Category Archives: NASA

Lauri Love: Hacking and Extradition

Horse-trading determines who goes to jail and for how long.  That is what plea bargaining is.  It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.

— US Supreme Court Justice Kennedy (2012)

The February 5 decision of the British court refusing to permit the extradition of hactivist Lauri Love was more than an opinion. It was a reproach.  While a quiet confidence had been expressed that the decision would go his way, not permitting his extradition might also dint various trans-national security efforts.  Prosecutors were taking note.

Love had been accused of hacking into the systems of various US institutions: the FBI, NASA and the US Central Bank.  Such accusations were so grave as to endanger Love with a potential prison sentence of 99 years – provided the US authorities could convince the courts that extradition from the UK was warranted.

They were initially successful, convincing District Court Judge Tempia sitting at Westminster Magistrates’ Court that any harm Love might suffer was conjectural.  Despite being diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, antibiotic resistant eczema and major depression, not to mention finding that Love was a high suicide risk, the 2016 ruling favoured extradition.  Love’s appeal was heard on November 29-30 by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon and Mr Justice Ouseley.

US prosecutors do not take kindly to hactivists.  Aaron Schwartz, known for developing the RSS software undergirding the syndication of information on the Internet, remains one of the most notable, and tragic, casualties in this instance. What he faced was a weapon commonly used in such instances, the brutally all capturing Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986.  His alleged crime was to have enabled free access to an academic website, JSTOR through the MIT computer network.  This anti-capitalist sin meant a possible fine of up to $1 million with a princely jail term of 35 years. Schwartz preferred suicide.

Supporters of Love preferred to focus on keeping the trial local, citing the case of Gary McKinnon, who was also pursued for computer hacking offences.  Attempts to seek McKinnon’s extradition failed due to the refusal by the then Home Secretary and current UK Prime Minister Theresa May, to do so.

“After careful consideration of all the relevant material,” May explained in October 2012, “I have concluded that Mr McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite him would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights.”  In light of that case, vulnerable defendants can make the claim for a forum bar, thereby preventing the extradition from going through in cases where it “would not be in the interests of justice”.

With all that said, adding the “forum bar” to the UK Extradition Act 2003 in 2013 did not alter the reluctance on the part of judges to prevent extradition requests on grounds of forum.  Prosecutorial wisdom, it seemed, was to be respected. They, the assumption went, would have a deeper sense of the facts.

Central to the entire process was the possibility that Love would, in reaching the United States, even have access to a fair trial.  Would he, for instance, be fit to plead?  The pre-trial detention facilities at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, located in Manhattan, or the Metropolitan Detention Centre at Brooklyn were cited as inadequate in supplying mental health care.  This was even more significant given that Love has been found to be a suicide risk.

A crucial factor in the Love case was the absence of the prosecutor’s belief as to whether the United Kingdom was not the most appropriate forum to try the defendant.  Previous decisions had essentially deemed this a neutral matter.  As the High Court explained in Shaw v Government of the United States of America [2014] EWHC 4654 (Admin), “The judge has to ask whether there is a belief; but if there is not, then he cannot have any further ‘regard’ to this factor.”

The judges in Love’s case effectively repudiated this approach, claiming that the absence of prosecutorial belief on the subject of the appropriate forum was a more than telling factor in considering extradition.  Such “silence is a factor which tells in favour of the forum bar”.

The utterance sent legal analysts into a spin of speculation.  The absence of a prosecutor’s belief regarding the appropriateness of forum had certainly been a common practice.  The decision in Love, claimed Ben Lloyd, suggested that prosecutors had to show greater diligence in making their claim for extradition, certifying, for instance, that the UK was not appropriate. The lack of involvement of a domestic prosecutor, for instance, “could be taken as a factor in favour of the operation of the forum bar” (§34).

The judges did not stop there.  The lower court had, in their view, erred in not accepting the seriousness of the material supplied by Professor Kopelman, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychiatry. According to that medical assessment, Love’s custody in the United States would be crippling.  “His ability to cope with the proceedings in the trial, to make rational decisions, and to give evidence in a satisfactory manner would be severely compromised.”

