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Ted Cruz is right: Earth sciences aren't NASA's mission

The deterioration of NASA and its contamination by mediocre Earth-bound pseudointellectuals has to be stopped and reverted

Senator Ted Cruz asked the NASA administrator Charles Bolden (who was appointed in 2009 and has played the role of an Obama puppet ever since) what is the core mission of NASA.

Bolden answered that he recently read the original National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 and he concluded that NASA's core mission is space exploration along with the investigation of the Earth's environment and making the Earth a better place.

If you click at the link in the previous sentence and read the bill, you will see that 2/3 of Bolden's claim are dirty shameless lies. There isn't an iota in the bill that would say that NASA has something to do with the environment, with its protection, with the climate or its change, with climatology, with the warming, with the investigation of any Earth sciences in general, or with making the Earth a better place.

Instead, NASA's mission – and not just core mission, all of the mission – is exactly what a person with common sense would expect: to develop and deploy the technology with which you may fly in the atmosphere and beyond the atmosphere and to go into space and explore it.

It is really the objects that fly, like the rockets, that NASA is all about. They may be used in several – usually obvious – ways but if it doesn't fly, it is not NASA's business. Due to the partial successes of the commercial space companies, NASA's mission has effectively become narrower, not wider – it should focus on things that fly beyond the low Earth orbit.

You don't need a PhD to guess that this is what the law prescribes NASA to do. The acronym stands for The National Aeronautics and Space Administration. There is indeed nothing about the environment, about the climate, about the warming, about the protection of the environment, about Earth sciences, or about improvements of the planet Earth.

Bolden just made it up – all these things. It may be useful to copy the bill's definitions of the key notions that NASA is supposed to work with:

Sec. 103. As used in this Act —

(1) the term "aeronautical and space activities" means (A) research into, and the solution of, problems of flight within and outside the earth's atmosphere, (B) the development, construction, testing, and operation for research purposes of aeronautical and space vehicles, and (C) such other activities as may be required for the exploration of space; and

(2) the term "aeronautical and space vehicles" means aircraft, missiles, satellites, and other space vehicles, manned and unmanned, together with related equipment, devices, components, and parts.
Unfortunately, the recent reality at NASA does resemble the untrue claims made by Mr Bolden. NASA has lost its ability to send humans to space and America depends on Russia – and even that dependence became extremely unreliable due to the deteriorated U.S.-Russian relationships.

This is pretty much an inevitable outcome of the budgetary changes within NASA since 2009:
Discussing the president’s $18.5 billion budget request for NASA for 2016, he [Ted Cruz] complained that funding for Earth sciences has increased by 41 percent since 2009, while space exploration has seen a 7.6 percent decrease. [Source]
This is a stunning development – a shocking deterioration of the organization that used to be so prestigious. The Earth-space funding ratio grew by the factor of 1.41/0.924 = 1.526 in five years or so.

NASA used to be a center of the technological elite, astronauts and rocket scientists (who are not quite as good as theoretical physicists but they're in between theoretical physicists and tolltakers at the Golden Gate Bridge). But these days, it is enough to be a Gavin-Schmidt-like ideologue and soft scientist to "make it" there.

I can imagine how offended the people who were associated with NASA's golden years – engineers, moonwalkers, and many others – must feel now when this subpar cesspool of politically tainted pseudoscientists has become a major and cataclysmically growing portion of NASA.

Of course that NASA must primarily investigate space, try go to space, do old, new, and interesting things in space, and perhaps go to Mars – and make achievements that require an unusual concentration of skills, funds, and efforts and that inspire the younger (and older) generations, as Ted Cruz says. I hope that he or someone like him will become the U.S. president and entirely eliminates all these tumors from NASA that simply shouldn't be there so that there is enough money for the valuable part of NASA to strengthen.

Bloomberg wrote a story in which a quote by Colorado Senator Cory Gardner was also emphasized:
"Are we focusing on the heavens in NASA?'' Gardner asked. "Or are we focusing on dirt in Texas?"
It's a great quote and as far as I can see, it was almost exactly copied from the Interstellar movie, see the beginning of this trailer, a fact that the journalists missed. Recall that in the movie, NASA are the only enlightened technocrats who survived while everyone else is taught to become a farmer in the conditions of the new Dust Bowl.

