“A [insert policy goal] Moon Shot” – Good Politics, Dubious Policy

January 18th, 2009

Posted by: admin

In Senator Ken Salazar’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of the Interior, he made reference to an “energy moon shot.” (H/T Politico, via SEFORA.)  The specific quote:

“I would not have taken this job if I was not given the assignment to help to craft the energy moon shot that we will take.”

It’s great shorthand, evoking images of success, triumph, dominion over nature, defeating of a seemingly intractable opponent, etc.  Look a bit deeper, and what do we have?  Not a sustainable investment, but a ’surge’ of money best spent for quick results.  I expect what the Obama Administration, and Salazar, want is an investment, a foundation, for future research and deployment of more energy efficient technologies.  I don’t think they want a concerted effort for a few years that acheives an important first step, followed by a return to prior practice and the loss of earned capacity.  As I’ve described elsewhere (subscription possibly required), in part due to the way the moon shot was handled, we can’t do now what we did in the 1960s – land a man on the moon and return him safely.  To me that’s a waste, and undercuts the value of the moon shot as metaphor or political shorthand.  So I hope Salazar is committed to something more sustainable than an energy moon shot.

7 Responses to ““A [insert policy goal] Moon Shot” – Good Politics, Dubious Policy”

  1. tarpon Says:

    Illiterate science types will lap this crackpot science stuff up. What they want is the excuse for taxing. Someone quick tell me how taxes and wealth redistribution save the planet …

    Having designed and built instruments that were carried on the Apollo moon missions, specifically to study the solar wind, these Obama folks are just nuts.

    It’s too bad, but they are taking science down with them.

    The real problem is with the current solar trends, not only are we going to have trouble keeping warm in the near future, but the food crops are going begin to suffer from shortened growing seasons. Things no one seems to want to talk about, but are likely to be far more serious than jousting with a myth.

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  3. stan Says:

    An energy moon shot?! We already have lots and lots of energy sources and lots of technology to produce more. We have oceans of oil and natural gas and tremendous nuclear potential.

    Stupid is as stupid does.

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  5. CurtFischer Says:

    [...]we can’t do now what we did in the 1960s – land a man on the moon and return him safely.

    I disagree. If the US had good reason to land a man on the moon and have him return safely, I think it would take far less than 8.5 years to do it. From Kennedy’s inauguration to Apollo 11 was about 9 years. If you count the time from the launch of Sputnik (12 years), it’s even easier.

    I am not sure that the “capacity” we lost after the Apollo program – capability for immediate dispatch of humans to the lunar surface – is very valuable on an ongoing basis.

    That said, I agree that it is a bit weird to compare “energy” to a “moon shot”.

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  7. David Bruggeman Says:

    Curt, I didn’t say anything about within the decade (or the equivalent). We cannot now land someone on the moon and return them safely. That we once could and no longer can is a bit embarrassing. While we might be able to repeat the basic goal, I don’t think we’ll try, even if the Chinese become the second country to land someone on the moon and return safely.

    The problem with the moon shot as a goal was that we lost the capacity we gained with that effort. There was no plan to stay in space, no motivation to do so. The loss was in allowing heavy lift capacity to wither. Should the government and NASA have decided on a longer-term effort, one that built staging areas/space stations in orbit from which assembly could happen for translunar travel, we would likely be much further along in a more permanent presence in space than we are now.

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  9. Tamara Says:

    It is sad that the “space race” was a sprint, and we didn’t have anything for the marathon. The energy moon shot will be the same. It will last about 8 years. If we are lucky we’ll get some better toys as spinoffs, but the human condition won’t improve.

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  11. CurtFischer Says:

    I am confused by both Tamara and David Bruggeman. What is so sad about not being able to launch a man to the moon tomorrow? If we were able, what would improve about the human condition? I would suggest the Apollo missions did improve the human condition. See this NASA propaganda if you don’t believe me.

    If we get the sense that (i) China plans a permanent or at least long-time recurring presence on the moon, and (ii) somehow a Chinese moon is not in our strategic interests, I think we could easily land a man on the moon within five years. There is no need to have a man at Cape Canaveral stand ready onboard a Saturn V, waiting to go up.

    As for heavy lift capacity, how can we be sure that the capacity withered because of policy error? What if it was our need to launch heavy (>100,000 kg) objects that withered? Relatedly, were you guys sad on behalf of the UK and France when the Concorde was retired?

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  13. docpine Says:

    Just because some people would like to do something, and developed the technology to do something, it doesn’t follow that we as a society SHOULD do something. When we are dealing with limited public funds, and we are making a public investment, we need to carefully compare the costs and benefits of competing investments for those funds.

    Cheaper, less carbon emitting, energy sources do have the potential to improve the human condition, in my view. If you don’t believe me, ask the folks in developing countries, or people on limited incomes with increasingly high power bills.