Tag Archives: NASA

Space Force: Its relevance is diminishing

The more I think about the idea creating a Space Force — the less I think about it … if you know what I mean.

Donald Trump wants to create a new military branch devoted exclusively to fighting enemies in outer space.

As I ponder it, I think: Huh? Doesn’t NASA have that responsibility already? And doesn’t the U.S. Air Force have a Space Command that devotes its considerable intellectual power, know-how and technology to defending us from attacks that might come from beyond our atmosphere?

We’ve got the North American Aerospace Defense Command — a joint U.S.-Canadian operation. There’s also the Strategic Air Command. The Navy has its own capabilities as well.

Yet the president wants to commit $8 billion more in defense spending to create a Space Force? Where’s he going to get the money? Don’t anyone even think of suggesting he should take the funds from domestic programs the Trump administration wants to gut anyway.

The notion of a Space Force has given late-night comics plenty of grist for their joke writers. I won’t go there, although I was amused to hear Vice President Mike Pence extend “greetings from the president of the United States” in a tone of voice suggesting he was talking to a roomful of extraterrestrials.

Ex-astronaut: Space Force ‘redundant’ and ‘wasteful’

That settles it. Donald Trump’s idea of establishing a new military branch is a non-starter. If you’ll pardon the pun, it shouldn’t get off the ground.

He wants to create a Space Force, which would operate in outer space. According to one notable former astronaut, the idea is “redundant” and “wasteful.”

So said Mark Kelly, a former shuttle and International Space Station astronaut. I want to add that Kelly also is married to former U.S. Rep. Gabby Gifford of Arizona, who was gravely wounded  when she suffered a gunshot wound to the head. Kelly and Gifford have become staunch gun-control advocates and have become as well staunch foes of Donald Trump.

That all said, Kelly offers an expert’s view of this Space Force idea.

“There is a threat out there,” Kelly said, “but it’s being handled by the U.S. Air Force today, doesn’t make sense to build a whole other level of bureaucracy in an incredibly bureaucratic [Defense Department],” he added.

The Space Force idea is too expensive, especially at a time when we’re acquiring even more national debt and while the annual budget deficit is exploding. Moreover, it makes no sense to duplicate the efforts to patrol outer space by existing military branches, which — by the way — are the finest in the world.

Let’s ground the Space Force before it takes off.

What do we call those who enlist in the ‘Space Force’?

Space Force? Is that a new military branch?

It’s no longer sufficient that our Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard comprise the finest and most sophisticated military force the world has ever seen.

The Trump administration is taking the first steps toward establishing a new military branch with its theater of operations to be in outer space. Beyond our atmosphere. Somewhere in the great beyond.

Call me skeptical, but I don’t get it.

I have to concur with the skepticism expressed this past June by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., who said, “That’s a serious subject. It’s one that I would have a hard time supporting. All of our branches have the space element and it’s working. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

What’s more, what do we call the enlistees? Astro-soldiers, extraterrestrial sailors or Marines, spacemen and women?

There once was a time in this country where we were concerned about the “militarization” of space. We were once locked in a Cold War with the communists in the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Yes, we wanted to protect ourselves against attack from those two powers. President Reagan initiated a Strategic Defense Initiative, aka Star Wars, which established an anti-missile defense system.

Now, though, the Trump administration wants to create a whole new military service. They call it the Space Force.

I recall back in the 1960s, when NASA was considering who should be the first astronaut to set foot on the moon. NASA had been spooked a bit by the Soviets’ concern over reported U.S. plans to militarize the lunar surface. Its astronaut corps was full of active-duty military personnel.

NASA instead chose a civilian astronaut, Neil Armstrong, to take that “giant leap for mankind” as a symbolic gesture that sends the message that the United States had no intention of militarizing the moon.

Now we want to create a Space Force?

As Sen. Inhofe noted, our existing armed forces all have space elements that are working quite well.

Finally, can we really and truly afford the cost of creating this military branch?

How about returning to the moon? How about going farther?

