Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dammit, SpaceX

Yet another delay in the SpaceX launch.  The politics driving the privatization of spaceflight have been on my mind for a while, but the last few months of SpaceX flops have started to get under my skin.  To their credit, SpaceX is getting closer to the actual launch window with each iteration before calling things off.  This time, the announcer actually said "Liftoff!" and had to correct himself. 

The repeated failures of the SpaceX vehicle bother me not because I think they demonstrate incompetence.  I'm quite aware that this is an astoundingly complex feat of engineering.  It's literally rocket science.  I don't expect it to go right the first time, and SpaceX was absolutely right to scrub the launch.

What makes me crazy is that we really need SpaceX to get things right.  The shuttles are museum pieces, and without them, America has no way to put a human in orbit.  The best we could muster in a pinch is the X-37B, which is a military mini-shuttle designed to carry surveillance equipment, not passengers.  If there were a catastrophic failure of the Russian program, the last 15 years of work we've put into the International Space Station could easily go out the window.

Come on, SpaceX.  I'm rooting for you, but this is starting to get ridiculous.


I'm generally not one to take an alarmist position on pending legislation, but this is truly creepy.  This quiet little amendment to the defense authorization bill would roll back, among other things, a law passed in the wake of WWII which was designed to protect the American populace from America's foreign propaganda campaigns. 

There has been little communication from the cosponsors on this so far, but the rationale here would seem to be that in the information age, it's not really possible to target exclusively foreign audiences.  If you put up a "Voice of America"-style podcast or a website designed to depose a dictator, that material is accessible to a domestic audience, which effectively makes it illegal to put pretty much anything on the internet.  Okay, fine, that needs to be fixed.  I imagine it's a tricky problem and I may not agree with your solution, but yes, go ahead and amend the law.

Coverage of the issue is mostly spotty opinion journalism based an an anonymous Pentagon whistleblower.  However, this amendment seems to remove the protections altogether, and that is foolish in the extreme.  More on this when I have time to find the actual text of the amendment; digging through the legislative history of a defense authorization bill takes time.

EDIT:  It looks like this bill died in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  We may hear from it again, but probably not any time soon.