Thursday, February 11, 2010

Moving Andy's Blog

I've been using Blogger to build and publish my blog, but rather than use their servers for hosting I have been using FTP to publish the blogs on my own site (The AndyZone). Recently, Blogger has decided that they are investing too many resources into maintaining FTP so they are ending that service as of March 31, of this year. Rather than surrender my content to their servers, I am switching to Wordpress and continuing to host the blogs on my own site. This notice will be the last entry made at this address.

To make WordPress work with my site I had to make a small change in the blog's URL. This blog's new address will be: http://www.theandyzone.com/opedblog/. Please bookmark the new address.

Thank you for your patronage.

Andy

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How Stupid Can We Be?

In the case of our manned space program, we’re about to find out.
If you’ve been in touch with the news at all, you know about the Russian invasion of Georgia. The Russians are not going anywhere for a while, and their continued presence will increase the friction between our country and theirs. That’s too bad, not only because of the tensed general state of the world but because of what it can mean for the US manned space program.

I’ve always been for cooperation between the United States and other countries, and I’ve always felt the US manned space program’s role in easing tensions between the US and Russia has been one of its brightest benefits, no matter what else we technically did or did not gain. But there is a subtle and important difference between cooperating with foreign partners and being dependent upon them. It’s not in the best interests of the United States to ever become dependent on any country for its access to space. Yet, with the upcoming retirement of the shuttle and the four to five year gap that will exist between that event and the rise of the Constellation program, the United States will be dependent upon Russian Progress and Soyuz vehicles to keep the International Space Station manned.

Now, here comes Georgia, the Russian invasion, and a possible new Cold War. At least that’s what’s being threatened, in true Soviet fashion.
Whether either country can really afford a new Cold War may not be a moot point, but I’m not going to explore that here. Even without that, any Russian whim can cut off US access to the ISS or make it so expensive the cost to get there is prohibitive. If that happens, we’re going to come to understand the short sightedness of mothballing the shuttle before Constellation is flying. Combine that with a rising Chinese influence in the conquest of space, and the United States could find itself, for the first time in its history, a spaceborne power flying in third place.

Yes, there have been recent efforts in the US Congress to extend the shuttle for a flight or two and even talk of using the shuttle to close the “Shuttle-Constellation” gap. The problem is that, because of current funding levels and the attitude of top officials in NASA and the administration, they want to stop the shuttle from flying as soon as possible to turn both their dollars and their efforts to Constellation. They don’t want shuttle extended. But just like human gestation periods are fixed, so is the time you can cut to bring a new program on board. Constellation can’t be born and flying soon enough to get us out of this mess.

There may be some time left to keep the shuttle flying until Constellation can lift off, assuming you can push that idea past the organizational resistance in NASA that would have to be overcome. But the last external tank for shuttle has already been built and tooling for the metal behemoths is already being torn down to make way for The New Toy. In our rush to bury what has been painted as a faulty past, we may wind up losing our near-term leadership in space. What that might cost us is anyone’s guess.

What's the Difference?

My wife and I were at dinner with another couple when the lady across the table pointed out that the invasion of Georgia by Russian was the mirror image of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. She was right. What are the similarities? Both countries invaded to promote regime change and both countries did so against the opposition of an inferior military force. What are the differences? Well, the Russians invaded to support pro-Soviet forces in the break-away Georgian province of South Ossetia after Georgian military forces cracked down on it. The United States invaded Iraq under the false pretenses of “fighting the terrorists” and ending the possibility of supplying them and Hussein with “weapons of mass destruction” that have never been found.

I busted out laughing this morning at Condeleesa Rice’s statement that “This is not 1968 and the Russians cannot threaten their neighbors and hope to get away with it.” Are they really so blind they can’t see the amazingly arrogant irony in that statement? Have they never asked themselves what it is that makes us think we’re going to get away with the invasion of Iraq?

History will make its judgments. And history will not be formed until after we have left the country and the government of Iraq takes its final form, one that could be very different from that we see today. Despite the fact that the “Surge” has calmed things down, we’ve still got a long road to hoe.

What is it in the American political psyche that makes us believe that anything in the cause of freedom is okay? That is the way we think; for if it were not, our leaders could not blind us with it whenever they had some darker political objective they want to pursue. The Bush administration went into Iraq with a child-like view of the place that ignored a thousand years of history and assumed the Iraqi people would just jump at the chance to be free no matter what the cost. This is the same failed thinking used to try to cure an alcoholic by offering them recovery whether or not they’re ready for it. People have to be in enough pain that it forces them through the fear of change, or it ain’t gonna happen. The only people who know if that is true for them are the ones involved. In the case of Iraq, it ain’t us.