In the words of the judges,  “it is clear from the rest of his evidence that severely worsening depression, with the possible onset of psychotic imagery was exactly what Professor Kopelman anticipated” (§31). Such factors were more than mere conjectures.

Love also had a demonstrable connection to family and home.  “His entire wellbeing is bound with the presence of his parents.  This may now have been enhanced by the support of his girlfriend.  The significance of breaking those connections… demonstrates their strength” (§43).

Having been foiled in both the McKinnon case and that of Love, US prosecutors will have to identify different routes when nabbing their quarry.  Hacktivists weighed down by the baggage of mental health will prove a particularly difficult proposition.  The greatest challenge remains: convincing British judges of the suitability of a judicial forum beset by decline and ruin.

Fantasticalism and the Future of a Dying Planet

As a tender of youth – 16 to 21 year olds, as my clients are in foster care, held by the state or some other guardian, or on their own, but still labeled as foster youth – I find the topics of our time more magnified by the presence of the ever-vaunting capitalist mindset about time, work, energy, technology, digital supremacy, patriotism, consumerism, punishment, surveillance, worthiness.

I also find that as a 60-year-old, many of my colleagues look to me sort of like a revolutionary looks at a Molotov or stick of dynamite, or, shoot, a pipe bomb. My anti-authority jostling and over the top presence and de facto contribution to their own contexts and perspectives (fearful, individualistic, tied to obedience and compliance) add something in their lives they have never had, or only read about.

Revolutionary comes in many forms, and there’s no use sorting out the forms I have taken over the years in a monkey wrenching sort of milieu, but what I see is few have the presence of mind and historical knowledge behind the mind and the years traveling to other spiritual climates than just the United States of Israel-Disney that I have.

Power to Persuade and Organize Lost in a Sea of White Noise

Daily, from my youth or some state official’s mouth, I am admonished for not being in a higher more powerful place in the hierarchy of things. “You should be running this non-profit . . . . You should be Portland’s Mayor . . . You should be getting millions in grants to do the amazing things you have outlined for young people to not only survive this onslaught of stupidity, but to thrive.” Many variations on a theme.

What I found is most people do not know how to dream and to hold in head space the very concepts of systems thinking, holistic engagement and universal social justice. Most people can’t break out of bad eating and bad cultural diets, let alone break the chains of polluted media and necrotic education and gangrenous capitalism/consumerism.

The dreams I talk about are tied to restorative justice – restoring ecosystems, managing urban centers, repairing agricultural lands, stitching back together the fractured lands left for mega species, replanting jungles, feeding the poor, opening up the concept of “it takes a village to raise a child and steward the old, sick, infirm, and less fortunate.”

Dreams about pushing cars back into the junk heap of humanity, creating bicycle cities, reinventing community public transportation.

Dreams about universal health, health clinics of robust stature in each neighborhood. Schools that teach the healing arts and visual arts and food arts.

You know, walkable cities, organic food, retaking the commons from the private toxin producers, driving the current capitalist model of government into the mud and reshaping humanity as a collective society of people who do not have to toil at three jobs just to pay the money changers-renters-financial thieves-pimps/prostitutes/whores of debt.

What is the Current Change of Life on Earth, and Who is Really Surviving?

This situation on planet earth is dire and needs real thinkers, and people by the billions signed up. Forget the billionaires and the point one percent who control more than half the wealth in communities, and who own (sic) the power to change and transform into something more than a “Call of Duty XIII” of man against woman, child against man, woman against woman dystopian world largely magnified by the perversions of Hollywood-Fox News-The Judiciary-Senate-Executive Branches-Titans of War/Industry/Consumption.

These people get the ink, digital time, so to speak, and the TED-X views and billions thrown at them for being caviar eaters and jet setters. These are collapsing times – war, more war, economic war, emotional war, medical war, industrial war. Wars against free press-speech-commerce-travel. War against coral reefs, fisheries, tides. War against lakes, ponds, rivers, the water cycle. War against intelligence, time, reading, knowledge. War against humanity, international law, universal rights of humanity and nature.

Yes, this is the big picture time for young people to be exploring and contemplating, even if all these problems and all these daily perversions coming into their news feeds cause them to feel sad, lonely, alone, overwhelmed, used/abused/discarded.

