Space

Neil Armstrong died last weekend at the age of 82. He was an inspirational figure for a lot of reasons besides the obvious one of being the first man to walk on the Moon. He took great pride in being a nerdy, pocket-protector wearing engineer. In so doing, he inspired a lot of nerdy kids to keep their chins up, work hard, and accomplish great things. His stoic example made the world a better place.

Armstrong also handled his fame well.  He always maintained a calm, quiet dignity. His steady demeanor presented a sharp contrast with his no-less heroic colleague Buzz Aldrin, who is something of a showman at heart. Armstrong didn’t much care for the spotlight, and happily lived a quiet life in his native Ohio.

Which brings us to today’s Regulation of the Day. It turns out that when Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins returned to Earth after the Apollo 11 mission, they actually filled out a customs form. The Atlantic recently unearthed the document. It’s hard to tell if the form was an exercise in dry humor or the crew really was required to fill it out.

It’s worth a read. The “Departure from” field is filled in with simply, “moon.” The flight routing proceeds: Cape Kennedy; moon; Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A. The cargo manifest includes “moon rock and moon dust samples.” An ominous note sounds in the “Any other condition on board which lead to the spread of disease” field: a typewritten, all-caps “TO BE DETERMINED.”

One wonders if today’s astronauts still fill out customs forms when they return home.

Post image for Solyndra In Space?

Here we go again.

It’s unfortunate that so many conservatives are opposed to competitive markets in spaceflight, to the point that they are willing to make misleading assertions and come to unjustified conclusions about Obama space policy, one of the very few things that the administration has gotten sort of right. This time, it’s at Big Government from George Landrith. To address all that is wrong with Mr. Landrith’s post unfortunately requires a good old-fashioned fisking (warning: long post to follow):

Despite the news and pictures from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, America’s once great space program is on life support because we no longer have a serious manned space exploration program. We now pay the Russians $65 million per seat to take our astronauts to and from the space station. And the Obama Administration’s unimaginative and amateurish vision for space exploration — even if successful — will not revive the dying program. It merely follows the disturbing pattern of the Solyndra scandal, funneling tax dollars to Obama donors and fundraisers.

Note that the recent winners of the commercial crew competition were the Boeing Corporation, Space Exploration Technologies, and Sierra Nevada Corporation. Note also that SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, the current contractors for ISS cargo resupply, won their contracts during the Bush administration. Is Mr. Landrith saying that Boeing is an “Obama donor and fundraiser”? Is he saying that SpaceX and OSC won their contracts during the Bush administration by bundling for Obama? Is he saying that they have received tens of millions in taxpayer-guaranteed loans, as Solyndra did?

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Over at National Review Online today, I have a piece on the current state of play in U.S. human spaceflight. It’s worth noting that, even as Congress continues to keep us dependent on Russian for access to the International Space Station by underfunding the commercial crew program, the Russians just had another launch failure (their fourth in the past couple years), and their program is in disarray. If we lose a crew in the next couple years on a dodgy Russian rocket, we’ll know whom to blame, but people like Kay Bailey Hutchison will be retired.

What a mess.

Post image for Losing the Universe with LOST

The Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) has been languishing in the Senate for decades, but led by Massachusetts senator John Kerry, there is growing (and unfortunately) bipartisan support to finally ratify it. Condi Rice’s State Department favored ratification in the Bush administration, and (soon-to-be-ex) Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana has been one of Kerry’s key allies in the effort. But yesterday, Don Rumsfeld testified that such an act could have dire consequences:

“[Lady Thatcher] said what this treaty proposes is nothing less than the international nationalization of roughly two-thirds of the earth’s surface,” he said. “The major idea underlying the Law of the Sea Treaty is that the richest of the oceans, beyond national boundaries, are the common heritage of mankind. And thus supposedly owned by all people. Actually, it means they’re un-owned.”

Rumsfeld called “an idea of enormous consequence” the fact that “anyone who finds a way to make use of such riches by applying their labor or their technology or their risk-taking are required to pay writ royalties of unknown amounts, potentially billions, possibly even tens of billions over an extended period, an ill-defined period of time, to the new International Seabed Authority for distribution to less developed countries.”

Saying that this principle has “no clear limits,” he mused that it could set a precedent for space exploration, too.

Indeed it could, and a disastrous one for space development and settlement.

A crucial distinction between the Outer Space Treaty, to which the U.S. is a signatory, and does not explicitly outlaw private space property rights, and the Moon Treaty, to which the U.S. has not acceded, is the phrase “common heritage of mankind.” The latter (and LOST) contains it, while the former uses, in Article I, the more innocuous “province of all mankind.”

What’s the difference? “Common heritage” is intrinsically Marxist and redistributionist in nature, whereas “province” simply means that, like “the pursuit of happiness,” it is potentially available to all. LOST was in fact the model for the Moon Treaty, and both had a similar goal — to provide a slush fund for the “regime” established to “regulate” access to resources and ensure their “fair” distribution to poorer nations, and not coincidentally, provide a steady source of revenue for the U.N. independent from any national contribution, as a key step toward establishing it as a world government.