Monday, January 07, 2008

What Barack Obama Needs To Change

While I consider myself an independent voter, my political leanings often lead me to vote for Democratic candidates. I said early on when Barack Obama appeared on the Presidential scene, I might vote for him. Indeed, like most American voters, I want big-time political change; and Barack was my favorite political candidate. But I can’t vote for him now; and I question whether he really is the candidate for change. It’s all due to his position concerning the American space program.

I’m not going to pretend I’m unbiased. As many of you know, I work for an American space program contractor in the Shuttle program; and what happens at NASA does have a direct impact on my livelihood. But even if that were not true, I’d feel the same way. It was my love and attraction to the program, misplaced or not, that has driven many of the things that have happened in my life. I also care about what happens to the program because I believe it does have both direct and indirect and positive impacts on the quality of life for the citizens of our country and the world as a major contributor to science, technology, and medicine. While I won’t pretend to believe the space program holds the key to human survival, it does portend to pay back dividends that mostly improve life as we know it.

Of all the current political candidates, Hillary Clinton has the best articulated, clearest, and most positive outlook on America’s manned space program’s future. While she has not stated her support for Constellation, she has shown she considers NASA’s programs worthy of continuance. Barack, on the other hand, has no firmly developed space policy and, in fact, has stated he would pay for educational programs he wishes to expand by delaying Constellation for five years. My first reaction to that was: Is he nuts? Such a move would devastate the agency and result in massive layoffs at a time in history when our other only manned spaceflight program is winding down, after which support for ISS is already in question and the US will be dependent on its sometime questionable Soviet partner, and spaceflight prowess from China is on the increase. But even more than that, his approach is the same old tired and easy-to-justify one used by the Democrats to gut NASA funding after the “race to the moon” had been won. How can he claim to be the candidate of change when he can’t think of anything new to do to increase both NASA and educational funding?

Moreover, his approach shows a total ignorance of the reality of the makeup of the Federal budget. NASA expenditures typically live in the 1% or less range of overall Federal expenditure. For 2008, NASA funding is estimated at 17.3 billion dollars while the Department of Education is slated to receive 56 billion dollars and the Department of Health and Human Services is to receive 69.3 billion dollars. The War in Iraq and Afghanistan (and only the latter is justifiable, in my opinion) will cost $141.7 billion dollars in this year alone. That is in addition to the $481.4 billion dollars being given to the Department of Defense for their “baseline” budget. The US Government’s total budget request is $2,902 billion dollars, making the NASA budget responsible for 0.596 percent of the total Federal expenditure.
This morning I watched as Senator Obama referred to the JFK decision to take the country to the moon as an example of American “can do” and as a vision of hope. How hypocritical to do so when his only vision of the future of the space program is to confine it to a bureaucratic bog! That will do nothing to inspire the best toil from American minds or offer our people the shining glimpse of the future that NASA sometimes represents?

If you’re really for change, Barack, a good place for you to start is there.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Evil Spirits and Other Things

I get so busy writing the other blogs on this site I forget about this one. That’s something I’m going to work to remedy. After all, the purpose of a blog is as much to catch one’s everyday thoughts and feelings, and that is especially true of this blog. It is its major purpose.

The news that Mayan Priests were going to purge their temple of “evil spirits” after George W visited it this week kept me in good humor all week long. I’d like it a whole lot more if they wouldn’t stop there; there’s plenty of other “evil spirits” hovering around our Capitol in Washington, D.C. to get rid of. They could probably make it a lifetime goal to cleanse the place; but I suppose that would tear them away from their own people too long. Besides, you can’t blame them for leaving us Americans to solve the problem; we did create it by electing all of them, after all.

Guess there is another point of view than that of the Conservative Right in this country, after all.

It will take decades to undo the damage to U.S foreign relations caused by the Bush Administration.