By contaminating NASA – an organization that looked for our place in the sky – with assorted Schmidts, Holden is changing it into a bureaucratic organization looking for its and our place in the dirt.

Hungarian nuclear veto

Another report linking "big science" and "big politics" shocked me today in the morning. There exist rumors – initially denied by the Hungarian government and by Rosatom – that Euratom and the European Commission have killed Hungary's plans to expand its Paks nuclear power plant using extra Russian technology and fuel.

I don't understand the European Union laws enough – it's toxic mess with lots of potential time bombs – but so far I have been absolutely convinced that the member states haven't lost their basic sovereignty e.g. when it comes to trading with third countries. If we actually did lose this sovereignty and if the Hungarian project may be threatened or even terminated, Brussels is a huge threat for the basic energy security of countries like Hungary and Czechia (which sees a similar role nuclear energy and similar plans to expand this role) and it would be clearly a good idea to leave the EU as soon as possible.

In minutes after this Hungarian shock, I looked into our, Czech situation and it is not just analogous, it could be even worse. Our nuclear energy authorities approved completely sensible visions saying, among other things, that it's preferred for the final construction of the nuclear fuel to take place on the Czech territory etc. These conditions favor the Russian fuel. Westinghouse began some hysteria and it will clearly try to abuse the interventions from Brussels with its claims that "it's mandatory to diversify" to fight its Russian competition. Sorry, this lobbying is not what I consider a fair free competitive process. The nuclear cooperation with Russia has worked pretty much flawlessly for us and we shouldn't be manipulated into thinking that there "had" to be something wrong with it.

Anti-NATO rally

Off-topic: a rally against the NATO and NATO bases in Slovakia took place in our brothers' capital, Bratislava. The most well-known speaker (who agreed with the protesters) was Ján Čarnogurský, a center-right Christian former prime minister and a former dissident. They had banners saying that NATO divides the nation, Yankees go home, no to war, NATO – a criminal organization, and so on. I used to be a supporter of the U.S. radar in Czechia etc. but I would vote against NATO bases here if I were asked, too. This is just way too analogous to the Soviet bases after 1968, whether you try to paint it with pink ink or not. And I just feel that the main U.S. military goals are not really correlated with the Czech ones these days.

BTW Czech president Zeman is the only EU leader who plans to attend the 70th anniversary Victory Parade in Moscow in May. I think that the absence of others indicates a shameful effort to rewrite the history and piss on the tombs of all the Soviet soldiers who died to beat Nazism.

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reader David Nataf said...

How would you split it between manned flight, inner solar system science, outer solar system science and astrophysics/cosmology?

It's peculiar that the two most groundbreaking space facilities up right now, Planck and Gaia, are both European. I don't think that's ever happened before. In the previous decade the USA made WMAP, Fermi, Kepler, etc.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear David, concerning the latter point - exactly, I wanted to make it, too. Even when it comes to the "cosmological research", the U.S. is moving from the top and may be out of top 3 in a decade if the trend continues.

How things should be split is a political question for the insiders. Of course that I like the cosmological research and astrophysics of inner/outer solar system is probably less important, but I also have some part of the boy's soul who thinks it's cool if people get to Mars (we just followed a Czech woman here who is among those who can get the one-way ticket to Mars - amazing things from an ethical viewpoint).

But whatever the relative distribution is in between these missions, they don't violate the bill about NASA. Changing NASA into an organization evaluating surface weather station and interpreting them obviously does violate the law.

reader Bob K said...

It seems NASA's mission has become, I would say, rather flexible. Just 5 years ago Bolden considered his foremost task to be Muslim outreach.

His latest position leads me to visualize the following for NASA. Toilet. Drain. Circling.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Wow, I had missed that. So one of the top 3 tasks for NASA is to make Muslims in mostly Islamic countries feel proud.

reader Dilaton said...

Agreed on the detoriaton of NASA, I noted this since a rather long time too ...

