Chair Force Engineer

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Nature of the Beast

Dwayne Day, who happens to be one of my favorite space historians, takes a swipe at people like myself who have compared NASA to Fascist systems of government. The gist of his argument, in my view, is that "Fascist" is an arbitrary label that's applied as an invective. In this sense, he is correct, a fact that I pointed out in my first post on the subject.

Many people are taken aback by the overuse of the term "fascist" because of its negative connotations. But Jonah Goldberg is quick to point out that things that are "fascist" are not necessarily wicked. He admits that some of his favorite movies have overtly-fascist themes. I will admit to enjoying "fascist" movies like "Gladiator" and "Falling Down."

For those who truly knew the horrors of the Holocaust or the Second World War, I can only begin to understand why the hurting is so deep, and I apologize if a seemingly-juvenile invective has touched off on the deep scars of the past.

Regardless of whether you feel that "fascist" is an overused insult, or whether it's being misused in respect to NASA, it does not change the basic facts of the agency, its behavior, or its mission. NASA's manned space program is a taxpayer-supported effort which primarily serves to enhance national prestige, while enshrining a small number of large corporations as the titans of the aerospace and tech sectors.

As far as NASA not being "fascist" because "fascists don't allow for competition," I think that the recent history speaks for itself. Will NASA allow for parallel manned space efforts? Dan Goldin was certainly opposed to Dennis Tito's space vacation on the ISS. Mike Griffin's NASA resorts to debunking alternative approaches to manned lunar missions, even though their current approach is not likely to survive the current election without profound changes. NASA officials currently resort to scare tactics, raising support for Project Constellation by claiming that China will be on the moon by 2017 unless we give Project Constellation full funding. There's no reason why the US and China can't share the moon, no compelling reason to beat China to the moon, and no evidence that China has the means to fly a human around the moon by 2017.

To be fair, NASA has done a better job at allowing for competition as of late. If properly funded, the COTS program will create an alternate means for space access that's closer to a free-market approach. With that being said, awarding a COTS contract to Orbital Sciences is hardly the way to break the oligarchy of large companies that dominate the space economy. Furthermore, with NASA dropping out of ISS in 2017, the incentives behind COTS become diminished.

Is the "fascist" label for NASA extreme and deceptive? Perhaps. But the fact remains that NASA subverts the capitalist system in the name of national pride. I will admit that a private-sector rationale for exploring the moon will require at least 30 years pull off; the NASA plan is the way to go if you're willing to throw untold quantities of taxpayer dollars at going back as soon as possible. But I would rather sacrifice the moon in my lifetime than undermine capitalism. I don't care what name you want to apply towards NASA's manned space program and its practices. You can call NASA what you will, but it doesn't change the nature of the beast.

EDIT (7/3/2008): The tone of this piece did come off as unapologetic, but I wanted to state unequivocally that my use of the term "fascist" is divisive, hurtful and not conducive to the rational debate that truly needs to be held in this country regarding manned spaceflight and the NASA mission. It was a mistake that I should have avoided in the first place. With that being said, I unapologetically oppose taxpayer-funded manned missions whose primary benefit is preserving the nation's prestige. As for the topics of COTS and China, they will be addressed in the near future.