President Kennedy already had initiated the race to the moon. The United States was a distant second to the Soviet Union when he declared his intention to ensure that we “send a man to the moon and return him safely to the Earth” by the end of the 1960s.

Then the president implored us on. “We don’t do these things because they are easy,” he said. “We do them because they are hard.”

Well, Americans got to the moon first. It was 49 years ago today that the late Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder onto the moon’s dusty surface and pronounced, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”

He thrilled the folks back home. Not just in our country, but everywhere. Perhaps even in the Soviet Union.

Mission accomplished.

We sent several more missions to the moon. Astronauts planted flags, dug up lunar dirt and brought it back, they drove around on “lunar dune buggies,” and one of them — the first American in space, the late Alan Shepard — even hit a chip shot that went for “miles and miles.”

Then we stopped going to the moon. It became too expensive. The public lost interest. We won the race. The act of launching three people into space aboard a flaming rocket carrying many thousands of pounds of flammable fuel no longer fascinated the American public.

I am one American who lived through that exciting time. I want them to return.

Subsequent presidents have given somewhat tepid support for the initiative of returning to deep space. The end of the Cold War in 1991 removed the Soviet Union from the world landscape. The Soviet descendants, though, have continued to send explorers into space. They now carry passengers with them. Some of them are Americans.

I am acutely aware of the expense of such exploration. However, it was what we were put on this Earth to do, to reach beyond our planetary comfort and to learn more about the world beyond.

Donald J. Trump has continued the presidential push — such as it’s been — to return one day to space. I want NASA to redevelop its own manned program. It’s what we do — and we do it well.

My sense is that enough time has passed since the last moon mission that we’ll get quite excited when the next rocket blasts off into the heavens with crews that will take the next “giant leap for mankind.”

Another NASA celebrity astronaut leaves us

There once was a time when astronauts were celebrities. We knew their names. We followed their careers. We got up early to watch them blast off from the Cape Canaveral, Fla., launch pad.

Another such astronaut — and please pardon this intended pun — has left this Earth for keeps. Alan Bean died today at age 86.

He was the fourth man to walk on the moon, aboard Apollo 12 in November 1969. He made the flight to the lunar surface with the late Charles “Pete” Conrad.

Alan Bean didn’t achieve the kind of celebrity status of, say, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, the seven men selected to fly in the initial Mercury missions, or most of the Gemini astronauts who came along later.

Bean was among those picked for the third group of space pioneers, the Apollo program. He joined NASA in 1963 after serving as a Navy test pilot.

My years in the Texas Panhandle makes me remind you that Bean hailed from that part of the world. He was a native of Wheeler, a tiny town east of Amarillo.

My most glaring memory of Bean’s time on the moon stems from some innovative measures he took to deploy a camera on the lunar surface. The camera wouldn’t start taking images. What did Bean do? He grabbed a hammer and beat on the device! Then it worked.

NASA doesn’t have a manned space program of its own these days. We’re sending our astronauts into space aboard Russian rockets. I’m trying to imagine how Presidents Kennedy and Johnson would react to that bit of aerospace irony.

Back in the day, though, Alan Bean was among those individuals we prayed for when they rocketed into space. As President Kennedy said about the goal of sending astronauts to the moon and returning them safely, “We don’t do these things because they are easy. We do them because they are hard.”

Alan Bean and his colleagues just made it look easy. It wasn’t. He needed to beat on a state-of-the-art camera with a hammer to enable the device to record his history-making adventure for the rest of time.

May he now rest eternally.

Recalling a ‘faint-praise’ compliment

NASA has just launched another rocket with a payload bound for Mars. It’ll get there in due course, land and then stick a probe into the Martian dirt to hunt for signs of life.

All of these unmanned missions make me long for a return to the manned events, those with human beings launched into space. Maybe one day we’ll send folks into deep space to explore the way only humans can do.

I hope to live long enough to watch it happen. I plan to clench my fists tightly during the entire mission, just as I did when I would await the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches with my mom during the 1960s.