If the EU evolves more and more into a dictatorial central committee that cuts the souvereinity (not sure about spelling, typing from my iphone) of the member states I want Germany to leave the EU immediately too :-( !

reader BMWA1 said...

Out of curiosity, what are the technical limits or problems of Westinghouse materials at the cited CZ and Hungarian cases?

reader GZ said...

Of course you conveniently forgot this:

Sec 102.c.1: The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space;

reader Luboš Motl said...

I didn't forget it. I ignored it because this is just another sentence describing aerodynamics of rockets. It was never meant to mean climatology.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear BMWA1, I am not going to pretend that I think that the Russian reactor and fuel is better than the Westinghouse in every respect - I don't really believe that it's the case.

But there are many considerations. First, the Russian reactors are able to cool themselves in the case of a complete blackout or removal from any energy source.

Second, the fuel originally from Russia is now being preprocessed - the final stages of the production - occur on the Czech territory, in the company called ALVEL which is a joint venture of the Russian TVEL. The final production of fuel domestically has advantage of 1) reduction of dependence on foreign work, 2) better logistics, 3) better verification of the final products (there were some imperfections in the Russian fuel which may be found in the setup), 4) better general support of the Czech economy.

reader GZ said...

I didn't hide anything, it's actually you who's reading something that's not there. You're basically saying that "areonautical and space activity" means "rocket development". Why? It's pretty obvious that "activity" means missions (within or outside the athmosphere).

reader Luboš Motl said...

Of course that "aeronautical and space activity" means activity involving flying objects and no other activities.

Why don't you look into a dictionary e.g. for aeronautics

if you don't understand an English word?

reader Gordon said...

This may be the first time I have agreed with words coming from Ted Cruz, but he is right. The current NASA is a shadow of what it was, and it was never intended to be an instrument of the AGW pack. It has to be embarrassing for NASA to rely on Russian rockets to transport its astronauts.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Gordon, I understand where you instinctive separation from Cruz comes from. But just for fun, you may want to forget about some of the most obvious stereotypes and loom at him with the assumption that you are supposed to agree - and you will see it's not so bad. ;-)

reader Gordon said...

A good example of someone coming up with ideas that led to breakthroughs where others won the Nobel prize would be George Gamow (and Ralph Alpher), who predicted the cosmic background radiation and also the triplet code for DNA. He also developed Lemaitre's concept of the Big Bang along with countless other things (Gamow formula, fusion etc).

reader Luboš Motl said...

Funny, just an hour ago, I ran into an anti-Western-education rant in Pravda, Russian ex-communist daily

which mentioned Lemaitre as the main guy who is being suppressed by the Western education system.

reader davideisenstadt said...

camel pee in space...I mean low earth orbit...i can't wait.

reader HenryBowman419 said...

Such requests from our Fearless Leader constitute of the the reasons that many are suspicious of his overall intentions.

reader BMWA1 said...

Actually, with the solar wind included here, it might relate to both influences in rocket trajectories as well as climate, in which case Dr. Soon would be the man to head the pertinent NASA unit.

reader Old School Comic Book Fan said...

I agree with everything you said. My brother is employed at JPL and he stated to me that people have a misconception on NASA withs its prestige. He says that private industries are much harder to get into and are more advanced in its technology. He said barely anything gets done and his life at JPL was all about useless meetings. He feels NASA is losing its respectability. I do believe in NASA and hope the right leaders will be put in place. Their are plenty of private companies, institutions, and universities that are studying the climate and our Earth. NASA should focus their funding somewhere else.

reader Luboš Motl said...

It's so bad news for space research - the more competitive private enterprises are a silver lining but at the end, I think that their overall funding is so much smaller that they won't be enough to replace what NASA did in the golden years, and beyond.

reader Old School Comic Book Fan said...

I am not a big fan of Cruz but he is right on this topic.

reader Werdna said...

"astronauts and rocket scientists (who are not quite as good as
theoretical physicists but they're in between theoretical physicists and
tolltakers at the Golden Gate Bridge)."

Well there was one Apollo astronaut who was a scientist. The only scientist to walk on the moon, as it happens.

reader BeanCrujsher said...

