Thursday, April 03, 2014

U.S. bans astronauts

Political fanaticism based on geographic ignorance turns America into a loser

NASA's 2014 budget is $17.6 billion which is something like 0.6% of the federal budget or 0.1% of the GDP. These percentages are much lower than in the 1960s when America was feeling humiliated by the USSR and the budget reached as much as 4.5% of the GDP. But it's still a lot of money. You would expect the country that has arguably been the #1 leader – well, at some critical points, #2 – to be able to send astronauts to space.

You would be wrong. The space shuttle program looked like a great idea and maybe it was. However, it ended up as an unsuccessful dead end – partially because of the two lost space shuttles and the crews – and it was retired in Summer 2011. Since that time, except for low-orbit flights that are being privatized in the U.S., America relies on Russian rockets. Last year, the price of one seat in Souyz increased from $63 million to $71 million. It's a lot of money; however, with its budget NASA could still afford 250 such seats each year.

For some time, the U.S.-Russian tension surrounding the chaos in Ukraine seemed to be hermetically isolated from the good relationships of the two countries in the space program. That changed today. See e.g.
NASA suspends ties with Russian gov't officials over ongoing crisis in Crimea
A NASA apparatchik decided – probably due to some pressure from the White House – to ban all co-operation with Russia, including e-mails sent to and received from Russia! Holy cow, I think that not even during the tensest moments of the Cold War, the two sides wouldn't try to isolate themselves from each other this hysterically.

There are currently two U.S. astronauts on the International Space Station. That could be a problem so NASA gave an "exemption" to the ISS with the justification that it's just an "international" project that happens to involve some Russians. This description of the "nationality" of the ISS sounds a bit comical given the existential dependence of the ISS on the Soyuz rockets and the fact that 3 of 6 of the crew are Russians (there's only one non-Russian, un-American seat, currently taken by a Japanese guy).

Logos of NASA and NADA, its new friend in North Korea.

The bureaucratic arbitrariness of this exemption is amusing and reminds me of some regulations in the communist era. You may be a friend with the Russians on the ISS, drink some vodka with them, it's just perfectly fine, and you may use their rockets. But if the ISS is not involved, you can't even exchange an e-mail with them! ;-) How can they exactly impose such a silly rule? Can't I be sending e-mails to and inviting Russian visitors as long as I give them a T-shirt with the "I love ISS and work for it"? Every interaction may mask itself as an interaction that is needed for the ISS, may it not?

I think that such political interventions into meritocratic activities – especially science but to some extent, fields close to it, including the space research – are just wrong, especially if they hurt America itself. Moreover, it seems bizarre to me that the U.S. always seems to assume that it is just America that is "allowed" to impose sanctions and create problems for others. Haven't they considered the possibility that Russia may retaliate as well? If it were behaving in a similar way, it could just refuse to take the two Yankees from the ISS back. They may very well jump out of the station. Why not?

Up to the mid 1990s, I was skeptical about the claims that the Americans were brainwashed by some anti-Russian propaganda that was analogous to the anti-American propaganda in the Soviet bloc. I would be imagining America as the land of the free and the home of the brave where such government-organized brainwashing just couldn't take place. My years in the U.S. have changed my mind. The brainwashing has been comparable on both sides and these days, I think that the amount of the irrational anti-Russian hatred in America is stronger than the (traces of) the irrational anti-Americanism in Russia.

If it is so easy for the U.S. government to completely eliminate the ability of America to send astronauts (and even any cargo!) to high orbits, and to destroy the results of decades of cooperative work of the technological experts, is it equally eager to force Europe to buy more expensive fossil fuels instead of those from Russia that just work? New alternatives would require huge investments and extra transportation costs. It would be very expensive. Do I want it, just to allow the impotent and geographically ignorant White House to show a finger to Russia? I admit that instead of doubled energy prices, I would prefer a Russian assassination of Barack Obama and all members of his government. It's just better for business, for peace, for progress, and for cooperation between the people and the nations.

