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SUMMER 2007 Issue
Peak Oil · Iraq on my Mind · Language · Congo's Coltan · Tax Haven Racket · The Struggle · Inspiration · Foreign Spying · Presidential Hopes · Bush's Other New Orl · Ending Occupation · An Unearthing · The Grand Illusion · Priorities

Click above, for articles in this issue. 


President Bush's Other New Orleans


by Joe Trento


While most of us have been wondering what Bush and Cheney were going to break next – after Iraq and Afghanistan, we made the mistake of looking overseas when we should have been looking toward the heavens: We should have been covering NASA.


First, the Bush Administration attacked NASA’s climate scientists who had the temerity to point out the world was warming up. So political hacks at the top of NASA dissembled and clubbed the NASA scientists who spoke out like baby seals. The then NASA administrator did nothing to protect his scientists. The press reported it but did not dig. Just like before Challenger and then the Columbia tragedies we accepted the exciting pictures and astronaut interviews but not our own responsibilities as reporters.


It was all too complicated for the space reporters and telling the truth would hurt access. To counter diaper wearing jealous astronauts and allegations of drunken space crews, the PR wizards at NASA sent up poor Barbra Morgan as the teacher in space twenty years after NASA killed her predecessor with the same kind of neglect. Nothing had changed. The ship Morgan flew on was just as faulty as the doomed Challenger. Surviving at NASA is a function of luck.


As I write this, NASA is telling the world that once again foam has damaged a shuttle orbiter. And once again America’s main access to space is in trouble. The shuttle fleet, old and unreliable, lost Columbia and her brave crew, due to a foam strike on the orbiter in 2003. As was done after Challenger’s 1987 loss, outside experts urged NASA to redesign the system. Key recommendations after both tragedies were largely ignored. Nobody wanted to pay for them.


When the late James Webb signed on as President Kennedy’s NASA Administrator he insisted on having access to the President when he needed it.  He had the ability to tell Kennedy no. Webb had the intestinal fortitude to be willing to walk away from the job or to tell a contractor who screwed up that the contract would be put up for bid again. He put NASA inspectors in every contractor’s plant. After he lost three astronauts in the Apollo I fire on the morning of their funeral he brought in the owner of the company who screwed up and told him if things didn’t change NASA would stop doing business with North American Aviation.  That is how NASA became the most admired part of our government.

So how did nearly fifty years of NASA civil space history end up the precipice of disaster?

It happened because Presidents have appointed a series of spineless appointees willing to say yes when the answer should have been hell no.
We have had Presidents who have used NASA for political reasons and then screwed the program. Most notably was Richard Nixon, who forced NASA to develop the shuttle system on the cheap that we now have. He got his Administrator, James Fletcher, to go along. Ronald Reagan, who according to his own Administrator did not understand the simplest of concepts regarding space, decided to try and turn the shuttle fleet over to the Air Force. That effort ended with the Challenger disaster and NASA began its long descent into political oblivion as money for new rockets shifted to the Air Force instead of fixing the shuttle. NASA was kept on kind of international life support by the Clinton Administration which continued to employ NASA administrator Dan Goldin, as long he supported Russia’s involvement in the joint International Space Station. He reported to Al Gore. NASA management under Goldin was not one of Gore’s finer efforts.  Congress, largely paid off by contractors, provided their normal level of oversight – almost none.


NASA has become to the Federal Government what New Orleans is to the Bush Administration: A problem best left to deliberate neglect. The motives regarding New Orleans have more to do with race and politics. The attitude toward our once great civil space program has to do with defense contractors who'd rather spend your tax money on space weapons than exploring the universe. Bush and Cheney a have been doing all they can to deliver for their contractor friends at the expense of what had been America’s greatest dream – exploration  Those NASA inspectors don’t live in trailers at defense plants anymore. The contractors are allowed to self-inspect and you have witnessed the results on recent shuttle flights.


The hijacking of America’s preeminence in space by greedy military contractors is a story rooted in the early days of NASA when the Republican White House and Democratic Senate met in secret to create the space agency because President Eisenhower and Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson feared contractor spies derailing their efforts. Since 1958 the contractors have been trying to rest control of the civilian money and rid themselves of what they considered excessive oversight. Beginning with the Reagan Administration those efforts to militarize space began to turn the tide. By the time the Bush Administration came into office in 2001 NASA was at a cross roads. The shuttle fleet had to be replaced and a decision had to be made. Instead the new Bush Administration told NASA that it would junk a billion dollars worth of research in the follow-on prototype for the shuttle called the X-33, effectively ending any shuttle program. Three months after President Bush took office NASA’s budget was cut and the replacement program m for the space shuttle was cancelled. Instead massive new efforts into the secret military program were given first priority. Nations such as China reacted not only with alarm but they made the decision to increase spending on their own program to build a killer system for enemy satellites. The bitter fruit of that effort took place last January with their successful satellite destruction test. Governments with nuclear weapons that are less responsible then China may decide that they can blackmail the world by orbiting a nuclear weapon as the Soviet’s said they could do at the height of the Cold War.


To make matters worse NASA was told to extend the life of the shuttle system another ten years and heavily cut its budget. At the same time the Bush Administration massively increased the military space program. It renamed the office overseeing SDI and with the help of the 104th Congress junked the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and by 2006 had the open part of the military space budget to nearly $26 billion.  National Security News Service sources in the intelligence community tell us the budget is closer to $40 billion and climbing as of 2007.

Under Bush and Cheney the vast majority of what America is doing in space is secret. In the coming year we are going to help you understand why that is a very bad idea.  




Copyright © 2003-2007 Public Education Center, Inc. All rights reserved.  With prior agreement this essay is herein reprinted with the author's consent.


Joe Trento has spent more than 35 years as an investigative journalist, working with both print and broadcast outlets and writing extensively on national security issues. Before joining the National Security News Service in 1991, Trento worked for CNN's  Special Assignment Unit, the Wilmington News Journal, and prominent journalist Jack Anderson. Trento has received six Pulitzer nominations and is the author of five books, the most recent of which is The Secret History of the CIA. He regularly publishes a blog at

Posted  September 02, 2007

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