That brings me to another story I want to retell here.

In the 1980s, NASA had this bold idea to send a journalist into space. The space agency put the word out to all working American journalists — print and broadcast — and asked them to apply.

Being the space junkie I was at the time — and remain, to a lesser degree in my older age — I applied. I filled out the application and submitted what I thought was a brilliantly worded essay explaining why NASA should pick little ol’ me to chronicle space flight in real time to the world sitting 200 miles below the orbiting craft.

I was living and working in Beaumont, Texas, at the time. NASA headquarters is situated just west of Beaumont in Houston. I figured, hey, if they pick me NASA ‘s travel costs would be next to zero!

I waited. And waited some more. I began grousing about not hearing anything from NASA about the status of my request to fly into space. Then a colleague of mine at the Beaumont Enterprise sought to “reassure” me, to “comfort” me against the anxiety I was feeling. I mentioned to my colleague Rosie that NASA was probably going to go with some big hitter, some network news star everyone knew.

“Oh, no they won’t,” Rosie answered. “They’re going to pick a nobody … just like you.”

I took that as a compliment of sorts.

The journalist in space launch never occurred. NASA then sought to launch a teacher into space. A teacher boarded the shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986 and then died along with her crewmates 73 seconds after liftoff when the ship exploded.

I plan to live forever with the proverbial “what if?” question that will lurk in my noggin. It comes me to every time I hear of a space flight and as I await the day we return human beings to space.

NASA boss lacks scientific credentials?

I am going to hand it to Donald J. Trump.

The president has a knack of selecting the most unusual individuals for key government posts. He told us while running for the office that he would be an “unconventional” president.

Get a load of this: The president’s selection to lead NASA has no science backgound. Jim Bridenstine is a Republican member of Congress. He once flew jets in the Navy and also ran an air and space museum in Tulsa, Okla.

That’s it. He’s a lawmaker and is the first member of Congress to be nominated for this key scientific post.

It’s a bit of a pattern. The next veterans affairs secretary is slated to be Dr. Ronny Jackson, who’s never run a government agency of any size, let alone one as huge as the Department of Veterans Affairs. Trump nominated renowned brain surgeon Dr. Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Bridenstine is now going to administer the agency with the mission of space exploration. The NASA administrator post generally has gone to people from inside the agency or those with vast military experience.

Bridenstine is a politician who has stated doubts about climate change, which NASA has researched extensively for decades.

The U.S. Senate will  vote later this week on Bridenstine’s nomination. He’ll likely get confirmed.

As Vox.com has reported: But it was never clear if Bridenstine could clear the 50 Senate votes needed to nab the job. He faced unanimous opposition from Democrats and from a few within his own party. Notably, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was worried about giving the job to a politician.

NASA is “the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics,” Rubio said in September, echoing the same concerns as his Florida colleague Sen. Bill Nelson, a former astronaut and the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee. “I just think it could be devastating for the space program,” Rubio said.

My hope is that he doesn’t run into the ground an agency that is supposed to reach for the stars … and beyond.

2018: the year of memorable commemorations

Fifty years in a marriage is a big deal, I trust you’d agree.

It’s the “golden anniversary” of a couple’s taking vows to stay together “for as long as you both shall live.”

This year marks the 50th year since the occurrence of astonishingly important historical events. I hesitate to call many of these occurrences “anniversaries,” given that very word connotes a happy event. What we’re going to mark as this year progresses too often are much less than that.