The child in Gaza is the elderly in LA, both digging crumbs from the garbage bins. The bombed out school in Yemen is the lead-laced water of Detroit. The murdered black men (mostly) in America by the fascist cops are the raped/tortured/murdered environmental leaders in Honduras, Mexico, India, All of Africa.

Knowledge with Ethics with Universal Rights with Rights of Nature

I invoke the basis of knowledge and bearing witness to my youth because they have been wrapped in a cellophane of ignorance three generations back before their conception. To know is not to watch and to think is not to forget.

So, when this creepy infantilism that costs us dearly rises – we are going to move to Mars, fly to Mars, colonize Mars, remake Earth on Mars, market Mars, dream of Mars, immigrate to Mars – the mere positing of this racist, elitist Brave New World bullshit eats at our collective soul, from the child wanting to go into science, to the NASA superstar, to the billionaires, to the celebrities and politicians, to the media, to the consumer of Hollywood crap.

Serious times – schools are now almost completely turned into zombie zones, houses of compliance and coding. Cities have infrastructure degradation that makes Bulgaria look like a 22nd Century country. We have a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico as big as a continent. We have oceans rising, glaciers receding faster than Donald Trump’s frontal cortex. We have a celebrity culture that is entertaining (sic) each new generation into a death spiral. Autism and on the spectrum births will hit 20 to 30 percent of all births in the US of Israel by 2040. We have a billion guts messed up. Anxiety on the rise. Malnutrition in the billions of people, either not enough or too much.

We have people living under blue Walmart tarps in Haiti seven years after the 7.0 earthquake. We have Palestinians murdered by economic and structural violence from a society flying the flag of a genocidal religion (that is, remade in a new Zionist economic fundamentalism).

We have Google and YouTube censoring site after site. We have the thought police and PC brigades and knee-jerkians inhabiting both sides of the false dichotomy of democrat (liberal) and republican (conservative).

The Sixth Mass Extinction, future pandemics because of rampant viruses created by industrial meat production. Children born with no brains because of chemicals, pesticides, fumigants, pharmaceuticals.

Yet, we have to see daily on TV/Netflix/News these grotesque ideas of leaving the planet Earth to save humanity before it’s too late.

The Martian Chronicles Are Dead Sea Scrolls

That’s what Stephen Hawking said recently, and while many look to the eggheads and mathematical loners and scientific geniuses as leaders of humanity (not), these schemes of colonizing the Moon, Mars and Alpha Centauri are racist, elitist, defeatist, dangerous, malarkey – but the problem is these ideas take funds away from solutions here on earth. The very concept of millionaire actors and celebrities weighing in and then these billionaires looking to rocket profits into space, these conceptualizations are the pure definition of insanity and inhumanity.

Even with earth’s total melt of ice, even with the oceans warming, the cool currents might still rise, and humanity might get smart and plan, fix, retrench, simplify, live close to nature, and receed. We have terra-reformed the planet by these inventions – all run through the calculus of fossil fuel burning – from mining rare earth metals for batteries and solar panels and nuclear plants, to the ores and ancient fuel sources for our supersonic war machines, everything we consume, all the plastics and polymers of a modern world, mined and cooked and plied and titrated from a fossil fuel universe.

Those Martian billionaires who purport to know how humanity can save itself are the gas guzzlers of humanity, their ecological footprints the Sasquatch of our times. These jet setting great thinkers, looking for “alternative energy sources” are in it for the pure PROFIT. And these are cut from the same cloth as industrialists making money off gas chambers, wars, droughts, the casino capitalists funding the disaster opportunist, or what is called disaster capitalism/shock doctrine.

Every single letter and comma and thought typed out, uploaded, cloud stored, spoken over Verizon-AT&T, every bank account, retail transaction, driver’s license ordered, every visit to the doctor, every book checked out or purchased via Bezos Amazon, every moment on the road or in a mall, all of it recorded, stored, parsed and analyzed, through the tools of the Brave New World. We are talking about Peter Thiel (Trump’s gay Jewish man working on tracking all undocumented Americans’ lives) of Pay Pal (which other companies exist for on-line buying??), or Zuckerberg of Facebook (Mengeles bio-metrics a la white Jewish billionaire!), every search through Larry Page or Sergey Brin (the Orwellian liberal self-identified Jewish info channelers), every order through Jeff Bezos (self-invoked citizen of Israel)  . . . . BlackRock Capital’s Larry Fink (dual citizenry stitched into investment kingdom, USA/Israel) controls more assets — $4.6 trillion in investor funds — than the annual US federal budget, and five times the assets of Goldman Sachs.

