Saturday, January 28, 2012

Moon Bases and Other Baloney

The political grandstanding -- and pandering to potential voters -- is in full swing, and it absolutely drives me up the wall.

The most recent blood-boiling incident is Newt Gingrich's promise to Florida voters that he would have a moon base established by the end of his second term, or 2021.  Mr. Gingrich is either lying through his teeth in a shameless pitch to grab the votes of the hopelessly uneducated, or is mind-numbingly ignorant about the difficulties of what he is proposing.  In either case, such a gross mis-representation of what a President can (and cannot do) in today's society puts him in the same league as Michelle Bachmann, who promised back in August that if she were President, she would make gasoline $2 per gallon.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.  When politicians put forth abject lies like that, in my opinion it should disqualify them for being President.

Colleagues of mine look at me funny when I rant about this.  They say, "They're politicians; that's what they do.  They lie."  I'm reminded of an old adage from a former job: What do valves do? They leak.  (You normally think of a valve stopping flow in a pipe, but in real-world applications, they leak.  And sometimes on purpose.)

I guess it's the naive schoolboy in me still poking through, wistfully hoping that our vaunted politicians would have the highest ethics and the highest moral standards as they pursue these powerful and important positions governing the United States.  Alas, human nature comes through and shows that people will be as slimy as they can to garner votes, and are willing to say whatever they need to say.  Perhaps the ends justify the means, in their minds.

The truth is, to build a base on the moon requires a heavy-lift human-rated rocket, which the United States does not begin to have.  As I have posted previously, a GAO Report stated that the now-defunct Constellation program would have cost $97 billion to complete, through 2020 (and this was back in 2009).  And the $97 billion doesn't begin to cover the costs of the actual lunar base.  If I had to estimate, a lunar base would be at least half as hard as building the International Space Station -- which had an all-in cost of about $100 billion.  NASA's budget in 2012 is almost $18 billion -- which includes a lot of staffing and a whole host of ongoing missions. The Augustine Report from 2009 recognized early on that the grandiose plans people had from NASA were not going to happen without a major retooling.

Look, as an engineer, I would like nothing more than to have a high profile, shoot-for-the-moon project like this country had with Apollo.  It would be so inspiring, it would have so many offshoot benefits, it would motivate a whole new generation of scientists and engineers ... but it is flat-out not going to happen in today's economic times.  I believe it is irresponsible to be considering those types of projects when our financial debt has now exceeded 100% of our annual GDP.  We have got to get our own house in order first before doing these grand science projects.

I sincerely hope the people of Florida are smart enough to see through these ridiculous promises.

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