The world's first non-Soviet non-American astronaut, Vladimír Remek (right, Czechoslovakia), along with his colleague Alexei Gubarev (USSR). Remek has been a communist deputy in the European Parliament for years and now he is the Czech ambassador to Moscow. I've met him once, during the 2nd inauguration of Klaus as a president, I think.

The space research is one of the flagship examples of the importance of the Russian services for the rest of the world. I think that this broken cooperation only helps to highlight this point and the boycott is therefore stupid from a tactical viewpoint, too. Moreover, this astronautic impotence of America will continue at least up to 2017 – at least for three more years. Does someone really believe that it's a great idea to restrict the American space abilities because of the fashionable claims in the mainstream Western media that e.g. Crimea is not a Russian peninsula even though it demonstrably is and that the success of the Maidan riots wasn't primarily do to dangerous fascists even though it was?

I must mention another thing, climate change. NASA has been changing the character of its work. "The National Aeronautics and Space Administration" is no longer able to send people to the high orbit and it won't be able to do so for years. However, it is working hard to pay these $17.6 billion a year to Gavin-Schmidt-like climate alarmist crackpots and fraudsters who would normally be arrested for many, many years if the system were not failing.

I've been among the top 5% lovers of America in my environments but at this moment, I don't believe that America has a bright future in the long run. Too many shitty individuals and groups have grabbed too much power and are transforming America into a country controlled by a big government that worships too many illogical, anti-civilization, dogmatic, hypocritical, unrealistic, and incoherent values.


  1. Very thought provoking, Luboš. I was a gradeschooler in the US in the 1980s, and I was shocked to realize how propagandized we were as I grew older. Thank you for your perspective.

  2. Now they have gone nuts, I agree with Lumo

  3. Who cares? What do you think about this one

    I'm currently doing a basic research on the matter with Saudi Arabian physicists. We are going to kick some asses :-)

  4. NASA is a giant that has given great scientific/engineering achievements to humanity. But it has been dying for 4 decades (post-moon landings) because, after all, the institution has always been a political puppet at its core.

  5. Who knows, maybe this new animosity between USA and Russia would fuel a new space race? Americans realise that they dont want to rely on Russian services, so they fast-track NASA COTS and CCDev programs.. Or maybe even build a new all-american space station?

    Sometimes competition is beneficial.

  6. "We've turned into a Nation of Idiots..this country doesn't want to fund Science anymore"
    -- Joanne Hewett/SLAC

    "We're in the Dark Ages"
    -- Dr Mike Newberry, U of Arizona/Steward Observatory, adjunct prof

  7. A few weeks ago on another blog, I opined that Russia has counter sanctions available to it, for example denying the US access to the ISS. I was thoroughly bitch-slapped by several other commenters for being an idiot. I hadn't thought the US would do it to itself.

    One of the most disturbing features of the current Ukrainian crisis is the extreme, jingoistic, delusional anti-Russian rants from foreign experts and high-ranking politicians (like John McCain) that saturate mainstream media like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NBC, Walter Mead's blog, et al. I emphasize: these rants are not from nonentities like me, they come from people connected to the US' foreign policy makers.

    Many of these experts and leaders recommend strong military threats against Russia, like positioning heavy armored divisions and nuclear-capable fighter/bombers in Poland and Lithuanian. They seem to think Putin is a naughty schoolboy who can be spanked and sent to bed without supper. This is the kind of advice that Conrad gave to Franz Joseph: The Serbs are such worms.

    What these experts and foreign policy advisors do not consider it is that a ground war in Central/Eastern Europe would proceed without American troops. It would be the job of the Brits, French and (maybe, who knows?) Germans. We have withdrawn from Europe and have no ground forces there. Even unopposed, it would take literally months to send armored forces to Europe, and that assumes Russian submarines would not intervene. Reinforcing Europe would require winning the Battle of the Atlantic III.

