Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Dick Shelby, Vlad Putin’s BFF

 

Earlier this week, I pointed out how Congress seems determined to keep us dependent on the Russians for access to space indefinitely:

…despite the desperate need and warning from the administrator, just before the most recent Russian failures, in a vote on June 3rd, the House once again cut the NASA 2016 request for Commercial Crew by about 20%, from $1.243B to an even billion dollars, while once again increasing the SLS budget by almost half a billion, an increase of over a third from the request of $1.365B.

It’s gotten worse. Yesterday, the Senate appropriations committee marked up their own bill, and cut the Commercial Crew budget by an additional hundred million dollars, a reduction from the request of over a quarter, despite the fact that they gave more money to NASA overall.

The reduced funding for commercial crew prompted a strong response from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who said in a June 10 statement he was “deeply disappointed” by the Senate’s decision.“By gutting this program and turning our backs on U.S. industry, NASA will be forced to continue to rely on Russia to get its astronauts to space – and continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the Russian economy rather than our own,” he stated.Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) also criticized the commercial crew funding cut in a June 10 speech on the Senate floor. “If that cut in the subcommittee is sustained,” he said, “it’s going to delay us from being able to launch Americans on American rockets.”

Frustratingly, this happened on a party-line vote. It lies solely at the feet of the Republicans, but the primary mover was the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees NASA’s budget, Richard Shelby of Alabama. At this point, the only hope to fix it is on the Senate floor. The best that could be hoped for in a conference would be the lesser cut by the House. Over at my Kickstarter (which is currently stalled at about two thirds of the goal, with four days to go), I wrote a righteous rant last night about it:

…it’s gone beyond simply wasting tax dollars for pork in Huntsville (and Michoud, and Promontory, and…). It’s to the point that this is keeping us dependent on the Russians, into the indefinite future. Simply put, Dick Shelby doesn’t give a damn about that. He is Vlad’s BFF.

Beyond that, he doesn’t give a damn about our future in space. He doesn’t give a damn about taxpayer dollars, as long as they can be deployed to get him re-elected.

He has nothing resembling political principles, other than the importance of Dick Shelby keeping his Senate seat.

He’s not a Democrat. He’s not a Republican. He’s the one and only member of the Dick Shelby Party… But sadly, because he caucuses with them, and he’s got seniority, too many Republicans go along with this treachery against the nation and against our future in space.

I’ve actually toned down that quote a bit, so you’ll have to go read the whole thing to get the full flavor, but I really don’t think that’s too strong a word. Russia has been violating the Iran/North Korea/Syria Non-Proliferation Act for years, by helping the Iranians develop nuclear weapons and missiles. We never hold them to account for it because every time NASA needs to purchase more Soyuz rides from them, Congress has to waive the law so they can do the deal. Putin is rampaging through the Ukraine, yet Shelby and the committee Republicans are happy to continue handing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars over to his corrupt kleptocracy, just so they can keep the pork flowing into Alabama, Utah, Mississippi and other places.

As a taxpayer, as an American citizen, and as a space enthusiast, I am infuriated. The title of my update/rant last night was “Screw Dick Shelby And The Lobbyists He Rode In On,” and I’m thinking about renaming my Kickstarter project to that:

Senator Shelby just gave you more reasons to support [this project]. If you can afford more, please up your donation. If you can spread the word, please do so. Don’t let him get away with this.

That was a message to current project supporters, but I hope I can get some support from Ricochetti as well.

[Friday-night update]

Look, I get that most people don’t follow or understand (or even care about) space policy, including most Ricochettis. But is it really too much to expect people to actually read the post, and what is in the post, instead of changing the topic from how we should be spending government money on human spaceflight to whether we should, before they dip their oar into comments?

I am happy to engage in that latter discussion somewhere else, and you might be surprised at my answer, but it is completely irrelevant to this post, given that Dick Shelby loves to spend money (ostensibly) on that. He just wants to make sure that it is spent in his state, and he does not give a damn whether it actually contributes to human spaceflight, and he does not give a damn whether or not it helps Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Can we just discuss that, please?

There are 21 comments.

  1. James Gawron Thatcher

    Rand,

    An endless amount of money for Wind Farms. Of course, the only thing they produce in quantity is wind, the hot air kind. The BHO administration is first in creating new lying technology. Nobody comes close.

    Knowing we have the capacity to do something that will have so many multiplier effects and watching the brainless BHO people and their lame Republican partners in crime waste it all is just misery.

    If we could just clear out the rotten wood and the dead wood this country would take off like a Saturn V.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #1
    • June 12, 2015, at 10:28 AM PST
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  2. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    I have a comment and a question.

    (1) I don’t think that manned space flight is a priority at present. We have a serious budget problem, and it seems to me that there is relatively little benefit from manned space flight — which, it appears to me, is pretty much limited to keeping the ISS manned, and which doesn’t seem to be accomplishing much.

