investment as soon as possible,” the Brookings report said. “At distances of less than 400 miles, high-speed rail can meet or beat air travel times while decongesting high systems and improving travel convenience.”

Nevada senator pulls funding for rail project

And then….almost at the same time that secretary LaHood tells the airline executives to get with the program, Democratic top idiot Harry Reid plays politics with the high speed rail program by redirecting $45 million in funding for a proposed magnetic-levitation rail line that its planners say would connect Southern California to Las Vegas in just 80 minutes, to road improvements near Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.
Reid defended his narrow minded decision to redirect federal funds to “a transportation project in southern Nevada that will actually create jobs right away.”

Politicians with band-aids as solutions, it seems Washington DC has its share of them. If I would have been in charge of any Las Vegas Hotel Group I would have pulled out all stops to get that $45 million back in the hands of the developers. It would be a lifesaver for Sin City in the Desert

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