Inherency: Status Quo Solves Asteroid Impacts 2

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Politics DA Links

Asteroid deflection plans drain political capital

[Matthew Dearing holds an MA in Physics from Cornell and is a former intern at Argonne National Laboratory, “Protecting the Planet Requires Heroes, Money, and Citizen Scientists” 12 April 2011,]
Recently, the New Yorker published a narrative about the current struggles NASA is experiencing with fulfilling this civilization-saving task. It features the plight of an astronaut-turned-NEO evangelizer, Russell Schweickart, who now heads the B612 Foundation, which is driven by the goal to “significantly alter the orbit of an asteroid in a controlled manner by 2015.” NASA has money to search-and-destroy NEOs, but the allotted budget just might cover snacks and bagels pre-purchased at the grocery store for departmental meetings. So, the NEO program at NASA certainly could use some loud support. The article overviews one of these meetings held in 2010 to develop a direction for moving NASA forward in the crapshoot that was once only considered to be a popular Atari game (play now! Can you now calculate the energy from each laser shot?). This meeting, called the The NASA Advisory Council Ad-Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense, was held in two sessions during 2010, and was co-chaired by Mr. Schweickart. The council’s purpose was to review NASA’s current and future role in the issue of near-earth asteroids, and to create a formal recommendation on what NASA should and should not continue to be doing. The interesting notes from the first of the two sessions are available online: April 15-16, 2010 Minutes [PDF] There are many issues that NASA must juggle with here, including political, financial, and scientific. Who is willing to risk one’s political capital to champion the destruction of once-in-an-epoch giant fireballs in the sky, albeit one that can destroy our civilization as we know it? How much of taxpayer dollars can be appropriated to a once-in-an-epoch event, albeit one that can destroy our civilization as we know it? And, with deflection technology really already at hand, how professionally interesting is it to track and monitor orbiting rocks, since a Nobel Prize doesn’t target too many rocks these days? The bottom line is that the political will and the money are not available from the United States federal government, so the financing of advancing technology–well in advance of pending doom–is not really an option right now, and will likely continue to not be an option for some time. Methods of averting potentially impacting objects have already been proposed, and should be reasonable to implement without too much of a technological leap, if any, although the funding factor will always be an application killer. In fact, according the the task force’s minutes, NASA should stay out of the direct defensive activities, and leave that to those who know how to defend, like the Air Force. Of course, the United States is already over-criticized for being the police force of the world, so why should it now have to be the defender of the planet and of all civilization?

New space programs require massive political capital due to spending increases

[Dwayne Day is a Washington, DC based space policy analyst., “ Aiming for Mars, grounded on Earth: part two,” 23 February 2004,]