    (2) What is the cost comparison between continued reliance on Russian launch vehicles vs. US-based options? It seems to me that this is a dollars-and-cents issue, and if the Russians can do it more cheaply, then that sounds like a win-win option. I understand that the Russians are giving us some heartburn on a variety of foreign policy fronts, but if they have a substantial cost advantage in manned space flight, then it doesn’t sound like a very good area in which to express our displeasure.

    • #2
    • June 12, 2015, at 10:37 AM PST
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  3. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    They don’t have a cost advantage. They’ve been jacking up the costs because they have a monopoly. And if you follow the links, the other issue is that they’re having reliability issues. This behavior on the part of the committee Republicans for the sake of their pork is appalling.

    • #3
    • June 12, 2015, at 11:34 AM PST
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  4. Petty Boozswha Member

    We are 18 trillion in debt – I love space flight as much as the average Joe, but it is an expensive bauble compared to every other item up for grabs in the federal budget. If we can’t cut here where can we cut? Shelby is a patriot and doing this for the right reasons as far as I can tell.

    • #4
    • June 12, 2015, at 3:22 PM PST
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  5. John Walker Contributor

    Once you understand that NASA’s post-Apollo mission is to create jobs in the congressional districts and states of the House and Senate appropriators who vote funds for the agency, you’ll realise that it is actually very effective in carrying out its mission.

    In an earlier conversation, I’ve cited this gob-smacking slide from the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee (Augustine Commission) public hearing in August 2009, where maintaining the size or increasing the ranks of NASA’s “standing army” was considered a desideratum in planning future programs.

    Senator Shelby is a particularly egregious hog at the Space Launch System (SLS) pork trough, but he is not alone. Look at the major components of this absurdity and where they are built and tested, and you’ll see well-entrenched legislators bringing home the bacon regardless of the waste of taxpayers’ money.

    Rand Simberg’s earlier book, Safe Is Not an Option, includes a section describing the SLS and why, when and if it flies, it will devour NASA’s budget and accomplish nothing toward the goals NASA purports to achieve.

    Mr Simberg’s latest Kickstarter project is specifically targeted at showing why SLS is the not just a waste of money and time, but a roadblock on the path to Mars. I’ve supported it.

    • #5
    • June 12, 2015, at 3:56 PM PST
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  6. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    Shelby is a patriot and doing this for the right reasons as far as I can tell.

    Shelby isn’t doing this to cut the budget. He’s taking all of the money cut from Commercial Crew and pouring it down the SLS rat hole, while enriching Putin. He is the opposite of a patriot.

    • #6
    • June 12, 2015, at 4:18 PM PST
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  7. Douglas Inactive

    Rand Simberg:Shelby is a patriot and doing this for the right reasons as far as I can tell.

    Shelby isn’t doing this to cut the budget. He’s taking all of the money cut from Commercial Crew and pouring it down the SLS rat hole, while enriching Putin. He is the opposite of a patriot.

    Well, I voted for him, and I’ll vote for him again.

    Human spaceflight has hit a brick wall made up of two unyielding forces: physics and economics. There’s really no justification for the ISS, so there goes that manned launch requirement. We can always learn more up there, but for the costs involved, it’s not worth it. We’ve been to the moon, and it’s obvious we’re not going back, because unless we’re ready to commit trillions of dollars to a base, there’s no reason to go back other than nostalgia. And Mars? Mars is a pipe dream. The costs of building a spacecraft to get men there and back would make Apollo look like a line item in the budget. The only really doable manned mission that would actually pioneer something is a manned landing on an asteroid. I’d support that, but NASA doesn’t seem interested. So we should be getting commercial payloads into the private sector faster, and for real space exploration, would should be building beau-coup probes and more orbiting telescopes.

    • #7
    • June 12, 2015, at 4:33 PM PST
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  8. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    If you want to argue against wasting billions on space, go argue with Dick Shelby, not me. He’s the one who stole money from something useful that NASA is doing, that would end our dependence on the Russians, so that he could continue to pour even more money down a rat hole and continue to collect his campaign contributions from Boeing.

    • #8
    • June 12, 2015, at 5:02 PM PST
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  9. Petty Boozswha Member

    I agree wasting money on the nefarious Ruskies is probably not a good use of our tax dollars, so let me propose a compromise; why don’t we just implement a moratorium on manned space flight until we have a valid objective and the financial resources to pursue them? In the meantime your argument against Shelby delivering pork to someplace you don’t want pork delivered falls a little flat.

    • #9
    • June 12, 2015, at 5:55 PM PST
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  10. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    why don’t we just implement a moratorium on manned space flight until we have a valid objective and the financial resources to pursue them?

    We don’t suffer any shortage of resources for human spaceflight. It consumes a tiny fraction of a percent of the federal budget. And it’s going to be spent regardless. That’s an interesting topic to debate, but it’s not relevant to this post.

    This post is not about whether or not to spend money on human spaceflight, but rather, given that it is going to be spent (and believe me, Dick Shelby is going to ensure that it is spent — he’s no budget hawk when it comes to pork for Huntsville), how it should be spent.

    So can we please try to stay on topic?

