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Book Review: The Plundering of NASA

January 30, 2014
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Book Review: The Plundering of NASA: An Exposé, by R. D. Boozer

Allen G. Taylor

In this book, author R. D. Boozer, an astrophysicist and lifelong space enthusiast, addresses an issue that has been nagging at many of us who grew up during the late 1950’s and 1960’s, when a spectacular new advancement in space was happening just about every month. For Americans of that era, it seemed as if anything was possible once we set our minds to it.

It’s been a long time since those halcyon days. Somewhere along the line, NASA lost its mojo. This book describes the insidious forces that have eaten the heart out of NASA. It goes on to describe what each of us can do, in fact what we must do, to right the ship and restore NASA to the proactive, ambitious, and innovative organization that it was during its early years.

NASA put John Glenn into orbit in 1961, and followed up that achievement with a steady progression of missions that expanded the technological envelope, first with longer duration missions in Mercury spacecraft, then with the two-man Gemini spacecraft, and finally with the Apollo spacecraft that took American astronauts to the Moon.

After the last Apollo mission to the Moon in 1972, the American manned space program has gone no farther than to orbit, a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth. More than forty years have elapsed since that last foray to the Moon. In that period, American astronauts have been stuck in low Earth orbit. Even more telling, since the last flight of the Space Shuttle in 2011, America has not even had the capability to launch its people into orbit, relying instead on Russian Soyuz vehicles to meet its obligation to its international partners, to staff the International Space Station.

The American manned space program has made essentially no progress in the past forty years. The heady dreams that America would lead the expansion of humanity into space that were kindled by the breathtaking achievements of the Apollo program have long since died in the hearts and minds of many of us who came of age during the Apollo era.

What happened? How could we have fallen so far? How could we have strayed from the essence of the American character, which is to explore, to expand, to build, and to grow. The stagnation of the manned spaceflight side of NASA over the past forty years is contradictory to the American spirit.

This book, “The Plundering of NASA: An Exposé,“ describes in minute detail exactly how the sorry state of affairs that NASA now finds itself in came about. Meticulously researched, the book describes how short-sighted decisions made by politicians in Congress have hamstrung NASA’s efforts to be the exploration agency that it was originally chartered to be. The author pulls no punches and names names. A small number of powerful politicians from both parties have used their substantial clout to force NASA into spending billions of dollars to provide jobs for their constituents rather than spending those dollars on meaningful initiatives that will actually advance America’s knowledge and capability in space. Much of NASA has been reduced from one of the most advanced technological organizations on the planet to what is essentially a make-work program for government workers who were left with nothing to do after the end of the Shuttle program. The work they are currently doing is designing and building a massive launch vehicle called the Space Launch System (SLS) and the spacecraft it is designed to launch, the MPCV also known as Orion. This expensive combination may never result if an operational launch system. In the austere budget environment that promises to be in effect for the foreseeable future, assuming development is ever completed, the SLS will be too expensive to launch more than once or twice a year. Even those few launches are doubtful, since no actual mission for SLS has been identified to date.

As a result of Congress-mandated spending on the SLS and MPCV programs, NASA’s other areas of responsibility are severely underfunded. Exploration of the solar system by robotic craft has been reduced to life support levels, despite the fact that there is now more reason to explore the outer solar system than ever, with the recent revelation that water on Europa is erupting above the surface of that moon of Jupiter, in much the same way that water is spraying out into space from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Where there is water, there may be life, and life in the solar system is definitely something that NASA should be looking for.

Budgetary support for NASA’s commercial crew program has been slashed to less than half of what is needed to bring on line the capability to launch American astronauts into orbit on American rockets. Key Congress members would apparently prefer to send tens of millions of dollars, year after year, to Russia to launch our astronauts to the International Space Station, rather than help the American launch industry build the capability to do the job.

The picture that Mr. Boozer paints of the current state of NASA is not a pretty one. He wants to see NASA once again become what it was in its early years, and what it could become again—an organization on the leading edge of technology, pushing the envelope to expand human capabilities and to move outward where our destiny lies, in space.

The things holding back our efforts and progress in space are not technological. They are political. The solution to the current stagnation at NASA must also be political. Citizens who believe America has a greater destiny in space than keeping government employees on the payroll, working on expensive programs using outdated technology and designs, should demand that their elected representatives override the entrenched powers that are maintaining the NASA jobs program and move the agency into the twenty-first century, with meaningful goals and priorities that will lead to the achievement of those goals in a timely fashion.

I’ve had suspicions about the causes of NASA’s malaise for a number of years. This book confirms, with carefully documented evidence of every point made, the worst of those suspicions. The American taxpayers have been cheated in their investment in NASA. It’s time to insist that the misdirection of funds to dead-end projects be halted and funding be redirected to projects that will actually advance our capabilities and discoveries in space. Buy this book, and use it as a reference when you contact your senators and representatives to demand value for your tax dollar. NASA was conceived as an organization to explore the unknown, and thereby expand our knowledge and capabilities. This book will provide valuable guidance on how that can be done.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2014 9:41 am

    Mr. Taylor.

    I have not seen a more eloquent and articulate review of my book. You totally got the ideas that I meant to convey with it and I shall put a link to it on my blog.

    Thank you for your efforts in trying to get the word out about NASA’s current situation.

    Regards,
    R.D. (Rick) Boozer, MoA in astrophysics
    member of the Space Development Steering Committee

Trackbacks

  1. Space-for-All at HobbySpace » Space policy roundup – Feb.13.14

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