The battle for the rights of us everyday guys to fly in the skies of this country continues. I spoke with a friend of mine who was concerned about the user fee proposals Bush has circulated through Congress, proposals that the airlines are backing to shuffle off on general aviation more of its own mismanaged costs of doing business. Having dealt with airline management twenty years ago on the other side of an FAA user group, I can tell you that the airlines do not care for general aviation and wish it would go away. That has not and will not change; nowhere is there a better example of how money corrupts than in their attitudes toward use of the skies and how they can sometimes influence Congress. I’ve never been able to figure out why it is that pilots are so politically apathetic, reacting often only when it’s too late to do something. I’ve been trying to figure out how general aviation pilots could stage some kind of boycott, but the only ways I can come up with so far would make us more villains than victims in the public eye. Part of the problem is there is already the perception that most aircraft owners are “fat cats” anyway. But then most people aren’t privy to the sacrifices most owners make (like giving up other vacations or selling a truck or even a home) to keep their airplanes flying. Mechanics and FBO’s at controlled airfields really need to be lobbying against this; they can expect their traffic to dry right up if pilots are charged user fees to fly into their field.

Switching gears to Iraq…

If you’ve read anything I’ve written here at all, then you now I predicted that the war in Iraq would prove to be disastrous to the United States. Unfortunately, most of what I said about the war has proven to be true. I also said that once we had committed to it, we had to stick in to win; the problem, of course, is that it doesn’t look like a military victory is possible there. At some point in such a situation if a political solution doesn’t take shape, then we’ve got to decide when to bring the troops home with whatever honor we can.

That said, I don’t agree with Democratic proposals that publically call for bringing the troops back this year or early next. It’s not that I think such proposals don’t need to be examined; it’s that I think they have no business being made public. As much as I hate to agree with Chaney on any subject, he’s right when he says that such deadlines encourage the insurgents to simply wait us out, though such a tactic is probably the unfortunate truth of the situation no matter what we do. It is the job of the Democractic party to keep the Republicans honest; it is not their job to sabotage the war effort by playing politics with it.

By the way, for all you future politicians and presidents out there, the major lessons of Iraq, Viet Nam, and Afghanistan are these:

(1) Americans will respond vigorously when directly attacked. We have no qualms about going anywhere and doing whatever it takes to defend ourselves.

(2) American support of a war based on political goals rather than a direct attack will rightly be weak, so don’t plan on waging a war that will last more than a few years or count on Congressional and popular support lasting longer than that.

(3) Don’t assume your military forces are so almighty they can handle anything. Plan wisely, or the enemy will prove you wrong.

(4) Once you go in with a military, go in with as single focus: to win. We didn’t do that in Afghanistan which is why the Taliban are resurgent and Osama Bin Laden still hasn’t been caught. Our mission was NOT accomplished there; it hasn’t really even begun.

(5) Don’t assume the rest of the world thinks like you do and wants the same things. They don’t. Freedom belongs to those who want it not necessarily to those who need it.

Turning the Tide?

The IED (Improvised Explosive Device) has been the insurgent’s weapon of choice. But now there is a weapon to combat the IED, and it has the potential to reshape the dynamic of the Iraqi conflict, and perhaps turn the tide in America’s favor.

A company named Force Protection is hand-making armored vehicles specifically designed to combat the IED. A troop carrier named “the Cougar” and a larger crane-equipped vehicle called “the Buffalo” are slowly being deployed in the Iraqi conflict. So far, there have been no casualties among the troops who have been riding in these vehicle who have hit IED’s; needless to say, our government needs to do everything it can to speed up production and deliver these vehicles into Iraq, and Baghdad specifically, as fast as they can.

It’s too bad it’s taken four years to develop these vehicles and get them delivered, but there is still time for them to make a major impact in the conduct and outcome of the war.

It’s true the insurgents will try to find some way to defeat them, but that may be harder for them than first appears. The obvious solution is to target them with heavier weapons. But weapons of that magnitude will slow them down tremendously, be hard to camouflage when in place, and make their hiding places immediately visible and targets when used. A little more air cover will take care of that tactic relatively quickly.

The technologically superior power does not always win. Good tactics and surprise (or confusion on the enemy’s part) can offset that advantage. Still, technology can and often does make the difference between winning and losing; and these vehicles appear to be in that category of “making a difference” for much the better.

Switching Gears to the Space Program…

Having a goal to reach by a deadline is a good thing unless it forces you to take shortcuts that compromise safety or arbitrarily ends a program short of its goals. That’s why I’m having a hard time understanding NASA Administrator Griffith’s rigid insistence that the shuttle program will be shut down in September 2010 regardless of where the program is.