Though he was a geologist, not a "rocket scientist" per se.

reader YihAbby said...

Just imagine I read it twice. While I am not as accomplished on this topic, I concur with your closings because they make sense. Thanks and good luck to you.
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reader strictly speaking... said...

First of all, I'd like to say that NASA is actually in an overall better shape to go beyond low earth orbit than in 2009, the basic reason being that constellation failed, and none of the aspects that were successful were really cancelled.

The Ares I was inferior to the existing Delta IV in every way possible and was thus cancelled in favor of the latter for the Orion test flights. The Ares V development had failed because of base heating issues with the RS-68 and had to be restarted as a clean sheet design with the RS-25 engines - so we got the SLS. Orion development was unchanged. Altair never got beyond the powerpoint stage in the first place. However, because NASA has started an initiative for commercial lunar landers, we have a decent chance of actually getting one:

As far as flying into LEO goes, while congress has repeatedly tried to slash the presidential administration's increases in the commercial spaceflight budget - the most cost effective part of NASA - we are still ending up with a very strong commercial sector.

We'll also be doing the asteroid redirect mission - an amazing concept that can allow a 20 ton payload to low earth orbit to bring back a ~1000 ton rock, i.e. 50 times its size to a stable lunar orbit, advancing the plans of companies like planetary resources by a decade. It also implies development of high power solar electric propulsion, which allows for some seriously cheap missions to the moons of Mars. With this a BA-330 based ship could go to Mars and back with only ~60 tonnes to LEO.

Not only are we getting the Dragon capsule and the Falcon 9 which is the first LEO access design to truly improve on the Soyuz, we're getting a second HLV rocket, the Falcon heavy with twice the payload and a tenth of the cost per launch of the shuttle. The FH can also loft a Dragon to the Moon, which should effectively end the "stuck in LEO" problem regardless of what happens to SLS/Orion.

On the cargo side of things, Lockheed has announced their Jupiter space tug - something that really should have been done forty years ago, but that the private sector has finally become capable of doing on its own initiative. The electric version will give the capability to send decent sized cargo to the moon with light commercial launchers like the Atlas or Falcon 9, an enabler for a permanent lunar base.

Bigelow Areospace is developing the BA-330, an inflatable space station module the size of Skylab but a third of the mass, on their own dime. It can be used in space, landed on the moon for a lunar base, or used as a deep space ship.

It is easy to look at the short term funding issues such as a short term spending spree on Earth Sciences and despair. However, I think that on the long run, Nasa's human spaceflight program is actually on a very good track. If it can keep growing the private spaceflight sector for a while, it has a very bright future ahead of it

reader strictly speaking... said...

Quite frankly, I am not worried by the temporary spike in Earth Sciences. In the previous years, the SLS was in it's early planning stages where less funding was needed, so of course HSF had a lower budget. NASA's budget does not have carryovers to following years, so they spent it on what they could spend it on on the near term - Earth observation.

reader Nailtrail said...

When I was getting into scientific cosmology and read at least a dozen popular books, almost all of them mentioned Lemaitre and especially the fact that he was a priest. I've also seen this fact mentioned at a lot of introductory websites to cosmology. I definitely don't think he's censored out, and anyway, that's not the way blogs or book publishing works in the Western world. Unlike Putin's Russia, where blogs must be registered and dissenting voices are heavily suppressed. The Pravda works in the same Party asslicking way as it did 30 years ago.

reader Nailtrail said...

Thanks, this was a nice summary.

reader Nailtrail said...

In the Hungarian case, nobody competed with the Russians. The sealed deal was announced unexpectedly in Hungarian media with no public or expert discussion beforehand and with every detail declared top secret for many upcoming decades. There was no strategic planning or anything of that sort and the Parliament had to vote without many financial details unknown. It was clearly a political decision with no regard for many aspects of such a heavy weight theme. I'm pro nuclear power and I think Russian technology is reliable and competitive but this is very shady business. And anyway, the EU did not veto the expansion of our current power plant. They have an issue with a part of the deal which says that only Rossatom can supply fuel, they say it's anti competitive practice and against the free market.

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