Is Space Pork?

Unless you've been distracted watching Magnificent Desolation and reading only Serenity reviews, you know the blogosphere's PorkBusters campaign to challenge federal lawmakers to cut pork-barrel projects and redirect funds to hurricane relief continues.

pork is obvious: Bridges to nowhere or nowhere people really go; a road for Wal-Mart; endless local bike lanes, footpaths and multi-use trails; a graffiti elimination program; a film festival; local park and museum enhancements; a $3 million gym for the House of Representatives; research and marketing grants for local winemakers. You can smell the sizzling pancetta.

But other federal expenditures, while not necessarily meeting the
criteria for pork set forth by Citizens Against Government Waste, nonetheless remain extremely objectionable to some taxpayers.

What makes spending wasteful? We all know it when we see it. But we don't all see it the same.

So Space Law Probe is as good a blog as any on which to ponder: Is space pork? Is NASA's newly announced $100 billion-plus moon initiative a "bridge to nowhere"? Fiscally speaking, is the moon made of cheese, or ham?

Even during the Cold War when NASA's mission was clearer, the question of space pork was there. When Hurricane Rita targeted Texas prompting some to question again the wisdom of Mission Control's location, as one blogger
opined, "the only reason it was in Texas in the first place was because LBJ was a Texan & wanted the pork to go to his home state."

Some taxpayers are gung ho about the idea of rocketships and space travel, no matter the cost. Others are more likely to favor space spending if their state or congressional district benefits from space appropriations.

Keyword searches in the
2005 Pig Book for "NASA" or "space" turn up lists of space pork. And they're long. So clearly CAGW has a beef, so to speak, with NASA.

And last week, in response to Katrina relief spending, a caucus of conservative House Republicans proposed
Operation Offset, a package of cuts which included cancellation of NASA's moon/Mars initiative. However, so far, the plan taken as a whole has not gained wide support.

So where does this leave us? Luckily, helping to spearhead the blogosphere's pork chopping effort, of course, is Professor Reynolds, who loves space and
knows it well. If you ask the Professor if space is pork (and I did), he will quickly respond (in inimitable lawyerly fashion), "sometimes," and then refer you to his writings about "moneysaving and capability-improving" ideas for NASA. And he has written much about this.

First, the professor is all for sending humans to the moon and Mars and has written in support of space settlements, for example,
here, here, here, here and elsewhere.

And in response to NASA's moon plan, asking and answering the question,
Is This the Right Way to Return to the Moon?, Professor Reynolds calls for the development of drastically reduced costs to orbit capabilities such as space elevators, for which the technology is rapidly progressing. (Don't get him started on carbon nanotubes.)

He strongly supports
private space ventures and calls for a leaner and meaner space agency in which Mike Griffin does "some serious restructuring and refocusing..." The professor emphasizes, "I think the focus on exploration, as opposed to pure science (or pork) is vital to humanity. As I've written before, the long-term (and even not-so-long-term) prospects for humanity look poor if we don't expand beyond the Earth..."

Favoring productivity-enhancing and cost-saving technologies such as space elevators and other
innovations, Professor Reynolds writes, "It's the free market that lowers costs, and empowering such competition will do more to promote American supremacy in space than any single R&D program. And he says, "the real key to successful space settlement over the long term is to take the work away from governments and turn it over to profit-making businesses."

(And importantly, the professor thinks there's nothing wrong with
competing with China in space, either.)

The space spending issue can cut across party lines in unexpected ways. There are blue state Democrats who want NASA cut and only private capital, never tax dollars, to fund space ventures. And there are red state Republicans who support a big, strong, federally funded space agency.

In his blog, Jon Goff
wrote, "I just think that involuntarily taking billions from the nation to feed the dreams of a few is morally repugnant. That said, I also realize that I'm in the minority on this, and that NASA isn't going away anytime soon. Since NASA isn't going away, I'd at least like to see it try and operate in the least damaging way possible."

Of course the debate about NASA's role with respect to the entrepreneurial space sector looms large, as illustrated for example, by Jeff Foust's thread on NASA's
commercial commitment, this post from Clark Lindsay, and this discussion prompted by Rand Simberg (who has said: "The federal establishment has apparently simply given up on the notion of making space affordable. Thus, NASA will make itself increasingly irrelevant as the years go on.") Of course, some space enthusiasts simply don't talk about NASA at all.

Meanwhile, in an endorsement of President Bush's space policy, yesterday the Senate unanimously
approved a NASA authorization bill (S.1218). The measure now must be reconciled with a version passed by the House in July (H.R. 3070).

And as the new age of commercial space, personal spaceflight and space tourism takes shape, space will be a mixed bag of federally and commercially funded missions and projects. In America, where everything is still possible, we can have our space and cut the ham too. So for now, if you think we are shooting into space too many or too few of your hard-earned tax dollars, don't just blog about it -- e-mail or call your reps in Congress. But whatever you do, don't offer to take them to lunch.

Update: We are not off to a good start when NASA's wasting $20 million in two years flying personnel on its own planes rather than commercially available flights, as the GAO has found, makes news in the same month as the new exploration plan announcement. (AP via Space.com). Sizzle, sizzle.

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