The current problems with hail damage with the external tank will be solved, but it’s looking more and more that even the mid-May launch date may be optimistic. We’ll know more after a meeting next week. No matter what the next launch date is, it’s a fairly sure thing that some flights will slide later than desired. Managers’ choices will then become to either compress the number of flights left into a tighter schedule , to terminate some missions altogether and sacrifice some long term objectives, or extend the 2010 arbitrary deadline and complete the entire ISS build-up. The option that makes the most sense to me is that last one. Orion probably will not fly as soon as NASA had hoped (due to budget cuts), so ISS must be put into god enough shape to stand the empty abyss of time that will pass before Orion does fly.

I don’t share the opinion of many of the “outlanders” that the space shuttle was a mistake. Indeed, ultimately, the shuttle will have proven to have played a decisive role in manned spaceflight history and, at some point, another winged vehicle that treads the space between earth and orbit will become a necessity, whether it’s operated by NASA or some company whose name we do not yet know.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Our Days Are Numbered

I’ve been busy with getting my group ready for the launch of STS-121. We work in the Mission Evaluation Room, the engineering support room for the program and the flight control team. I worked the first launch attempt on Saturday morning and helped examine the L5L jet heater problem and cleared it for launch. Last night, I attended the MMT meeting in Houston during the discussion of the foam crack as an observer. I wanted to see the rationale for flight myself and then had to notify my console folks to come in for the launch attempt on the 4th.

All of us working in the program are aware of what is at stake here. Being in Safety has never been an easy job. If things go wrong, like they did on STS-107, then we have failed. That’s a sober reminder of the importance and consequences of what we do.

On a personal level, this flight is filled with uncertainty. I’ve been with shuttle for almost twenty years now, so it’s sad that the program is ending. There is also a bit more stress. Aside from handling the emotional burden of another accident if it occurs, there is the knowledge that my job has a finite end, bringing with it an uncertain future. A younger friend of mine in the program with me sayid yesterday it's foolish now not to have updated resumes, and he’s right. Of course, there never is a guaranteed job unless you’re a civil servant, and even that guarantee is not 100%. At my age (55 as of 2 days ago), finding a new job in this industry will be tough. I’ve known there would be financial turmoil ahead, but I’ve been hoping it’s four years off.

NASA needs the shuttle to do well. If STS-121 launches and we do not liberate large pieces of foam or any foam that threatens the vehicle, then NASA will have demonstrated that it can bounce back from adversity and solve a very difficult technical problem. We talk at work all the time about how the problem is due to the vehicle’s “piggyback” design; if the Orbiter were riding on top of a booster stack, the “tip of the spear” so to speak, then any debris shedding would have no impact. Personally, I’ve always felt that winged space vehicles were the way to go, and you can bet that at some point we’ll return to some variant of them again. Hopefully, then the lessons of shuttle will carry forward. Even with the “spam in a can” design of CEV, many of the technical lessons learned with designing and managing flight systems and operations can be applied along with (hopefully) lessons learned during Apollo. For despite the beating the shuttle is taking in the press and the court of public opinion, the shuttle is still a complex and wonderful machine.

As NASA managers have returned to saying, spaceflight is a risky business. NASA did itself and the public a disservice in the Reagan era by adopting the rhetoric of making spaceflight routine. The new commercial ventures, which travel at much lower velocities and altitudes and can slowly ratchet up their achievements and pace as financial capital flows in, have a much better chance of doing that. That is not the government’s role in space. The government’s role is to take the risks that the commercial sector won’t, to blaze new ground, and to open up the New Frontier to human exploration and development. In that light, NASA will always be doing a risky job, and that is what we get paid to do.

I’m not on the launch shift today. I’m helping the MER Safety Console tonight if we launch today, and I believe there’s a good chance we will. I’ll be working mainly as a substitute this mission, stepping out of my usual role in order to let my younger troops step up the bar while they can. We all know the shuttle’s days are numbered, and that makes each opportunity we have to work with it a little more precious.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Browsing for Trouble

It’s not uncommon to pass by new car dealerships on Sunday afternoon and see folks pulled up to their closed gates and walking though the herds of vehicles. It’s nice to be able to walk through the autos and not be hassled by salesmen. What I didn’t know when we chose to do that this past Sunday, we were setting ourselves up for a loss of income and identify theft, as are a lot of unsuspecting Houston citizens every Sunday if they choose to stop at any of the car dealerships along I-45 north of the Beltway and south of Alameda Genoa.