Think hard how a trip to Mars is going to reverse the inhumanity and Mafioso Madness of Capitalism run through a handful of elites in the world? Not one scientist or billionaire infant sees humanity’s major problems on earth solvable or worth a pittance of energy!

Celebrity Eugenicists, Dachau Developers, Zombie Makers 

Here, just to make sure we know where these people stand, from Richard Branson, Kris Jenner, Susan Sarandon, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Obama, Trump and the other mindless musketeers:

A. “Obviously, you are going to want scientists initially,” Branson said.

“You’re going to want physicians, you’re going to want comedians, you’re going to want fun people, beautiful people, ugly people — a good cross-section of what happens on Earth — on Mars.”

B. Basically, as Christian Davenport wrote, Bezos wanted to run a series of deliveries to a crater near the moon’s south pole — cargo for future human habitats.

“I’m excited about this and am ready to invest my own money alongside NASA to make it happen,” Bezos wrote to space officials, though he also urged NASA to provide “incentives to the private sector” to help make his lunar cargo delivery dream come true.

C. Lucy Lawless was a no. But Kris Jenner of Kardashians fame said: “Absolutely — adventure, seeing the solar system, great episode for the family, opportunity to share Zestra with life on other planets.”

The entrepreneur (Musk) pitched an “incredibly ambitious timeline,”

Davenport wrote, with the first launch in 2018, and many more for decades to come, until the city is up and running.

D. Musk showed the crowd a video of a rocket with 100 people taking off from Florida, fueling up in orbit and plopping them down on the Red Planet. Imagine those on the regular.

E. Zuckerberg wants to explore a whole different star system, Alpha Centauri, which is so far away it takes light — the fastest thing in the universe — more than four years to get there.

F. He’s teamed up with Stephen Hawking and Russian celebrity Yuri Milner, the Atlantic reported, who announced from the top of a skyscraper a $100 million research program they’ve dubbed “Starshot.”

G. Let me explain. The key challenges for a successful Mars colony involve generating energy, food, water, and shelter on a hyper-sustainable and cost-effective basis. But these are also the key challenges for the rest of us on Earth between now and in 2035.

So I want to send Bill Gates or, at least, his thinking about energy technology, to Mars.

H. When Trump became president, he decided Obama’s plan to land on Mars before 2040 was way too slow.

So he signed a bill in March that funded NASA with nearly $20 billion. The next month, he called the International Space Station from the Oval Office and said, verbatim: “Who’s ready to go to Mars?

An astronaut, in space at the time, told Trump they’d be ready in the 2030s. Trump replied: “We want to try to do it during my first term, or at worst during my second term, so we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, okay?”

I. Kids may be the only ones who are as optimistic about these missions as NASA administrators are. They know we’ll get “boots on the ground” on Mars within their lifetimes. Some of them might even be the astronauts who make it there.

The rest of the general public is another story. Importantly for NASA, they’re the ones who need convincing to drive that final push to get us there, said Tony Antonelli, who’s now the chief technologist of exploration systems for Lockheed Martin’s civil line of space systems.

“We will not go until the American people and the international community are ready and decide that it is a priority,” he told Tech Insider. “I really think what we’re missing is a sense of urgency, a sense of purpose, and just pushing out and doing it.”

Little kids know it will happen. NASA and its partners are ready to go. Now the public has to get on board to convince their representatives in Washington, too.

“We have nearly enough information to be able to support humans going to Mars,” NASA’s Planetary Science Director Jim Green said at the festival. “It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.”

Here, the sources for this fantasy, the infantilism:1

So, Bezos is a propagandist who owns the Washington Post and Amazon dot Steal, hiding billions offshore, and as is the routine, he is the vanguard for American ideas and culture.