    • #10
    • June 12, 2015, at 6:05 PM PST
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  11. Petty Boozswha Member

    “It consumes a tiny fraction of a percent of the federal budget. And it’s going to be spent regardless.”

    Can you think of any government boondoggle, from PissChrist to the Cowboy Poetry Festival, that is not justified in just that way? How do you propose we start cutting the size of government if we aren’t willing to give up some of our novelties?

    • #11
    • June 12, 2015, at 6:23 PM PST
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  12. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    OK, I get it. [Redacted for lacking a cordial tone.]

    • #12
    • June 12, 2015, at 7:03 PM PST
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  13. Petty Boozswha Member

    I read science blogs every week. I’m sure I would be closer to your opinion than 98% of the public; if Shelby said move some farm subsidy money to run our astronaut program I would consider that a profound improvement in our spending priorities.

    That said, IMHO 18 trillion dollars of debt that our children and grandchildren are getting stuck with is not fair. I did read your post, I was impressed by the following quote:

    We have only two realistic options at this point. Abandon the ISS in which we have invested so much, for so many years, or recognize its importance and act accordingly…

    Can you explain to a layman what has been accomplished by ISS that could not be done much more cost-effectively by unmanned spacecraft? What is projected to be accomplished by ISS in the future that could not be carried out cheaper and more efficiently by unmanned spacecraft?

    • #13
    • June 12, 2015, at 7:39 PM PST
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  14. Petty Boozswha Member

    I do agree with you that Shelby is directing pork to Alabama and Mississippi for other purposes. He’s trying to build an infrastructure and corps of sub-contractors and skilled tradesmen that will help lure AirBus to build a billion dollar factory in his state. I hate pork as much as anyone, but on the sliding scale of malfeasance that is less odious than most uses of pork.

    • #14
    • June 12, 2015, at 8:00 PM PST
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  15. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    Can you explain to a layman what has been accomplished by ISS that could not be done much more cost-effectively by unmanned spacecraft?

    I probably could, [but I would prefer to hew more closely to the topic.]

    • #15
    • June 12, 2015, at 10:12 PM PST
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  16. Larry3435 Member

    James Gawron:Rand,

    An endless amount of money for Wind Farms. Of course, the only thing they produce in quantity is wind, the hot air kind. …

    Regards,

    Jim

    Well, they produce a lot of dead birds. So we won’t have to rely on Putin for our supply of bird carcasses.

    • #16
    • June 13, 2015, at 7:12 AM PST
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  17. Z in MT Inactive

    Rand,

    You could do yourself a lot of favors and save frustration by adding this sentence.

    “Congress keeps shifting money from the more cost effective private Commercial Crew manned launch program, to the bloated NASA directed Space Launch System program which is over budget and behind schedule.” To most readers Commercial Crew and SLS are Greek.

    • #17
    • June 13, 2015, at 8:05 AM PST
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  18. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    Yes, that is a succinct description of the situation.

    • #18
    • June 13, 2015, at 11:40 AM PST
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  19. Petty Boozswha Member

    If you felt I was hijacking your thread for an extraneous issue I apologize. I thought the topic was Dick Shelby’s integrity, not which crony capitalist deserves the pork more than the State of Alabama. [I concede NASA will waste more than contractors.] This will be my last comment on this thread. [Yeah! from the gallery.]

    • #19
    • June 13, 2015, at 12:15 PM PST
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  20. Douglas Inactive

    Rand Simberg:Can you explain to a layman what has been accomplished by ISS that could not be done much more cost-effectively by unmanned spacecraft?

    [

    [On Ricochet we are accustomed to a slightly different tone, which we’re sure you’ll enjoy and cherish as you come to know our culture. I am made a bit uncomfortable the intimation that a Republican senator is treasonous because the program you support didn’t get funded, and one you don’t like did get funded, as well as what would seem to be your suggestion of his intentional complicity with Vladimir Putin. Perhaps I have misunderstood your remarks?]

    • #20
    • June 13, 2015, at 12:51 PM PST
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  21. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    I thought the topic was Dick Shelby’s integrity, not which crony capitalist deserves the pork more than the State of Alabama.

    The topic is Dick Shelby’s integrity and his apparently indifference to national security when it comes to funding his own pet projects. The only “crony capitalists” being funded here are Boeing and Orbital ATK, the main contractors on SLS, with their ever-burgeoning cost-plus contracts.

    I am made a bit uncomfortable the intimation that a Republican senator is treasonous because the program you support didn’t get funded, and one you don’t like did get funded, as well as what would seem to be your suggestion of his intentional complicity with Vladimir Putin. Perhaps I have misunderstood your remarks?

    I apologize for my tone, but I find that whenever I try to discuss space policy here, the topic often quickly gets hijacked to completely separate and unrelated issues, which becomes very frustrating. No, I don’t think that Shelby is deliberately helping Vlad. As I said, I just think he doesn’t give a damn what the results of his actions are overseas, or even what the results are in terms of doing anything useful in space, as long as he keeps the jobs in Huntsville, and keeps getting re-elected.

    • #21
    • June 13, 2015, at 1:55 PM PST
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