A Few Thoughts on the Past Week: Part 1 Very Tired of the False Narrative Regarding the “Journey to Mars”

This was an interesting news week with respect to topics of space policy and strategy. I believe some reminders are in order about a few items….especially the article and source document below.

http://qz.com/806310/barack-obamas-plan-for-the-us-to-send-people-to-mars-is-six-years-old-and-still-a-work-in-progress/

Source document of article (CNN op-ed by Obama) http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/11/opinions/america-will-take-giant-leap-to-mars-barack-obama/index.html

I am tired of pointing this out but this is something that will continue to plague space policy so…its good for another teaching moment. I want everyone to realize that President Obama has no, and had no desire to put people on Mars. I find it funny that people in the space world (professionals and wannabes) seem to not remember what has happened since he came to office regarding our civil and military space programs. Apparently, people really want to believe all the inaccuracies of the narrative that has bene pushed our way since April 2010 by the Obama Administration, and more so since the Mars excitement of those few programs that weren’t cancelled like Curiosity excited people.

When Obama campaigned for office in 2008, he had promised on his campaign stops in Florida to maintain the Constellation program and make it more efficient. Then, after he became President, he created yet another Augustine Commission to provide options for him while he canned Constellation. This was not the only program the Administration canned. They also hit several national security space programs such as Space Based Radar and TSAT, pushed for the definition of “space exploration” to only be ISS with ferried flights on then yet to be tested commercial spacecraft (they also took credit for that concept COTS and commercial crew COTS-D, which came before them) but Orion and Ares and Altair etc. would be cancelled. Deterrence in space would be done by words and good will, not active defenses and NASA would be turned into a R&D organization like DARPA for future space technologies to be developed for long term planning. This did not go over well with members of the Republican minority, but surprisingly even within his own party.

The Democrat controlled Congress and Senate lit up with anger and frustration. The House Space Sub-Committee Chair Gabby Gifford’s was one of the many vocal opponents to  the President and pushed for alternative plans. Sen. Nelson in the Senate also was pushing for more than just thinking about something while we finished the ISS and retired the shuttles. All of this angst took place between the roll out of the FY11 budget in early 2010 (February if I recall) BEFORE Obama decided to make his speech at KSC in April of that year. This plan for nothing to nowhere, maybe someday was labeled and marketed in speeches as the President’s “Bold Vision”. Thanks to Nelson and others fierce opposition to the plan to put space on the back burner, President Obama was pressured to alter the plan to publically show that he was visionary and cared about space. The speech stated that Orion could be used as an escape pod of the ISS only as backup to “commercial” crew, and that we may send people to an asteroid and maybe Mars in the 2030s. Those “goals” were nothing more than political bones thrown out to those in Congress and elsewhere that were pushing for a new destination themed vision for space exploration.This was NOT a funded program of record. There was NO plan for asteroids in the works at that time and nobody really had any interest in it. Even our allies and partners who really wanted to do a joint mission to the moon (they still do by the way).

Only after this speech did NASA get orders to push for conferences to get ideas from folks on how to do the asteroid mission, whatever that was. It has changed focus several times before settling on the Asteroid Redirect Mission concept.  Congress continued to have hearings pushing the idea of Mars since the Moon was unilaterally taken off the table by the Obama Administration as being :”been there, done that”, which is a seriously uneducated and short sighted thing to say, even if Mars WAS in the works. Then after months of pushing by private donors and Congress, Mars was added to the speech as something more than just one small piece of the distant future Obama wouldn’t have to care about to now the Journey to Mars talking point replaced the old Bold New Vision.

If you look on RealSpaceStrategy blog you will see one of my articles that speaks to this Mars thing being just a talking point for the Administration. NASA may be trying with what little funding they have as a real internal goal, but its just a talking point for now for the White House. This could change, but only if people push for it in high places. Watch the speeches and then look at the cut and pasted videos NASA and the OSTP folks at the White House put out (Its in my earlier blog). It’s a full load of falsehoods and twisted facts. Obama is no Kennedy and he isn’t even a Nixon!! So the President’s speech writers can write op-eds like this making it into some “plan” or “goal” and using it as a way to focus on ”innovation” which is just rhetoric unfortunately to keep people acting like we have a plan, when we don’t. My hope is that we can at least keep what vehicles we have in the hopper long enough to make a plan that sticks and an achieve things that provide results for our nation.

Finally, all of a sudden you are seeing phrases like space development and human settlement come out of people like Charlie Bolden’s mouth and White House science advisors. That’s great. But that’s never been a part of their plan. Throwing it out there on the way out the door does little for anyone who is serious about those two goals. If they truly are part of the President’s Bold Vision or Journey to Mars…where has it been these last seven years! I would say, don’t buy it, its generated hype to get folks spun up over nothing-again. I want to see seriousness attached to these things and as one co-worker in the space world has said, “Vision without Funding is Hallucination”.

Bottom line-don’t just believe everything you see just because it appears to be what you want to hear. Do you homework and check the facts so when you do write the President or your Congressmen or your friends at SpaceX and Blue Origin, present an educated story that shows that you are a knowledgeable advocate ready to support with your tax dollars and enthusiasm and maybe even your own savings for a ticket to sub-orbital or orbital space!

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2 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on the Past Week: Part 1 Very Tired of the False Narrative Regarding the “Journey to Mars”

  1. All one other thing…there have been other articles related to the above listed making it seem that human settlement and development of space are priorities…I have yet to see any of that in policy meetings or discussions outside advocacy groups and books I have read. Commercial development of space is in US law already thanks to Democrat and Republican Congresses of yesteryear. With some of the activities happening in the private sector…its possible that those laws may get some use…but its not in policy (yet).

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