Obama has done what for wedding parties and brown people in the Middle East and what’s his science creed and great big brain on climate change going to do? How much is $400,000 a speech going to do to help humanity?

But the former president’s departure from office was also marked by the mother of all parties: a celebrity-filled White House romp two weeks before Inauguration Day that went past 4 a.m. and included guests like Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney.

Mr. Obama’s first few months after leaving the White House were spent kitesurfing with Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, and soaking up the French Polynesian sun with Oprah Winfrey, Bruce Springsteen and Mr. Hanks on a yacht owned by David Geffen, a billionaire and Hollywood mogul.

Mr. Obama and his family now live in an 8,200-square-foot, nine-bedroom home in Washington valued at $6 million. The house, which rents for an estimated $22,000 a month, is in one of Washington’s richest neighborhoods, surrounded by ambassadors, executives and other members of the political elite.

And Trump and his anti-education agenda, what power he has to ignite scientists and media moguls?  How did Trump rise so quickly to political fame, and is there a Star Chamber really tied to billionaires getting away with not following the law, ethics, human scale empathy, and illegal wars? Here, David Cay Johnston who has written the incredible book on Donald Trump — La Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Times, more! PT Barnum, Trump.

Democracy Now:

Juan Gonzalez: David, I wanted to ask you about this issue which we discussed previously with Wayne Barrett, as well, on the issue of Donald Trump’s relationship to the mob and his connections over the years to mobsters. And you’ve also looked into that, as well.

David Cay Johnston:  Yes, and it’s not just the traditional Mafia families in New York. First of all, Donald Trump’s father had a business partner who was a mob guy. I’m sure Wayne talked about that. But Donald has done business with people with the Russian mob. He’s done business with con artists. The guy who supplied his helicopters and managed his personal helicopter, called the Ivana, from his first wife back then, was a major cocaine trafficker, who actually handled the drugs. And after he went to prison, Donald wrote a letter pleading for mercy for him, so he got 18 months as the head of the ring. The little fish who delivered the drugs, they got 20 years. Donald continued to do business with him after he was indicted. Donald has done business all his life with mobsters and criminals, because it’s a way to make money.

Yet, who rises to the top and controls the narrative, the money, the future? Inside Job, highly recommended if you have not already viewed the documentary:

Anyone who has ever lived or worked in a corrupt dictatorship knows what happens. When the system is rigged, when ordinary citizens are powerless, and when whistle-blowers are pariahs at best, three things happen. First, the worst people rise to the top. They behave appallingly, and they wreak havoc. Second, people who could make productive contributions to society are incented to become destructive, because corruption is far more lucrative than honest work. And third, everyone else pays, both economically and emotionally; people become cynical, selfish, and fatalistic. Often they go along with the system, but they hate themselves for it. They play the game to survive and feed their families, but both they and society suffer.  ― Charles H. Ferguson, Inside Job: The Rogues Who Pulled Off the Heist of the Century

Things Always Go Haywire When Contemplating the Obscene Rich — Robots

Image result for robots eating peopleImage result for robots eating people images

It — writing this essay, that is — started as a look at a Counterpunch article recently, pushing robotics as some sort of great next big thing to push humanity into a great land of leisure and Marxist socialistic world.

The Rise of the Robots and the End of Capitalism?” by Dan Corjescu talks about significant (sic) advances (sic) in the tools of grinding and burning earth, moving goods, shipping arms and bombs via air, generating uranium-derived electricity, tooling around in fast cars, harvesting oceans and forests more mechanically. . . all . . . as advances . . . for humanity! Dan purports the next new wave of helping man (woman, child) from working so hard will be robots. How capitalism will fall with the rise of robots, because all we 7.5 billion (or 10 billion by 2050) will have time to knit hats, sew ideas, and develop great big epic dramas in our air conditioned amphitheaters.

Recently, there has been much speculation concerning automation and its anticipated effects on human life. This philosophical essay seeks to broaden, as much as possible, the ongoing surge of supposition. It will seek to contextualize the impending “rise of the robots” within a broader framework that includes potential future advances in genetics, industry, space, and science in general. Furthermore, it will seek to understand these trends with reference to some philosophical ideas that have been provided to us by Marx and, to a lesser extent, Hegel.