On the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing at an extravagant and nationalistic ceremony on the steps of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, President George H.W. Bush praised the Apollo 11 astronauts in front of a giant American flag and models of the lunar lander and Saturn V rocket. “The U.S. is the richest nation on Earth, with the most powerful economy in the world. And our goal is nothing less than to establish the United States as the preeminent spacefaring nation,” Bush said. He declared that the space station was the “critical next step in all our space endeavors.” Then he outlined the basic goals of what the White House called the Space Exploration Initiative, or SEI: “And next, for the new century, back to the Moon, back to the future, and this time back to stay.” But he did not stop there. “And then, a journey into tomorrow, a journey to another planet, a manned mission to Mars.” Those words would lead the evening news and major newspapers the next day. Bush’s new policy had remained a secret right up until the day before he gave his speech. In fact, Washington Post reporter Kathy Sawyer had reported as recently as a week before his speech that Bush would not announce any bold new space initiatives. But this tight secrecy around the plan collapsed immediately upon its announcement. NASA’s detailed preliminary cost estimate of the plan, which was never a legitimate cost accounting based upon an approved architecture for achieving these goals, had been produced two weeks before Bush’s speech. It was leaked to Congress and the media the day of his speech and appeared in many of the articles reporting the new initiative. Later a myth would develop that the Johnson Space Center had initially produced a cost estimate of only $100 billion to achieve the Moon and Mars goals. According to this story, somebody had remembered that NASA Administrator James Webb had once doubled the initial Apollo cost estimate to $20 billion, which proved essentially accurate, so they did the same thing and doubled the $100 billion figure to $200 billion (different versions of the story have attributed this first increase to either a JSC official or NASA Administrator Truly). Then, somebody else, unaware of this first increase, also repeated Webb’s management trick and doubled the $200 billion to $400 billion (this is usually attributed either to Truly or to the Office of Management and Budget Director Richard Darman). Like all quasi-conspiracy explanations this is story so good that it ought to be true. But it does not stand up to close scrutiny. First, as previously noted, NASA Headquarters had produced its comprehensive cost estimate by early July 1989, complete with various projects broken down into categories over a thirty year period. This 25-page document shows no evidence of such crude math tricks. If the story was true, somebody would have had to go back and rework all the original numbers, maintaining known values such as the cost of civil service labor, and dramatically inflating unknown variables far more than 400% in order to reach the mythical quadrupling of the original estimate. In addition, the costs of a number of the projects listed in this cost estimate, such as a Mars sample return flight (approximately $5 billion in 1989 dollars), are consistent with previously reported costs. Second, NASA was proposing an ambitious effort and it is difficult to believe that all of the things included in this effort would have only cost $100 billion over thirty years—the agency was simply not that efficient. The problem was not with budget shenanigans, it was with NASA adding too many projects to the plan. Finally, after the agency conducted an extensive study of its plans, the numbers were scrubbed again, and this time the $400 billion cost estimate actually increased. The origins of this myth most likely originated with disbelief that the 50% reserve in the initial budget figure was really necessary for such a project. Later a myth would develop that the Johnson Space Center had initially produced a cost estimate of only $100 billion to achieve the Moon and Mars goals. Like all quasi-conspiracy explanations this is story so good that it ought to be true. But it does not stand up to close scrutiny. Bush’s speech was widely criticized on Capitol Hill, where both houses of Congress were controlled by the Democrats. House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt quipped, “Mr. President, there’s no such thing as a free launch,” and others blasted the reported $400 billion price tag for such an undertaking. At the time Bush had been enjoying an extended honeymoon period after his inauguration. The high costs of this bold plan provided a means for his critics to try and bring the positive press to an end and portray Bush as someone unconcerned about serious problems on Earth. Once the goal had been outlined in Bush’s July speech, it had to be further defined and translated into actual programs and spending plans. Presidents also cannot simply endorse large projects and then expect the executive branch to enact them. The president must be a strong advocate of the program. Occasionally, his intervention is necessary at key decision points and during major congressional votes. The president must also be willing to expend finite political capital to achieve the goals he values. However, Bush’s plan had immediately become a political liability, providing fuel for his critics. As time went on, the situation did not get better.
Even if NASA programs are popular, spending fears diminish overall support

[Roger Handberg is Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Central Florida, “ Small ball or home runs: the changing ethos of US human spaceflight policy,” 17 January 2011,]

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden alluded to that reality recently: “Future NASA space programs must be affordable, sustainable and realistic to survive political and funding dangers that have killed previous initiatives.” This is harsh talk but it reflects the reality confronting all US discretionary programs in the federal budget. The new Republican House majority is determined to cut federal expenditures and appear to have little concern for where the cuts occur. The budget struggles this year and next will find all discretionary programs mobilizing their supporters. Competing agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) have constituencies who are savvy veterans of getting their way even when budgets are tight. The cure for some disease is always just another appropriation away from happening. As has been repeatedly said, Apollo was sui generis, one of a kind, a product of unique historical circumstances. NASA’s future in human spaceflight is budget wise and politically more supportable as a small ball approach. This is clearly less flashy, but today being politically sustainable must become the focus. The flexible path suggested by the Obama Administration is perceived by some as too vague and indefinite (see “Prognosticating NASA’s Future”, The Space Review, March 29, 2010). That may be an accurate judgment, but that plan envisions a process rather than a constituency or destination focus, which has been typical of NASA initiatives. Such a project or destination focus becomes finite, with an end date and no logical follow on into the future. Conceptualizing space exploration as a process rather than a destination or project allows you to build on success and push outward beyond the Moon and into the solar system. This also accommodates the development of a commercial human spaceflight program to handle trips to the ISS or tourists going to a Bigelow space habitat. NASA human spaceflight is not crippled or destroyed by such developments. Rather, NASA clearly must focus on exploration, not running a bus service to the ISS or other orbital locations. Commercial operations will eventually go where a profit can be made; their forte does not presently include actual exploration unless heavily subsidized. Why subsidize? Costs in the human space exploration domain are not necessarily lower than NASA with regards to exploration. We are not sending ships across the ocean in pursuit of gold as occurred during the European era of global exploration. Even suggestions of going to asteroids are built around some notion of profit. This approach returns NASA to its roots as a scientific and exploration agent. The space shuttle was important in sustaining a US presence in outer space but fundamentally it was incomplete because the shuttle stood alone, a relic of Apollo and its times. What this also means is that the US must become focused on maximizing its experience on the ISS. The VSE and Constellation program had no vision for the ISS: build it and then leave it to pursue the Moon or beyond. Leaving $100 billion on the table made little sense but resulted from the ISS being a compromised project once the Russians entered the program. The orbital position of the ISS was made by deliberate choice more difficult for the space shuttle to reach in the interest of fostering international cooperation. Rather than a dead end, the ISS now becomes part of this larger process of human exploration of space. The ISS provides much needed experience in long-duration flight—critical information for missions beyond the orbit of the Moon. One of the signs of the home run approach was the VSE’s willingness to write off the ISS so quickly after its completion. In fact, the US unilaterally proposed a truncated ISS construction process that would have severely damaged its partners’ programs by effectively eliminating their costly lab facilities, Columbus and Kibo. That effort was rejected. From the US perspective, rather than seen as an asset, the ISS became a burden after a hard decade long struggle to build it. The ISS became merely another project, which meant it was a dead end rather than part of an ongoing space exploration process. The politics of American space policy are such that NASA has to adjust or become another relic of the Cold War. The project or destination mentality grew in importance for NASA because it allowed for time and cost goals to be delineated even though both have historically been fantasies used to lull Congress to sleep. NASA consistently overruns cost projections.