We stopped at David McDavid Nissan on Sunday afternoon (Nov 6) about 2 p.m. to take a look at the trucks. It was a sunny day with some clouds and a little rain just to the south of us, and we pulled just off the northbound service road, parking in the closed southernmost entrance to the dealer’s car lot. The first batch of trucks we looked at were just to the right of our car, on the passenger’s side, not more than twenty or thirty feet away. It took us three to five minutes to look at those trucks and decide we saw nothing of interest. So, we moved toward the other side of the dealership to look at a couple of trucks parked near the showcase. We were up there maybe two or three minutes, taking about another minute to get back to our car. We were gone five minutes, tops, if that.

When we got there, we found a gentleman and his teenage daughter in a black pickup next to ours. As we approached, he was saying something about a guy “over there” who had gotten broken into. As I got closer to the car, I could see glass from the front, passenger side window on the ground, and it was my car he was talking about! My wife was right behind me and she almost leaped over at the window to look inside the car, becoming visibly upset as she realized someone had stolen her purse. She had set it down on the floor in the front of the seat and left it in the car when she had gotten out.

The gentleman from the pickup was talking to his son on the phone and getting the telephone number for the Houston Police Department. He also was telling me about another gent about sixty or seventy yards to the south whose pickup had also been broken into. While we had parked our vehicle perpendicular to the street inside a little driveway, he had pulled up parallel to the direction of traffic and had been up on the curb. The thief or thieves had broken the driver’s side window, found his wife’s purse pushed up under the passenger seat, and stolen it as well.

Neither of us had heard or seen anything. While we didn’t have a car alarm on our vehicle, they had; but it hadn’t helped them at all. The natural traffic noise from the nearby freeway, even on a Sunday afternoon, was enough to not only cover the sound of glass breaking but also their car alarm as well.

The gentleman in the black pickup let me use his cell phone to call the Houston Police. We waited for a policeman to arrive; it was about 40 minutes later when an officer got there. He told us this was the 6th of these called in today, and it was something thatg occurred every Sunday. The department considered these robberies unsolvable; and the policeman shared that his own wife had been victimized by one of these crimes. He had recovered her purse and nearly everything in it except for her cash by searching garbage dumpsters in a nearby apartment complex; and though he recommended we do the same, I mentally filed that idea away as something we were not going to do. We had no idea whom we were dealing with. Searching through dumpsters if you’re a uniformed policemen with a Glock strapped to your hip might be a good Sunday afternoon activity; but I wasn’t a uniformed policeman and wasn’t armed. My idea of a good gun is the 20mm, 6000 round per minute, Vulcan canon found in the F-14; and I just didn’t have one of those. Besides, I was not going to risk me and my wife getting into a confrontation with some dirty bad guys. Better to let the stuff go.

I pulled out as much of the loose glass out of the broken window as I could, told my wife to sit in the rear seat on the driver’s side to minimize her exposure to fragmented glass, and then lowered the rest of the windows in the Montero. In my car, lowering all the windows seems to minimize the actual “wind” in the car; the most wind is experienced when either or both front two windows are down. I drove home no faster than 40 mph at any time and used sidestreets and backroads where traffic flows were normally slower. I parked the Monetro in our garage to protect it until I could get the window fixed; and we began to quickly access our bank and credit card accounts to either close them our or shuffle monies to a place where the thieves could probably not reach it. The police officer had said they were after cash; but we had much bigger concerns.

My wife, like most women, had her entire life represented in the contents of that purse. While it contained only a little cash (about $40-$45), it also held most of her credit cards, her debit card, her driver’s license, a professional license, a NASA spouse I.D., a 20GB iPod and a new iPod Nano (both engraved), her cell phone, a pager from her employer, and various other items I’m sure we haven’t tallied, yet. As we detailed the purse’s contents, the officer pointed out how putting all her stuff in one place (her purse) left her vulnerable to huge losses if the purse was taken. We talked about that, too, and how it was better for both of us not to have i.d.’s and credit cards and/or money in the same place. I typically don’t carry them all together.

In any case, my discussion with the policeman pointed to the fact that this crime occurs every Sunday along this strip of highway. The crooks know that women get tired of carrying their purses and leave them in their cars as they walk, usually with a friend or spouse, around the car lots. The crooks know that car lot security cameras do not cover the streets, and the noise of passing cars will cover what they are doing. They hit fast and leave, ripping off the purses, and taking the cash. Unfortunately, it is not public knowledge that this is happening every Sunday and that everyone who stops at a car dealership along this stretch of highway is at significant risk. I am not sure how long this has been a problem but it has been going on long enough so that the police are aware of it, and I did not get the impression that it was considered enough of a problem they were going to divert resources to put an end to it. Interestingly, the officer stated that only at the Toyota dealership where there was a guard was this not happening.