To begin with: let us ask two rhetorical questions. Did the car, airplane, nuclear power, the internet, and the computer end work as such or did it transform it? Secondly, can we consider these technological breakthroughs to have been in the profoundest sense of the word “revolutionary”? I think, without much undo reflection, that the answer to both these questions should be in the affirmative. Yes, in the Twentieth century, the nature of work was qualitatively transformed.

It is without question that these machines/processes dramatically increased the productive powers of the human race. They helped to significantly contribute to a dramatic rise in the standard of living of millions of people throughout the world, although certainly not all of them. And they did this within the social, political, economic system known as liberal-world capitalism.

Look, I enjoy thought experiments, ALL the time, but this article is as so many times in modern thought experimenting, without an inch of real ground-truthing, and is so off the unholy mark, that it is a reverse thesis — capitalism is the underpinning of any revolution in robotics.

He talks about how advanced we are in genetically re-engineering Homo Sapiens Sapiens with all this great scientific breakthrough.

He states how we are on the precipice of bringing down energy prices and finding new sources of clean energy.

Next, astroid mining and space tourism (hearkens back to the Mars shit above here, no?).

I don’t know where guys like Corjescu live, but not on the streets, in the urban decay, in the fields of toxic harvest, the bellies of women giving birth to mutants, in the jungles (what’s left of them), or under the rubble of coal fields from mountain tops removed. Is he in Gaza, India, Appalachia, Houston, Haiti, South America?

Is this just more white man’s mumbo-jumbo of pretending the 1/3 of world is not living (sic) on $2 a day, that the earth’s atmosphere and glaciers and tillable lands and clean water sources are not collapsing?

This is the cock-eyed nature of a world where expressing futuristic orgasms and dreams of a new White Hope, the Digital and Artificial Intelligent libertarian  leeches, makes it thus.

How could anyone think the robotics people (pure capitalists, manipulators, mind controllers, Brave New World lovers, people eaters, Soylent Green is People lovers) have any agenda other than profits, gating in their worlds with 24/7 surveillance a la Blackwater mercenaries while corralling in our worlds, and knowing there will be no Blade Runner out there ready for a Bruce Willis door kick in.

Thus, the “rise of the robots” is a false specter haunting the contemporary imagination. Robotization, not any more than genetic engineering, or fusion energy, or asteroid mining or even quantum computers will not do away with work per se; quite the contrary it will, as it has always done, radically revolutionize its nature. New types of work will be created to meet new material conditions. To be sure, the new work will require more education and more skills but that is a good thing. Dull work, “meaningless” work, dehumanizing work will more rapidly than gradually become a thing of the past. In fact, we can view this transformation as revealing a fundamental trend inherent in capitalism and the general scientific organization and basis of society. An ever more complex society requiring ever more skilled and informed workers. A world where instead of working as it were on the outside of things we are working more from within their centers.

Dan does it again — oh, those jobs not yet imagined, just waiting for us to retool our cultures, our capitalist democracies. No more rich and poor, but just us and robots! Bull-shit! See how robots solve the problems (NOT): Robots and fisheries. Robots and poverty. Robots and food. Robots and culture. Again, man without any understanding of sustainability and eco-socialism and the Age of Dumb, well, a writer can say anything, propose all sorts of thought experiments, that have as little relevance to the world — people want food and clean water. That is, the majority of the world wants a place to call home — no drones, no bankers, no World Bank or White Man’s Burden. They want disease to be abated, a broken bone set, light to read by, and animals for husbandry and land for food.

Maybe exploring this writer’s very unique pedigree is the place to begin my thought experiment about thought experimenters but that’s another article . . . one I could parse and discuss maybe around where his ideas of a Brave New I-Robot World comes from — Dan Corjescu has a PhD in Philosophy from Sofia University Bulgaria. He teaches at Neu Ulm Hochschule in Bavaria Germany.

Another view, here, to end this piece — As Moshe Vardi, a computer science at Rice University in Texas, puts it:

We are approaching the time when machines will be able to outperform humans at almost any task. Society needs to confront this question before it is upon us: if machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?