AT Link Turn: Asteroid Deflection Saves Economy/Political Capital

The affirmative would only access the link turn if there actually were an asteroid, which is not the case; err probability and timeframe

[William F. Mitchell is the CEO of the NEO Safety Foundation., “Financing a Planetary Defense System,” Paper presented at the 2007 AIAA Planetary Defense Conference, 5-9 March 2007 Washington, D.C.]

If officials from the Spaceguard Survey announced tomorrow that the three kilometer long asteroid 4179 Toutatis had encountered an unexplained course change and there was a 99.9 percent chance of an impact with our planet on Sept 28, 2008 and the estimated impact zone would be somewhere off the eastern sea coast of the United States.... financing a planetary defense system would not be a problem. World governments would essentially stop what they were doing and make prevention of this imminent catastrophic event their most important priority. Budgetary constraints would no longer be an issue. Virtually overnight a multi-trillion dollar world defense industry would turn its attention to diverting or eliminating this threat. NASA, ESA and all the other world space organizations would focus their capabilities on a defense plan. Massive worldwide efforts, resources and commitments would be dedicated to saving the Planet. Defensive commitments from countries approaching those in both World Wars would not be surprising. Many political issues important today would vanish: Using money from every area of the Federal Budget would be tolerated. • There would be no sacred cows, not even Social Security. • Emergency tax increases to fund the defense effort would be accepted by the public. • Use of nuclear power and explosives to mitigate the threat would be automatically considered a plausible option. • Great loss of life in manned space flight efforts would be considered a justifiable sacrifice if necessary. • Unproven manned and unmanned space vehicles would be rushed into service. All of the most important world issues of the day - world hunger, poverty, genocides, curing cancer, and heart disease - would abruptly pale in comparison to this fortuitous threat of world annihilation. Even the multi-billion dollar war on terror would take a back seat to this event. Money most certainly would not be in short supply for the project. There is little doubt that money to finance the planetary defense system would be available. Therefore, The limiting factor would be time, not money. Because there would not be enough time to test the proposed defensive measures and devices, the world would have to take a gamble on success or failure. As it was in movies like “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon”, the world would be depending on the actions of a few brave heroes using untried and untested methods and equipment to save the planet. But, unlike in the Hollywood movies, using such tactics in the real world seldom ends in “Happily Ever After”. Enough of the “what if” scenario. How do you finance a planetary defense system under today’s circumstances? The most current impact predictions from the Spaceguard Survey have not identified a 99 percent certain impact threat. This fact has resulted in creating the opposite problem of the above scenario for developing and testing a planetary defense system. Even though many scientists believe it is not a question of “if” but rather “when” a positive impact object will be discovered, there is an apparent feeling that there is time to devote to the problem and there is no sense of urgency. Therefore, the limiting factor is money, not time.

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