Thursday, April 15, 2010

On the Future of NASA

Just wanted to point out a few things about Obama's plans for NASA. Compare the following two statements.

Obama noted that the Constellation Program, which had sought to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020, is behind schedule, over budget and overall less important than other space investments.
"By the mid-2030s I believe we can send people to orbit Mars and bring them safely back to Earth," Obama said. Landing on Mars will follow, and "I expect to be around to see it," he said.
So... they can't put together a program to send people to the moon. But he expects that they will be able to put together a program to send people to Mars?

Beyond that, Obama is gambling on two other things. Firstly, that NASA can come up with some as yet unknown form of propulsion to go beyond Earth orbit. While its noble to invest in such ground-breaking technologies, why not continue the Constellation program in addition to searching for new propulsion technologies? Secondly, that some commercial enterprise will fill the gap that NASA currently occupies ferrying people and items up into space. If getting into orbit is so easy that private companies can do it, then why hasn't anyone achieved it yet?

Most of the plans I've heard of from private enterprises only involve getting into space 'technically' and not being truly functional 'space ships' let alone 'ferries'.

I'm willing to bet that this had more to do with politics (erasing Bush's 'stain') than it did science or good policy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Obama Snubs and is Snubbed

The big nuclear summit ended with a fizzle. No major announcements, no big agreements. Just a token consensus to secure 'vulnerable' nuclear supplies. Because those dangerous stockpiles in Canada are the real threat to nuclear security, eh.

Meanwhile, Japan-USA relations reached a new low as Obama refused to squeeze Hatoyama in for more than a chat during the summit, and so in return Hatoyama used the summit as an opportunity to discuss territorial spats with China's Hu Jintao and the opportunity to help Vietnam build roads and nuclear power plants. The irony is thick.

Other nations similarly took the opportunity to use the summit, not to talk about nuclear security, but chat it up with other foreign leaders concerning other, unrelated matters.

Canada, despite its agreement handing over chunks of our highly enriched uranium back to the USA, felt no compunction against publicly contradicting Obama when he made unfounded and incorrect claims. Considering Hilary Clinton's poor behaviour recently in Canada, I'm not surprised.

On Iran, China is still not enthusiastic, to say the least, about any sanctions. Despite the media and Obama administration's misleading statements, the most China would commit to was opening negotiations concerning sanctions, not that they would support sanctions (see the correction at the end of the article).

But Obama gives as good as he gets, at least when it comes to small US-friendly countries. Obama took the opportunity to snub a USA ally that has been literally falling over itself to try to help the USA; Georgia.

Success, indeed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Obama's Major Foreign Policy Victory

Yes, you read that title right, a major threat to international nuclear safety has been eliminated thanks to the Obama administration. The Canadian government, widely known to be a prime proliferator of nuclear weaponry has, under great pressure from Obama, broken down and agreed to transfer its stockpile of highly enriched uranium to the USA.

What's that you say? It was being used to produce medical isotopes? Nonsense! It was a treat to international peace and security!

Also, that threat to nuclear safety and security, Ukraine, has similarly broken down and agreed to transfer its stockpile of highly enriched uranium to the USA. A much needed diplomatic victory that will ensure Ukraine never spreads its nuclear technology around again.

Focusing on whats really important the Toronto Star reports the following:

Satellite photo evidence showing the first wisps of steam from a new nuclear reactor in Pakistan came as a rude awakening for U.S. intelligence officials, according to the New York Times. They interpret the images as proof positive that the country is preparing to ramp up production of weapons-grade fuel to keep pace with India, even as it struggles to safeguard its nuclear facilities against possible attack by Al Qaeda.

Though Obama met separately with his Pakistani and Indian counterparts on the eve of the Washington summit, White House officials say raising the issue during the summit would be “too politically divisive.”

That's right, Obama is wisely choosing to focus on the important issues and the dangerous countries like Canada and Ukraine rather than dealing with the minor Pakistani-India issue. Moreover, Malaysia, a regional powerhouse with massive pull in Iran has joined with the USA in condemning Iran in the strongest possible language. This reversal has the potential to break the deadlock over the Iranian issue.

The White House said in a statement that he had also discussed Iran with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

"The two leaders agreed on the need for the international community to send a clear signal to Iran that while it has the right to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy, Iran should not use this right to develop nuclear weapons capability," said the statement.

Sorry if I have trouble restraining my sarcasm over this political stunt by Obama. Although, considering how low my expectations are for Obama now, I really don't expect much more. The Chinese are just playing Obama for time, promising to 'work' with them on sanctions but will insist on limits that make the sanctions useless when push comes to shove. Other countries such as Brazil will insist on the right to develop enrichment facilities and other nations needing reliable local sources of medical isotopes will continue to insist on the right to have highly enriched uranium for their science reactors.

Obama's advisors know this even if Obama doesn't. So they are choreographing some minor diplomatic 'victories' to give the image of success while avoiding the real challenging issues.