Keep NASA independent of the U.S. Military

| January 14, 2009 | 4 Replies

One of the “trial balloons” of the incoming Obama administration is a proposed consolidation of NASA with US military programs for space. The ostensible reason is “national security,” but insecurity about our military’s capabilities to keep up with Chinese efforts to explore and exploit space are at the core of an effort to strip away space efforts from NASA.

As a life-long frustrated astronaut, I oppose the idea of NASA’s space programs becoming just another arm of the US military. As just another part of the military, NASA will likely lose sight of its mission to explore the universe and its origins, and NASA would be far less for it.

Some argue that the over-emphasis on military training and background of astronauts makes NASA already a part of the US military, or at least the Air Force.

Others look at the US history of space based defense and see a future where defense is the primary function of the use of space, apart from exploration of the universe and its origins.

For me, however, I remember my father awakening me to go downstairs and watch the early morning liftoffs of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, and how we were captivated by the advance to the eventual lunar “excursion” by astronaut Neil Armstrong.  I built model rockets from kits from Estes, radios to listen to other parts of the world from Heath Kit, and was a total space dork. I still am a space dork (go to Mynasa), and have tried to pass that on to my kids by staying up to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower and others (more on meteor showers).   We’ve located the planets and constellations in our Midwest sky with a map and flashlight (we went out to the street, map in hand, and they oriented themselves, picking out five planets!), and we’ve frequenting the St. Louis Planetarium and Science Center.

In fact, I have sought (unsuccessfully) to start a new business to launch and maintain satellites using the talents of ex-military personnel, modified surplus C-5A aircraft, and the folks who won the X Prize. With the proposed cancellation of the Space Shuttle Program, there will be a no-less-than 5-year lapse of US capability to send aloft new payloads and service them as is currently done with the Space Shuttle (Heck, we’ll even have to hitchhike with the Russians to get to the International Space Station!). Unfortunately, funding is an issue, just like it was when I proposed to launch satellites so as to have worldwide broadcast coverage over 30 years ago.

I have watched many shuttle liftoffs on TV and I’ve knew for a certainty that my then-girlfriend (now wife) was the one for me when she took me to the National Astronaut Museum and we watched a shuttle launch from the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral.  [Fast forward!] This year, my son wanted a telescope for Christmas, and my daughter a microscope. My kids want to go to Space Camp!

I will not get in their way if my kids decide they want to serve their country but, I don’t see the military as the proper gateway to the continued exploration of the universe and its origins.  This and the advancement of science and aeronautics are central missions of NASA that would be at risk if NASA were to merge with the military.

The total proposed NASA budget for FY 2009 (ending Oct. 1, 2009) was about $18 billion, including huge cuts for educational efforts by NASANew military spending in space for FY 2009 is around  $16 billion, with many other billions for satellites, satellite launches, servicing, staffing and information technology.

If NASA were to become a cog in our nation’s military, I doubt that NASA’s unique contributions to the understanding of the universe, and its contributions to the advancement of science and aeronautics could flourish.

Mr. Obama, please keep NASA independent of our military!

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Category: Education, Science, Technology, War

About the Author ()

imothy E. Hogan is a trial attorney, a husband, a father of two awesome children and a practicing Roman Catholic in St. Louis, Missouri. Mr. Hogan has done legal and political work in Jefferson City, Missouri for partisan and non-partisan social change, environmental and consumer protection groups. Mr. Hogan has also worked for consumer advocate Ralph Nader in Washington, DC and the members of the trial bar in the State of New York. Mr. Hogan’s current interests involve remaining a full time solo practitioner pioneer on the frontiers of justice in America, a good husband and a good father to his awesome children.

Comments (4)

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  1. One point of history needs to be remembered. NASA started out as a test-bed for the military. We had to learn how to hit international targets with missiles. We did. Until the '80s only military flyers went up—Mercury, Gemini, Apollo. The military benefited directly from all that R & D.

    Just saying.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    Let's not forget the potential of private ventures, like Falcon 9, standing tall.

  3. Gordo says:

    @Mark Tiedemann: You are partially correct. Neil Armstrong (first to walk on the moon) was actually a civilian when he was selected to be an astronaut in 1962. He resigned his Navy commission in 1960 and had been working at NACA/Edwards as a civilian test pilot.

    In addition to Armstrong, about half of the "Scientist Astronaut" class (NASA Group 4, 1965) were civilians.

    Or do you mean by civilian those that never had military service? Harrison Schmitt (11th on the moon) holds the honor of being the first to walk on the moon without prior military service.

    "The military benefited directly from all that R & D." The military did benefit, but the world as a whole benefited more. Name any thing sitting in your home right now and I guarantee that some facet of it can be traced back to the early developments of the space program.

  4. Gordo,

    No argument. Yes, I meant the military background of the astronaut corps. I forgot about Schmitt, but he came in late.

    Likewise, no argument about the overall benefit. I just meant that NASA required military justification to get it going initially and through almost all of the space race. Without the military angle, including the post WWII concern brought about by the V-2 program, we likely would not have had the program, we certainly would not have had the degree of early success we had.

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