This happened to us between 2:00 and 2:20 p.m. in the afternoon on a nice day with plenty of traffic. We certainly won’t be stopping to look at cars in this area on a Sunday afternoon ever again, or anytime the dealerships are closed. (I’m sure the dealerships prefer you come by when they’re open anyway, so there’s no financial incentive for them to post guards or cameras to solve this problem.) Obviously, I recommend that everyone avoid this area and don’t assume this is a safe activity. It’s not only unsafe, but it’s very expensive.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Common Sense

CNN hosted some interesting ideas for the rebuilding of New Orleans. There are many folks out there who know how to make lemonade out of a lemon. Within it all, there still is the basic question that needs to be asked an answered: How much of the city of New Orleans does it make sense to rebuild? My answer would be: only that which is above sea level.

Admittedly, that will leave a large part of the city in rubbles. But the reality is that next year, as the people in Florida saw this year, New Orleans could be dealing with damage from another major hurricane. Can we really afford, even as a country, to pour billions of dollars back into the area, only have to do it again next year? And the year after?

Admittedly, the Cameron, Louisiana barely above sea level didn’t fair a lot better than New Orleans did. There are no structures there now, and the people are going to have rebuild from scratch. But at least they have a reasonable chance of doing that in a reasonable time using a reasonable amount of resources. Rebuilding any city that is dependent upon levees to stem the tide of flooding on multiple sides because it is below sea level seems like a trip into insanity. I’m just talking simple physics here, folks. Even the best engineering must succumb to that. And has. Consider that the National Weather Service is saying that the New Orleans debacle was caused by only a Category 3 storm. What would happen if a year from now New Orleans saw a true Category 5?

Man too often likes to pretend he can beat Nature. He has won some battles. Ultimately, though, the trick to a happy life is to learn to live with it, not constantly fight it. I don’t see how completely rebuilding New Orleans like it was serves anyone. It’s time to be smarter instead of arrogant.

Deja Vu

There’s an old saying that those who do not pay attention to the lessons of history are bound to repeat them. There’s not a better place to observe that in action than in the environment that’s starting to form around the new NASA lunar program.

When America was focused on beating the Russians, the public rallied around the manned space program and didn’t give the expenditure of public funds a second thought. But once we had landed on the moon and the Russian threat of beating us there had disappeared, the voices of disenchantment with our manned space program began to resonate throughout our political landscape. Eventually, those voices won out. The Apollo program was ended even though three Saturn Five launch vehicles were almost completely built. NASA tried to lick its wounds by putting up Skylab and moving on to shuttle, the next new thing.

With NASA’s new manned exploration program barely on the drawing boards, those same voices are starting again. The Washington Post published an editorial stating—as its has been said a hundred times before—that robotics can do it better and cheaper and there is no need for a manned program.

Indeed, the success of many of NASA’s robotics programs do show that they are effective scientific tools. But robotics inevitably runs up against the barrier of design. Robots still can only do what they are designed to do and do not possess the ability to adapt to new and unusual situations humans do.

With the winding down of the shuttle and space station programs, there is an opportunity for those people opposed to space exploration in general or human space exploration in particular to gain enough political momentum to shut down NASA’s efforts to maintain a manned presence in space. NASA and those who support it must begin now to ensure that the public sees the value in our continued presence in space, and not just from an apologetic viewpoint as was often taken in the post-Apollo era. Otherwise, with our economy being dragged down by the war in Iraq and the damages from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the shutdown of the shuttle program could mean a U.S. absense from space just when many other countries, like China and member countries in the European Space Agency, are gearing up for man expanded presence.

Likewise, NASA needs to be cautious both about shutting down the shuttle program too early and not utilizing shuttle and ISS assets to take us forward into the next generation programs. NASA Administrator Griffin has the right idea in trying to ensure that NASA does not see a lot of “down time” between the end of its current programs and the first flight of its new one. If he either shuts shuttle down too early in the vain hope of accelerating the new programs or steps off into new development programs that require too much money and time to bring forward, he might wind up wishing that the shuttle was still flying, risks and all.