    American airpower could be rapidly deployed as could some lightly armed airborne infantry. Our navy would have no roll other than defeating Russian subs. A Russian that is losing would likely stage a nuclear "demonstration" on some suitable Polish target.

    We live in an age when our Ruling Class is delusional, superstitious, illiterate, arrogant, violent and aggressive.

    And you wonder why I am so concerned about my daughter living far to the west in Troisdorf.

  8. The space (non-)cooperation issues aside, what is the view of the Ukrainian crisis in Europe? Are there increased security concerns because of the Russian action in the Crimea, both among the European politicians and ordinary people, or is the worry confined to the US government officials?

  9. Maybe there are concerns somewhere, surely not in the Czech Republic. Quite generally, Russia+Ukraine have disappeared from the top news, anyway, and when there are news, there are about analyses what happened in the previous months.

    Concerning Crimea, we only read about some idiotic comments by the boss of the Czech Post Office who says that they won't send letters/packages to Crimea because the Ukrainian Post Office has trouble to deliver things over there. Most of the commenters agree with me that it is intentional incompetence or ideologically motivated sabotage because the right ending of these addresses - at least when it comes to any practical everyday issues - is "Crimea, Russia", and Russia is unlikely to have trouble to deliver mail over there. These are the "small annoyances" that the anti-Russian reasoning of various powerful enough people is causing at most places of the globe.

    It's silly that Russia would attack any NATO country without Russian presence. It would be a pain in the neck for Russia and they are not stupid. It is plausible that an increased tension may be used by Russia as an excuse to take some Russian-populated parts of Moldova and perhaps other parts of Ukraine. Otherwise I just expect that they're silently going to wait for the economic trouble in Ukraine to become serious, and hope that pro-Russian forces or presidential candidates will win the next elections and the whole country may be more or less officially integrated with Russia. Putin has the plan for the "Eurasian Union" which is like the territory of USSR plus bonus. ;-)

    I don't really think it's a project for us in any foreseeable future so this is something we're just not involved in. But whether it's good or bad to reorganize the Soviet successor countries in this way is a question with arguments on both sides.

  10. The Space Scuttle's primary payload was the Space Scuttle. What little was left over, downgraded for "safety," was an expensive bad joke. ISS FUBAR has no mission. It's one meaningful output is that reaction wheels are defectively fabricated. NASA incorporates this defect in all its reaction wheels, dooming the Kepler satellite telescope detecting exoplanets.

    NASA is political debt repayment. The dregs of American bureaucracy stuff their pensions playing Space Lord. NASA must: 1) Impose cap and trade on carbon emissions during launch, and 2) Ban all solid boosters for their chlorine emissions into the stratosphere. Rockets must use renewable resources, as Werner von Braun fueled the V2 with slivovitz.

  11. As an American, unfortunately, I have to agree with your assessment in the last paragraph. I hope is has nothing to do with getting older and more cynical, but I have watch politics since the early Raegan years and I have seen it get more polarized based on ideology instead of facts on the ground with less and less open minded listening and compromise. I don't blame the American people whole heartedly, but the way the system is rigged at the district level to jerrymander them to elect only extreme democrats or extreme republicans. I am also against money involved in reelection campaigns, I believe it gives a disproportionate voice for those with the deep pockets (and that is not just corporations or the rich).
    I don't know what it is going to take to get American's in a revolutionary mood again (non-violent of course), but it looks like things need to get worse before we will reform the system. I think a 2nd Constitutional Convention coming up from the grass roots and passed at the state level might work.

  12. Off-topic. Only a quick visit to recommend a movie I just saw, and it seemed to me quite worthy: Hawking (TV).

    A BBC production about Stephen Hawking' years as a doctoral student at Cambridge, supervised by Dennis Sciama (though more inspired by Roger Penrose). Not too much physics inside, but I think it's a nice movie who may like to Lubos and many readers of The Reference Frame. Also a great work by Benedict Cumberbatch, and very funny the Penzias&Wilson conference for the Nobel Prize.