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Over at The Washington Times, Bob Zubrin says that we need space property rights. Gee, I wonder where he got that idea?

Over at Forbes, Cato’s Doug Bandow says that the Republicans need to lead by example:

Presumptive Republican Party nominee Mitt Romney talks tough on spending while proposing few specific reductions—he doesn’t want to anger anyone by targeting their favorite programs. He also promises to greatly increase military outlays, adding more than $2 trillion over the next decade.

At least the House Budget Committee under Republican Chairman Paul Ryan passed a budget package including across-the-board cuts meant to save $310 billion over the next decade. Democrats wanted to cut far less and preferred to squeeze more money out of Americans through higher taxes. The GOP plan still is too little, but at least it is a start. However, it is designed to protect Republican sacred cows.

There is no doubt a lot of fat in the military budget, and Europe should certainly be able to handle its own defense with the end of the Soviet Union. And Ex-Im is welfare for Boeing. But a big earmark that he doesn’t mention (because few policy analysts pay much attention to the civil space program) is a huge one called the Space Launch System (aka the Senate Launch System). This is a rocket that NASA never asked for, and for which there is no need or defined payloads, or funding with which to develop and procure them, but to which Congress (or more precisely, those few in Congress on key committees who actually care and pay attention to how NASA spends its money) insists on diverting two-billion dollars of the agency’s budget each year. It’s not Republican pork per se (it was the brainchild of Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida and Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas) but it has abundant Republican support in those states and districts in which it is being slowly built (at least until it ultimately gets canceled). Given the recent success of SpaceX with its third successful flight of the Falcon 9 rocket with no failures, and that company’s plans to start flying a heavy-lift version next year that could serve NASA’s launch needs, developed on its own dime, SLS should certainly be on the table as part of a broad and serious package of deficit reduction through spending cuts.

Unfortunately, this is one of the few areas in which the Republican presidential nominee’s religion may actually play a role in public policy. One of the biggest beneficiaries of SLS is the state of Utah, home of ATK, the manufacturer of the large solid boosters that Congress has dictated the vehicle use. It is thus supported by not just Senator Orrin Hatch, but the rest of the delegation as well, including representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, Republicans all. While Governor Romney is from Michigan and Massachusetts, and his only personal Utah connection is his salvation of the Salt Lake City Olympics, there will doubtless be a lot of pressure on him from his church to preserve a program that benefits its home state. If he wants to demonstrate that his faith won’t influence his policy decisions, coming out against this particular wasteful Republican sacred cow would be an excellent way to do so.

Over at the Space and Cyberlaw blog, Eric Dawson takes issue with my issue analysis on space property rights:

Foremost, I think the terminology used by Mr. Simberg is disingenuous. The proposed legislation, as I read it, does not create a property right at all. By describing it as such, I believe Mr. Simberg is concealing some of the more important areas of the discussion. A property right has no value if it does not protect your interests from third parties. To grant a property right, a nation must have sovereignty or control over the property in question, otherwise the grant is meaningless. Assuming that the legislation is not intended to be meaningless, what would actually happen under this proposal is that the United States would essentially promise not to take military or other action to remove a private party from a portion of a celestial body. Ignoring space law for the moment, and acknowledging that I am not a Constitutional scholar, I have serious concerns that such a piece of legislation would be constitutional. This is because it appears to be an attempt to limit the President’s commander-in-chief and foreign affairs powers.

Setting aside what I think is an unfair accusation of disingenuity, this is simply wrong. The legislation makes no “promise” to not take military or other action. It simply refuses to promise to do so. As I note in the paper, how the U.S. government would respond to a transgression against a recognized property owner, or whether it would, is completely unspecified by the proposed legislation — it would be a political decision taken at the time of the encroachment. For the government to recognize the right of an owner to lunar real estate is no more an “appropriation” or declaration of sovereignty than is our recognition of Israel or Taiwan’s right to exist. Surely Mr. Dawson isn’t saying that our stance toward those two nations represents a declaration of sovereignty over them? He goes on to repeat the (in my opinion of course) flawed argument that the combination of Articles II and VI create a de facto violation of the Outer Space Treaty by an individual property claim:

The OST prohibits national appropriation of outer space and celestial bodies through any means. Remember also that nations are responsible for the space activities of their nationals. If we accept that the US would not actually be granting a property right, but rather refraining from enforcing the provisions of the OST against appropriation, then it couldn’t really be accused of appropriation itself unless the private party were its own citizen (I’ll get back to this issue in a bit). There are no provisions of the OST that require a State Party to take actions enforcing the Treaty. If China were to claim the entirety of the moon tomorrow, the US would not be required to respond. That is a political decision. However, I believe that passing a law stating that the US would systematically ignore repeated violations of the Treaty’s provisions would very much go against the object and purpose of the OST. All signatories to a treaty have the minimal obligation of not violating a treaty’s object and purpose.