  1. WP; The Conversation; Business Insider; Smithsonian Magazine; NASA News; Former NASA Deputy Administrator

Trump in Outer Space: The NASA Bill

You could send Congress to space.

— Senator Ted Cruz, March 21, 2017

The NASA authorisation bill was another Trump huff and puff show, brimming with the usual air of minted if misplaced confidence.  “My fellow Americans, this week in the company of astronauts I was honoured to sign the NASA Transition Authorization Act right into law.”

The bill was meant to “renew our national commitment to NASA’s mission of exploration and discovery, and we continue a tradition that is as old as mankind.  We look to the heavens with wonder and curiosity.”  Ever hackneyed, always banal, and fastidiously clichéd – Trump’s touch of the reality show cannot be faulted on that level. The heavens may be gazed at, but what matters in Trumpland are earthbound desires fuelled by conventional concerns for finance and what sells.

Packaging is all in such promotional endeavours, even if it supposedly entails the same gift that has been provided for years.  “The bill will make sure that NASA’s most important and effective programs are sustained and orders NASA to continue… transitioning activities to the commercial sector where we have seen great progress.”

Delivered over YouTube, the video featured the Apollo 11 moon landing and that interplanetary conquistador, Neil Armstrong, taking his “one small step” for a US-led mankind.  Naturally, celebrations subsequent to gracing the lunar crust were also incorporated.

The Trump bonanza also reflected in his words on the Hubble Space Telescope. “In that tiny patch of sky, the Hubble Deep Field showed thousands of lights.  Each brilliant spot represented not a single star but an entire galaxy.  The discovery was absolutely incredible.”

The theme of annexation and conquest, ever natural to the Trump instinct, is to push the US juggernaut into a messianic gear, driving exploration (or conquest?) further. The sense here is that Mars is up for grabs, a patch of real estate to be acquired sooner rather than later.  Commerce is there to be embraced, and national space agencies such as NASA are the front running agents.

The mission here is less one for humanity as one for US business, though much of this direction will become evident with the role of the National Space Council, which has made another appearance. “So many people and so many companies are so into exactly what NASA stands for.  So the commercial and the private sector will get to use these facilities, and I hope they’re going to be paying us a lot of money, because they’re going to make great progress.”

Very terrestrial, is Trump, and the organisation is hardly going to be getting funds to be scientific so much as aspiringly entrepreneurial.  For that reason, he sees sense in encouraging NASA’s Commercial Crew program, an agency initiative involving sending astronauts to and from the International Space Station using commercial spacecraft.

In a structural sense, the astronaut fraternity are at odds about the usefulness of a re-established Space Council.  Without backing from other White House offices, argues Marcia Smith of SpacePolicyOnline.com, it would merely be “a waste of resources” (Space.com, December 29, 2016).  Having been tried from 1958 to 1973, and again from 1989 to 1993, disposition to such a body has been fickle at best, seen often as more of a political instrument than a holistically dedicated one.

Much of that sentiment is driven by bureaucratic friction, the sort of fractiousness that instils adversarial dispositions rather than cooperative ones.  To get to space in a coordinated fashion is a difficult business, given the range of commercial, civilian and military ingredients that make up the policy.

The report card on that subject drawn up by James Vedda, senior policy analyst at The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy in Arlington, Virginia, is far from glowing. Mistakes are bound to be repeated “if the administration establishes a space advisory mechanism that is too cumbersome, too far removed from senior decision makers, or poorly staffed.”

Scrapping over the budget pie and available resources tends to encourage that sort of sentiment.  In the words of Apollo astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, such a council, chaired by the Vice President, “might add clear White House support for the program, but it also would add another layer of bureaucracy on top of the [Office of Management and Budget].”

Buzz Aldrin, the second member of humanity to take steps on the moon, slants it differently, seeing such a body as “absolutely critical in ensuring that the president’s space priorities are clearly articulated, and effectively executed.”

Senator Ted Cruz may have been teasing with his remark to Trump about sending Congress to space. But Trump is exactly the sort of person who would approve.  He might even approve keeping them in astral isolation and deaf to the world, whatever the actual scientific merits of NASA’s next grand mission.  Things on the ground are ugly, and they are going to get more acrimonious.  No agency is going to spared bruising in the era of Trump.