For instance:

  • On Saturday, it will be the 50th year since President Lyndon Johnson announced the suspension of bombing in North Vietnam — and then told the nation he “would not seek, nor … accept my party’s nomination for another term as your president.”
  • This coming Wednesday marks the date 50 years ago that James Earl Ray assassinated the great Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was standing on that motel balcony. I’ll have more to say about that in a few days.
  • Fifty years ago on June 5, 1968, U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — my first political hero — won the California Democratic Party presidential primary, only to be gunned down in a hotel kitchen pantry. More on that tragic day will come later as well.
  • The summer of 1968 produced a bloody confrontation in Chicago as Democrats sought to nominate someone to run for the presidency. Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the nomination, but the story of that event was the bloodshed in the streets.
  • The 1968 presidential election gave us Richard Nixon. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • Finally, that tumultuous year came to a close with a glimmer of hope. Three men took off atop a Saturn V rocket and roared into space, toward the moon. They orbited the moon and on Christmas Eve, Americans heard these men — Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders — read from the Book of Genesis about the creation of our world. Borman, the mission commander, then wished “all the people on the good Earth” a Merry Christmas.

I will look back on that year as a time of tumult, terror and tempest. I also will remember it as a year that ended with the perfect salutation.

Absent a NASA-sponsored effort, this is pretty cool

I normally would look with bemusement at a stunt that occurred today. Instead, though, I am utterly amazed at what I saw.

Elon Musk — a South Africa-born U.S. business tycoon — has this notion of building a colony on Mars. He has developed a rocket that he hopes will ferry human beings to the Red Planet eventually.

Today, he launched the largest rocket built since the Saturn V rocket launched astronauts to the moon from 1969 until 1972. The monstrous SpaceX rocket took off, jettisoned its boosters, which then made a soft landing near the launch pad from which NASA used to launch missions to the moon.

But … here’s the amazing part of the story.

The rocket carried a Tesla hot rod atop it and that vehicle — with a spacesuit-clad mannequin in the driver’s seat — is in Earth orbit. It will take off eventually on a lengthy trip around the sun. Musk plans to keep the car in space for a million years. He said maybe some extraterrestrials will find it. Maybe.

My preference, of course, would be for NASA to launch these missions. I want the federal government to get back into manned space exploration. I’m old-fashioned that way, you know?

Absent a NASA-sponsored and financed operation, though, I welcome Elon Musk’s investment in this kind of exploration.

Hey, a guy with $20 billion in his portfolio can afford the expense — and it provides a heck of a show to boot.

The world shared Amarillo’s grief

When tragedy strikes communities, the world often rallies to those communities’ sides.

It happened 15 years ago to Amarillo, Texas. We awoke one Saturday morning to some horrifying news high above us.

The space shuttle Columbia had disintegrated as it entered the atmosphere en route to a landing in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The commander of that seven-member crew happened to be a young Amarillo native, Air Force Col. Rick D. Husband, who died along with his six crew mates.

It had been a flawless mission. Sixteen days in Earth orbit and Husband and his crew were supposed to come home to a heroes’ welcome.

I received a phone call that morning from a colleague. “Did you hear what happened to the shuttle?” he asked. He told me about the Columbia’s destruction on re-entry. I hurried down to the Amarillo Globe-News office, tore up the next morning’s editorial page and wrote a “hot” editorial for the next day’s edition.

The editorial took note of Husband’s favorite passage from Scripture, Proverbs 3: 5-6, which instructs us to put our full “trust in the Lord.”

Amarillo and the rest of the Panhandle sank into a special sort of grief. One of our own had given his life in pursuit of space exploration. In truth, Rick Husband really never left Amarillo. Yes, he went away to college and a career as a test pilot in the Air Force. He joined the astronaut corps in the 1990s and flew aboard an earlier shuttle mission before getting his Columbia command.

Husband always found time to come home. He was a frequent visitor to his hometown. His mother still lived here while he was pursuing his dream of space flight.

I actually got to meet him twice at First Presbyterian Church, where his wife, Evelyn, attended as a girl. During our second meeting, I embarrassed myself by telling Husband I’d give anything to be able to fly with him into space. He gave me a bemused look, as if to say, “Sure thing, buddy.”

But our hearts broke that day as the news gripped us, just as it gripped the rest of the world. Prayers poured in from around the globe to the communities of all the astronauts who lost their lives on that horrible day.

Amarillo no doubt felt the world’s love as we grieved over our terrible loss.

The memory of getting that horrifying news saddens me to this day.