  13. One problem is Obama doesn't value space research. He could care less if there were astronauts. In fact Obama doesn't value science except the green tyranny variety that allows the government to control people's behavior. I agree that today in the US there is a lot of anti-Russian propaganda, and in many ways Russia may actually be better or heading a better direction.

  14. I would also point out that Russia is probably heading in a direction of more economic freedom while in the US Obama and the Democrats are against economic freedom.

  15. Thought you might like this. ;)


  16. She's pretty amusing and pleasant - even though I wasn't exactly laughing out loud.

  17. Well, I said you might "like" it, not love it. ;)

  18. This action is inane, stupid, silly and even petty but one thing it surely is not is important. It is a political sop to those American neanderthals who are still in a cold-war mindset, nothing more.

    To claim it portends a decline in our influence ignores the things that really do assure our future influence, such things as economic strength, geopolitical position and unparalleled energy abundance. Asia and, particularly, South Asia, will grow more influential but the United States will remain the only true superpower for a few more decades.

  19. President Obama is for the first time in 6 years having to
    deal with a peer on equal footing. His
    strategy is to continue to act like a moody adolescent. Congratulations to all of the well-meaning,
    guilty feeling middle class people who voted for him.

  20. The funny part is that even though my writings and papers trigger all kinds of alarms, what can they do?

    Ok, they ask some nuclear physicist if my theory is any good. What do you think that the outcome is? :-) That's right, Nothing! That's why U.S. military wasn't interested on collaboration with me.

    Well, maybe my current collaboration with Saudi physicists and our results kick some asses ;-)

  21. Obviously we are seeing in the Crimean situtation a 'beneficial crisis' being put to good use by the US and NATO military industrial conglomerate. Conspiracy writers seem to have recently settled on the use of the term 'Deep State' for this paradigm since about the beginning of 2014, although this title seems a bit pretentious in my opinion.

    Its fascinating to watch the propaganda machine in action. Here in Oz for example the local interest in the annexation of Crimea is about nil. Yet in the national right-wing newspaper of record we read a series of hilariously over-the-top belligerent articles on the subect written by US hawks. I can only wonder which of the writers are assets of the security state and which are their useful idiots.

  22. Here's the second blog post

  23. It's becoming more and more apparent to me that Obama is simply incompetent for the job and extremely naive to boot. His entire presidency can be viewed as a lesson in how a lightweight can be simply gamed by shrewd ideologically committed courtiers.

    It's a lesson for the rest of us not to mistake smooth rhetoric for understanding or competence. As so often happens, we mistook the TV commercial Obama for the actual product. They sold us a motor scooter when we thought we bought a Lexus.

  24. If the West has its way, Ukraine will belong to neither Europe nor Russia. The IMF will own it.

    The other scenario resulting from the careful $5 billion USA/NATO cultivation of neo-Fascist groups now occupying the Kiev parliament are civil war on a low boil or worse a high boil and NATO/Russia clash which if the Neocons aren't slapped down could potentially lead to nuclear launches.
    With the assassination of the Pravy Sector's leader, there may be an attempt to throw the neo-Fascists under the bus, they having outlasted their usefulness. It all depends how much support they get.

    There are suggestions that Saudi Arabia is involved in all this. I am sure they'd find a way to keep these groups fed, watered and armed if it was in their interest. Other suggestions are that the USA are asking the Saudis to increase their output and lower the cost of a barrel of oil to disrupt the Russian budget and weaken Putin.

    The US administration, especially the Neocons and the Saudis, all hate Syria and Iran. Russia supports the latter and the US and its puppets would love a regime change in Russia.

    Another drunken and malleable Yeltsin would suit them just fine.

