"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Rocket in Congress' Pocket

But First

It occurs to me that I haven't forced a Kate Beckinsale reference into my blog recently. My sincere apologies.

A Long Time Ago, in a Committee Far, Far Away...

Shortly after getting elected, President Obama came up with a plan for space exploration that sounded decidedly Republican: a free-market competition to drive down costs and spur innovation. But then the U.S. Congress, including some Republican members, fired back with ideas that looked decidedly Democratic: a big-government Apollo Program redux...or should I say reflux?

Here is the result, potentially the most powerful rocket ever to grace a government blueprint. It is called Space Launch System. (The Childe chuckles to himself, wondering if we've finally run out of sexy names from antiquity.) SLS hasn't been built yet, and won't for several years, hence the artist rendering:

Image Credit: NASA
For readers who are not well-versed in NASA politics, the appropriate response to the above image is this:

Oh my! The Saturn V rocket knocked up the Space Shuttle and they've had a love child!
Here is the more astute response:

So this is what happens when Congress (comprised of folks who aren't rocket scientists) tells NASA (comprised of folks who are rocket scientists) exactly what kind of rocket it is allowed to build (a behemoth machine favoring existing contracts, materials and the constituents of currently elected officials).
Sincerely, I think the above image is a tribute to NASA brilliance. Despite having to cope with a government that underfunds--in part because it was elected by a citizenry that is increasingly undereducated--NASA still achieves compelling and cool results. So I remain a fan...of NASA.

The Private Sector Gears Up

Now here is a great video detailing a private sector design: the Falcon Heavy from SpaceX. It is also being billed as the "most powerful." What I care about for now is that, more and more, the world doesn't have to rely on the U.S. Congress to fund worthy endeavors. The bottom line is that if either of these rockets makes it into orbit, we all win.

My refrain for the coming year will be, "Some taxes are worth paying."

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