Jan 31 2010

Does Obama’s New Space Policy Indicate He is JFK, Richard Nixon, or (god forbid) Grover Cleveland?

This is an elaboration of my recent post: “State of the Wave: 10 Space Trends for 2010,” which appeared before Obama’s state of the union address. Reports that NASA’s Moon program will be discontinued raise questions about U.S. leadership in space. And much of the current chatter in blogs and news reports ignores long-term trends in the economy, geopolitics, and politics — that have governed large-scale technology and exploration projects for the last 200+ years — and thus presents a somewhat confused picture.

When will an American astronaut see this view — Earthrise from lunar orbit — again? Click

Florida Today reports today (1/30/10) that the adminstration will kill the Constellation program designed to send astronauts to the Moon by 2020, but still provide funds for development of a new Saturn V class launch vehicle, favored by the Augustine committee. According to Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida,

My concern is that if all that $6 billion goes just to commercial rockets, then that’s going to push the development of (a new NASA heavy-lift) rocket well into the next decade, and that just means we get behind China and Russia. I think they will announce on Monday (a research-and-development) program to develop the new (heavy-lift) rocket. I just hope that it is not a puny R-and-D development that will push us off well into the next decade before we have the new rocket.

Pushing the heavy lifter “well into the next decade” would not only help China and Russia get ahead in space, it would also push our luck with Maslow Window timing; i.e., the 2015 Window should extend to 2025 but is subject to wildcards. For example, imagine what would have happened if the Vietnam War had intensified a year or two earlier than 1968. We might have lost all of Apollo instead of just the last 3 missions (Apollo 18, 19, and 20).

NASA will reveal the details of its proposed budget Monday.

Is President Obama really “worse” than Richard Nixon?

On January 27, former NASA boss Mike Griffin asserted that President Nixon’s termination of the Apollo Moon program was “one of the most significant, yet strategically bankrupt, decisions in human history.” But that President Obama’s anticipated ending of human spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit is “even worse.” Despite the tens of thousands of scientists, engineers, and technicians who lost their jobs in 1972 due to Nixon, at least he “left us with the Space Shuttle,” According to Griffin, Obama’s action would leave “NASA and the nation with no program, no plan, and no commitment to any human spaceflight program beyond that of today.”

Griffin believes that the nearly complete International Space Station will be held …

… hostage to the hope that presently nonexistent commercial spaceflight capability can be brought into being in a timely way. The president has chosen to recommend that the nation abandon its leadership on the space frontier.

While it’s tempting to assign Obama an even lower place in the space history hierarchy than Nixon, it’s not entirely justified and may be premature. We need to consider the long-term economic and political context. For example, Obama was elected during the Panic of 2008 and has had to contend with the current great recession. This anti-ebullient time plus Obama’s growing political difficulties make it difficult for him to support visionary space programs. And history shows this is not the time anyway. When prosperity and affluence-induced ebullience return, the next Maslow Window will appear to open almost automatically.

Is Obama the next John F. Kennedy?

Here at 21stCenturyWaves.com, we’ve been asking this question since before the election, and still believe it’s possible but is not without speedbumps. For example, in his National Review Online (1/29/20) column — “Obama is No JFK” — Jeffrey H. Anderson states that,

at a time when the president claims his focus is on jobs, scrapping these (Moon-related) programs — on which we’ve already spent nearly $10 billion — would cut public spending in one area that actually creates jobs.

You know those great pictures of Earth from outer space … No (astronaut) has seen that view since the Apollo program ended 38 years ago … Now, unless Congress rejects the president’s recommendations, the next people to see that view will likely be the Chinese.

Whether it’s tax cuts or defense spending; or whether it’s the courage, ambition, and sense of wonder that combine to lead great souls to great feats of exploration and discovery; one can surely say this much about Barack Obama: Mr. President, you’re no Jack Kennedy.

Again, these comments cry out for context. President Kennedy was fortunate to lead the nation during the greatest economic boom up to then. Plus the surprise launch of Sputnik (1957) by the Soviets mobilized the country into founding NASA (1958), revitalizing support for education, and providing a slam dunk in Congress for anything JFK wanted in space. Obama and the nation are experiencing a 180 from JFK’s 1960s-style Camelot. But a world-altering Sputnik-like event — especially within the next few years — cannot be ruled out.

Could Obama become another Grover Cleveland?

I include the Cleveland link above for all of us history-challenged Americans (and others) who may not have read the 24th (and 22nd, by the way) U.S. president’s biography lately. To make a long story short, Cleveland was basically a principled guy who got caught up in the vicissitudes of the financial Panic of 1893 and the 1890s great recession. His economic policies were ineffective, the people lost faith in him, and he was replaced by William McKinley 4 years later.

The point is that the Panic of 1893 and the 1890s great recession have real parallels with the Panic of 2008 and our current financial difficulties. In fact, our current economic trajectory seems to have more in common with the 1890s than with the (post-World War II boom) 1950s just prior to the Apollo Maslow Window.

If Obama cannot reverse his record 20 point approval rating collapse in 2010, he could become the next Grover Cleveland. Polls reveal the public’s growing concern with unemployment, government spending, and deficits, and show the economic challenges facing the president. The public wants to see light at the end of the financial tunnel; i.e., signs that the current recession will soon begin its transformation into the next major economic boom.

All this is consistent with the long-awaited 2015 Maslow Window being a golden age of prosperity, exploration, and technology, as they all have been over the last 200+ years.

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