  25. The BRICS nations with the exception of South Africa are all in the top 10 economics in the world. With China, India, Brazil, Russia together, the economic power rivals that of the USA in absolute terms. And Brazil, India and South Africa are democracies to boot, making the Western position not even appealing to the “democracies” of the world.

    BRICS and many nations in Africa and Asia see this latest tantrum against Russia to be the heights of Western hypocrisy and India in particular has said in no uncertain terms that it will never abide by any unilateral sanctions against Russia. China is likely to do the same and if 2.5 Billion people and the world's largest economies supporting Russia – that makes America’s global influence less than it has ever been before. NATO’s huffs and puffs are meaningless as far as Russia is concerned.

    The BRICS statement is the world at large underlining the West’s hypocrisy and double standards. The West needs to get used to it because this is the shape of a multi-polar future.

  26. Can anyone remember the last Presidential Administration that followed the Constitution or its moral warnings? Who ever the hell is pulling the strings likes us dichotomizing into Republicans against Democrats, or liberal against conservatives, or tea partiers against progressives. It's a scam to keep folks in there place and not have another revolution or civil war in this country. They are paranoid and thus keep secrets, wealth, power, and information from us. And the mainstream media is usually their spokesman.

  27. The new doctrine advanced by Samantha Power called "Responsibility to Protect" (abbreviated R2P) is the left-wing version of interventionist neoconservative ideology. Where the right intervenes ostensibly to promote democracy, the left intervenes ostensibly to protect civilians. Both sound principled in theory, but in practice the results are quite costly and bloody, and are likely to have all sorts of unintended consequences.

    In the same way that money burns a hole in some people's pockets, commanding the world's most powerful military appears to have an intoxicating effect on political elites. With such power at their disposal, it's no wonder they can't resist the temptation to put it to use. The very fact they possess such power probably stimulates interventionist theorizing. It's unlikely that R2P would have been hatched by elites in Liechtenstein, for example.

  28. There is another dimension here which needs exposure, BobSykes, and that is the gullible affirmation and willingness to accept the propaganda pie which is served up to us the public. We gobble it up with relish. We, the public, are complicit in this by our refusal to listen to any other side of the argument. For anyone discerning enough to seek it out there was convincing information available at the time to convince that the Gulf of Tonkin was fabricated, that there were no WMDs in Iraq, that the poison gas in Syria was probably unleashed by others than Assad, and so it is no surprise to me that Neo Nazi provocateurs may have touched things off in the Ukraine. No matter what the evidence though, the clarion call that "your country needs you to go to war" seems to prevail. It will be our undoing.

  29. What you say is true, Cynthia, but it does not change the fact that we are the only super power today and will remain so for some time. Whether China will become a super power remains to be seen but it is doubtful.

    We do celebrate the progress made by the BRICS, of course, because of the concomitant relief of human suffering. In particular, it is deeply satisfying that Deng Xiaoping amassed enough political clout so as to allow free market's to operate in China. About half a billion people have been raised out of crushing poverty as a direct result.

    I know that you are not much of a believer in free markets but they have done far more good than any other human activity. Interference in free markets has, on the other hand, led to multiple catastrophes.

  30. You mean the Susskind action? :-)

  31. Russia is surely heading in a good direction because she has been in a very dark place. I view my own country as more or less treading water but I am generally optimistic despite our obvious problems.
    Obama has abysmal science advisors and no inherent interest in science, unfortunately.

  32. The Ukraine is poor compared to Russia, so Putin should pay something for Crimea.
    Sort of like we have with Gitmo. Guantanamo bay was seized during the Spanish American war in order to allow American military control of the approach to Panama canal. The current treaty has us paying rent, but for the Crimea perhaps buying it outright would be the better choice.

    It would be worth the money just to chill out the busybodies.

    Turing words / Putin Statesman peaceful resolution

  33. Yep this might be a loop hole, as nobody wants to be responsible for his actions :-D