Atlantis Thundered off the Launchpad on Her Final Voyage
Today was a big day in the history of manned spaceflight in the US. The last flight of the space shuttle Atlantis marks the end of one of the most iconic (and expensive) programs the country has ever undertaken. Whether the shuttle program was worth it will be debated by historians for a long time to come. There is, however, no question about the inspirational power of that beautiful spaceship and its influence on a generation of dreamers around the world. There’s no way I would be sitting in this chair if it weren’t for my first space shuttle poster in 1980. The big question now is: what’s next?
Sure, there are some programs in the offing. Constellation and Orion are still in development, but NASA’s funding is sure to take a hit along with the rest of government. SpaceX is also cranking out more sophisticated versions of its Falcon launch vehicles under the NASA COTS contract, and their Dragon capsule is set to be tested later this year. Still, it’s conceivable that Americans won’t reach orbit on a homemade platform until well into the middle of the decade. In the mean time, Russia will be carrying the freight. What a country!
Congrats to the NASA team at KSC and Johnson, and to the hundreds of contractors who made it possible to fly such a magnificent system. Now lets look to our Congress to ensure that America continues to play a leadership role in manned spaceflight. To give up that mantle puts us permanently out of the inspiration and innovation business, and that’s not good for anyone.
I'm going to do some advanced propulsion research this weekend...
It’s the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, which means you are probably reading this on Tuesday, but I don’t mind. I’m going to the Indy 500 this weekend. By the time you read this I will have had a fantastic weekend, and I won’t care that you took Friday off. In the mean time, here’s a snapshot of what’s been going on this week:
Don’t forget to take a second over the weekend and quietly thank those who died so we could blissfully barbecue all around this great big country. They earned it.
Have a great weekend, everybody!
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: A Guy Whose Job I Don't Want
Appointed by a Republican president, serving in a Democratic administration. That’s quite an accomplishment for anyone. As if that hasn’t burnished his credentials enough, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in the middle of picking a fight (or many, many fights) with just about everyone. Here’s a short list of the aggrieved:
- Veteran’s Groups
- Defense Industry Lobbyists
- Capitol Hill
- The Pentagon Bureaucracy
- My Grandma, my little sister, and even my puppy, who growled at Gates on CNN last night
In all seriousness, this has been coming for quite a while now. Some of the best thinkers out there saw this coming a mile away, and most of the experts I’ve spoken to were pretty confident that we were in for this fight no matter who won the last presidential election. The red ink we’ve got across the board in the US is not going to go away on its own, and the Executive branch is looking for any way it can to contain ballooning budget deficits.
The good news? It looks as though the Obama administration is looking to avoid a repeat of the 1990’s, when military readiness was impacted by big shifts in the budget. The noises coming from the corner office at the Pentagon seem to emphasize the status quo when it comes to force structure, which is a net positive.
The bad news? Well, there’s plenty. Military pay has seen huge escalation over the last decade, and Congress shows no signs of stopping the steep increases. These costs are starting to add up, leading some in the Pentagon to worry about how long they can keep this up. Another major cost driver is the ever escalating price tag for health care. The Pentagon’s Tricare program is shoveling out huge amounts of cash to cover our healthcare obligations to current and former service members, and the costs just keep heading north. On top of this, major weapons systems acquisitions are still an unholy mess. The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is getting more expensive by the hour, and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program has seen substantial cost growth of its own. That’s not to mention the hundreds of other acquisitions that are busting cost and schedule milestones.
Underlying all of this is something you should keep in mind: nearly everyone who thinks about these things for a living saw this coming. That doesn’t mean these fights aren’t going to be ugly and acrimonious, but they are going to follow a very predictable script. Many SECDEF’s in the past have tried to reform the Pentagon…I think you know how that went. Here’s my prediction: It’s going to be one long summer for Robert Gates. You can take that one to the bank.
Rep Norm Dicks (D-WA) Addresses a Crowd in 2008
It’s been quite a year for Congressman Norm Dicks. In the span of a few months, the longtime Representative from the Kitsap Peninsula has quickly gone from high profile Democratic leader to highest profile. Dicks had long served on the House’s Appropriations Committee, as Chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, as well as serving as the second higherst ranking member of the powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Earlier this year, Rep. John “Jack” Murtha (D-PA) unexpectedly passed away, which moved Rep. Dicks into the position of Chair of the Defense Subcommittee.
Just as he started to get comfortable in his new role as Chair, another bombshell dropped today. The current chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. David Obey (D-WI) annouced that he will not run for re-election in 2010. This leaves Dicks, the number two ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, as the next most senior member. While seniority isn’t everything in the House, it means quite a lot. If seniority rules (and if the Democrats keep control of the House in 2010), we could see Congressman Dicks ascend to the head of the most powerful committee in Congress. That said, it appears as though Dicks may already have some competition for the spot, so this is nowhere near a done deal.
Some of you who are a little tired of politics (or don’t care at all) may wonder why this matters to us? Here’s the quick and dirty:
The Pacific Northwest has never been synonymous with Defense. That’s why PNDC exists, and why I’m here blogging at 6pm on a Wednesday. Congressman Dicks has been in the House since 1977, and has been championing Defense-related causes for many years. For the first time in a long, LONG time, the Pentagon is going to be paying close attention to what’s happening out here in the Great Northwest. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican… that’s something I could definitely get behind.