September 24th, 2011 • 4:23 PM
Two days on Capitol Hill

by Peter Martinson

Cody Jones and I attended two House of Representatives hearings this week. One, a full Science and Technology committee hearing on the future of human spaceflight, and two, a joint hearing between Investigations and Oversight, and Energy and Environment, on the state of the NASA/NOAA polar satellite program. The most accurate description of the overall state of things, based on these hearings, is that the US is a complete mess. Unless Obama is removed before the end of his term, and Glass-Steagall is immediately implemented, it is my opinion that there will never again be an American manned space mission, and that we will see a sharp massive increase in death due to severe weather in the very near next few years.

NASA

In the first hearing, on the future of manned space flight, Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11 commander), Eugene Cernan (Apollo 17 commander), Maria Zuber (principle investigator for the GRAIL satellites), and Michael Griffin (former NASA administrator) demonstrated that the past two years have devastated American spaceflight, and that we are in danger of losing it completely. Armstrong said that the budget cuts, layoffs, and mission reorganizations over two years has left NASA with far fewer skilled workers, and no direction. He said that the only thing that can save manned spaceflight, is the urgent declaration of a clear mission orientation for NASA, and that they stick to it. He and others called this urgent declaration a "JFK moment." Cernan lamented the loss of existing skills at NASA, and loss in people training to enter the ranks of NASA. He said that the first thing since Apollo that gave him any optimism for a renewed exploration of deep space was the enunciation of the Constellation plan back in 2005. Over the past two years, according to Cernan, the administration's agend has been to tear up every aspect of the last five years of development. Zuber and Griffin echoed these sentiments.

The main issue that was returned to repeatedly, was the JFK moment. Either we get an adminstration that is serious about manned space exploration to declare and move on it, or we are done for. Griffin was explicit on this, from his standpoint of former NASA administrator. The other point that was repeatedly made, is that, if we do NOT re-embark on manned space exploration, then our nation will fall apart, as it is currently doing. As Cernan emphasized, we need this as our nation's mission, in order to keep developing youth generations that are better than their elders' generations.

One of the optimistic highlights for us (besides Armstrong's absolutely beautiful reliving of his landing on the Moon, through use of a Google Moon reconstruction) was when Eugene Cernan blurted out that he wants to go to Mars, but not on a vehicle that coasts there over 9 months. "We need to go beyond chemical propulsion, into nuclear fission and fusion propulsion, so we can get there within 30 days." Griffin interrupted him excitedly as he said this, to interject that, as Cernan flew to the Moon, the US had had a nuclear rocket program, which was all set for in-flight testing. The program was canceled before the testing took place. Now, there is no nuclear rocket program. Neither is there any mission orientation for NASA, enunciated by the President.

NOAA

In the second hearing, on the state of our polar orbit weather satellite program, the disarray of our government became absolutely clear. First, on backround: right now, NOAA operates one polar orbiting satellite, the POES. Most of the data used to generate 3- and 7-day weather forecasts comes from this one satellite, because of its unique orbit. The Department of Defense operates two of their own satellites. The POES is not expected to last much longer beyond 2012. Back in 1993, it was decided to merge the two polar satellite programs into one thing, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). The plan was to produce 6 polar satellites, beginning with a test satellite launched in 2006 to test the new technologies, and then the first operational one launched in 2008. In 1994, the life-cycle estimated cost was $6.5 billion. By 2009, the estimated costs had grown to $14.9 billion, the number of satellites had been reduced to four, the first of which would not be launched until 2014. The wild explosion of cost and reduction of scope was blamed on poor program leadership, and in early 2010, the program was split back up, into separate DOD and NASA/NOAA programs. The NASA/NOAA program is called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).

As things sit now, the launch of the experimental spacecraft is set for October 25, 2011, but the plan has changed to make it function as an operational weather satellite in order to bridge the gap between failure of the current POES and the launch of the first operational JPSS craft now scheduled for 2018. The experimental craft was designed to test instrumentation, not to provide reliable data that could determine life or death, and certainly not to last more than 3-5 years. Things are complicated by the fact that the government has continued funding programs via "continuing resolutions" every month of this year. Apparently, the adminstration had requested $1 billion this year to ramp up contracts, but the final amount allocated was only $382 million, which is just frustrating. It's a mess, which is why there was a hearing!

Everyone in the hearing, including NOAA deputy adminstrator Kathryn Sullivan, NASA associate administrator Christopher Scolese, and David Powner (the GAO accountant) agreed that having an operational polar orbiting weather satellite system was absolutely necessary for forecasting severe weather. But, it was not, nor did it ever become, clear why the program is such a mess. The problems extended over three administrations and both parties. Things apparently got better once the DOD was separated from the program, though. The two main problems faced now are the growing cost of the program, and the gaps that will exist between the times when POES goes down and the first JPSS will go up. Nobody was confident that the experimental craft would function well as an operational weather satellite.

First, In order to close the gap, several ideas were thrown around, including offering the job to private industry (who, Sullivan claimed, did not want it) and arranging to use data from satellites of other countries (like Japan, according to Sullivan). Second, to reduce costs, the only thing discussed was dumping instruments from the craft. The Republicans were universal in their demands for all long-range climate sensors to be dumped (though Sullivan said they'd already been removed). I suppose it's because they thought these instruments were put there by supporters of the anthropogenic climate change theories. The question also came up about how NOAA would fund the project if the next 12 months, or longer, are survived by continuing resolutions. Sullivan was not optimistic about this.

Just to be fair, the new satellites will incorporate cutting-edge technology. When attempting to use the newest technologies, you have to be prepared for setbacks in construction, which the witnesses emphasized several times. In a normal economy, this would be understood, because it would be the normal way of things. We must always be pushing the limits of human understanding and ingenuity in order to preserve and grow our population and our power over the universe. Therefore, in order to run a program like the JPSS, we need to have a government running according to the credit system laid out by LaRouche and his predecessor, Alexander Hamilton. We need the capability of JPSS, but to get it, we need the freedom to experiment, but also the freedom to plan into the future.

Needless to say, it's now a complete mess. It seems that no matter what happens, we will be without a polar satellite system once the experimental-turned-operational satellite fails, and thus subject to much less warning than we have now of severe weather that threatens to get more severe in the next several years.

What is clear, is that the root of the problem lies in the continuation of the British Empire's monetary system. Every day that the system is propped up by bailouts is another day of torture for programs like JPSS. They are constantly facing reductions in allocated funds, uncertainty about the future, and thus find themselves repeatedly reorganizing the program, and unable to make any clear long-term plans of development, while the technical challenges they face are quite steep. No wonder they've gone way beyond cost and time!

Every day this British monetary system is kept in place, makes the collapse that much worse. It would be incorrect to say that losing the polar orbiting satellites would be the end of civilization, but when that is added to the collapse of everything else, then it becomes clear that we are in the middle of a collapse into devastation. We are looking into the jaws of mass death. The only way out, as I see it, is to end Obama's career as president swiftly, and immediately pass Glass-Steagall, as LaRouche has laid out. Both of these hearings demonstrate that we are losing time very quickly.

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