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Book Review:  The Plundering of NASA

Reviewed by: Allen G. Taylor
Title: The Plundering of NASA: An Exposé
Author: R. D. Boozer
Format: Paperback
Pages: 204
Publisher: Lulu.com
Date: April, 2013
Retail Price: $17.95
ISBN: 978-1300939061

In this book, author R. D. Boozer, an astrophysicist and lifelong space enthusiast, addresses an issue that has been nagging at many of us who grew up during the late 1950’s and 1960’s, when a spectacular new advancement in space was happening just about every month. For Americans of that era, it seemed as if anything was possible once we set our minds to it.

The author contends that the American manned space program has made essentially no progress in the past forty years. The heady dreams that America would lead the expansion of humanity into space that were kindled by the breathtaking achievements of the Apollo program have long since died in the hearts and minds of many of us who came of age during the Apollo era.

What happened? In this meticulously researched book, the author relates in detail his view on “how pork barrel politics harm American spaceflight leadership” (the subtitle of the book). The author pulls no punches and names names.

It is the author’s contention that:

  • The things holding back our efforts and progress in space are not technological. They are political.

  • A small number of powerful politicians from both parties have used their substantial clout to force NASA into spending billions of dollars to provide jobs for their constituents rather than spending those dollars on meaningful initiatives that will actually advance America’s knowledge and capability in space.

  • Much of NASA has been reduced from one of the most advanced technological organizations on the planet to what is essentially a make-work program for government workers who were left with nothing to do after the end of the Shuttle program. The work they are currently doing is designing and building a massive launch vehicle called the Space Launch System (SLS) and the spacecraft it is designed to launch, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) also known as Orion. In the austere budget environment that promises to be in effect for the foreseeable future, assuming development is ever completed, the SLS will be too expensive to launch more than once or twice a year. Even those few launches are doubtful, since no actual mission for SLS has been identified to date.

  • As a result of Congress-mandated spending on the SLS and MPCV programs, NASA’s other areas of responsibility are severely underfunded. Exploration of the solar system by robotic craft has been reduced to life support levels. Budgetary support for NASA’s commercial crew program was slashed to less than half the amount originally requested, delaying the capability to launch American astronauts into orbit on American rockets and resulting in tens of millions of dollars going to Russia year after year to launch our astronauts to the International Space Station.

Mr. Boozer wants to see NASA once again become what it was in its early years, and what it could become again—an organization on the leading edge of technology, pushing the envelope to expand human capabilities and to move outward where our destiny lies, in space. He also describes many ways in which he thinks this can be accomplished through “a practical, affordable and ambitious national space program starting now,” including items like commercial crew, propellant depots and other space infrastructure, the NAUTILUS-X deep space vehicle, and heavy lift launchers privately proposed both by United Launch Alliance and SpaceX.

I find the author’s arguments compelling, but regardless of your opinions on these issues (some of which are undoubtedly controversial), I recommend the book as a very thought-provoking analysis that should not be ignored.

© 2014 Allen G. Taylor

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