Again, there is confusion here. The legislation does not provide a way for the the U.S. to “grant” a property right — it cannot do so without a sovereignty claim, which would be a treaty violation. It simply requires that such a right be recognized by the U.S. government. And it doesn’t require that the U.S. “systematically ignore repeated violations of the Treaty’s provisions,” because there is nothing in the treaty that prohibits private claims — only national ones. It is in fact possible for citizens of a States Party to the treaty to do things that the States Party itself cannot. This is elaborated upon in a long blog post by the original author of the proposed legislation.

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Over at Space Politics, Jeff Foust reports that the House has passed a bill allowing the administration to remove satellites from the munitions list and move control of their export from the State Department to the Department of Commerce. The current situation has cost our launch and satellite industry billions in lost international sales, which could have helped quite a bit with the trade balance since it went into effect fourteen years ago. Unfortunately, there is no companion in the Senate. As Foust notes, such a measure has passed the House before (three years ago) only to die in the upper chamber, but since the recent report put out by the Aerospace Industries Association documenting the damage to the aerospace industry (about $21B), there is probably more awareness of the issue on the Hill than there used to be, so there’s some reason to hope.

Constellation, the Bush administration’s plan to return to the moon, was canceled a couple years ago. But not all of Constellation was canceled. The Orion crew module, designed to go to lunar orbit and back, survives, with plans to test fly on a Delta IV rocket in a couple years, and Congress, eager to preserve the Space Shuttle jobs base, demanded that NASA reinstitute a new heavy-lift launch vehicle to replace the canceled Ares V with the Space Launch System. So at this point, despite the cancellation, Constellation continues to waste money, except for the Ares I, the new crew rocket that NASA was developing. Derived from Space Shuttle and Apollo hardware, it used a new five-segment version of a shuttle solid rocket booster (SRB) as a first stage, with a new LOX/hydrogen upper stage. At the time of cancellation, it had been experiencing development issues, missing performance, cost and schedule milestones.

Now it looks like even it could be resurrected.
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Last time we checked in on this topic, House Appropriations Chairman Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) was decrying the wastefulness of competition. Well, he’s still at it.

A couple weeks ago, the draft report language for the appropriations bill that includes NASA demanded both a reduction in that pesky competition and a return to the traditional acquisition process, rather than the cooperative use of Space Act Agreements that involves private investment:

Commercial crew.—The Committee supports the goal of achieving independent and redundant access to the International Space Station (ISS) but remains concerned about many aspects of NASA’s approach to the commercial crew development program. First, the Committee believes that the program’s total estimated development costs of $4,868,000,000 are too high given that the current commitment to the ISS leaves NASA with only a few years to make use of commercial crew services and no sufficient additional market has been clearly demonstrated in the absence of NASA as a base customer.

Second, the current structure of the program has insufficient safeguards in place to protect the government’s interests in intellectual or physical property developed with Federal money in the event that companies are terminated from or opt to leave the program. As such, there is a risk of repeating the government’s experience from last year’s bankruptcy of the solar energy firm Solyndra, in which the failure of a high risk, government subsidized development venture left taxpayers with no tangible benefit in exchange for their substantial investment.

Third, the Administration appears to be pursuing potentially inconsistent goals for the program: (1) the achievement of the fastest, safest, most cost effective means of domestic access to the ISS, and (2) the ‘‘seeding’’ of a new commercial spaceflight industry. Given the overwhelming importance of the first of these goals, any funding, time and effort expended in pursuit of the second is potentially a distraction from other necessary work, and, in an environment of fiscal constraint, a dilution of limited resources.

Finally, the program’s current acquisition strategy lacks any defined plan to transition from the planned Space Act Agreement (SAA)-based Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) round of awards to a Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)-based certification and service contract. As a result, the strategy presents a significant risk of costly, lengthy delays as NASA attempts to retroactively assess competitors’ designs on safety and other standards and companies attempt to make changes in fully mature integrated designs to address instances in which NASA cannot verify that a necessary qualification criterion has been met. The Committee believes that many of these concerns would be addressed by an immediate downselect to a single competitor or, at most, the execution of a leader-follower paradigm in which NASA makes one large award to a main commercial partner and a second small award to a back-up partner.

With fewer companies remaining in the program, NASA could reduce its annual budget needs for the program and fund other priorities like planetary science, human exploration or aeronautics research. In addition, an accelerated downselect would allow NASA to focus its remaining funds and technical assistance resources on the most promising contender, potentially enabling that competitor to produce a final capability faster than otherwise possible. It would also allow NASA to return to its previous acquisition strategy of holding an open competition (to include current funding recipients and new entrants) and following a more traditional FAR-based management approach, avoiding a complex transition from SAAs late in the development process and allowing the government to better protect its interests in intellectual and physical property developed with taxpayer funds. Finally, this strategy is more consistent with current overarching fiscal guidance included in the fiscal year 2013 House budget resolution. In a climate of decreasing non-defense discretionary spending, the Committee does not believe that the Administration’s proposed budget runout for commercial crew is sustainable. [Emphasis added]

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