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Space Views

Over the years, I have occasionally felt compelled to "take pen in hand" and express my opinion on a variety of  topics ranging from the current situation at NASA, to the aerospace industry, to global strategies. Most of the articles have found their way into print in magazines or newspapers. Below are some of my more recent op-ed pieces, written from my particular point of view. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

 

Climate change alarmists ignore scientific methods

by Walter Cunningham for the Houston Chronicle
August 15, 2010

(When You Don’t Have the Facts, Appeal to Public Opinion)

When it comes to global warming, the public at large doesn't know what to believe anymore. Global warming alarmists have been hammering at us for years; the media is made up mostly of "true believers"; and politicians, who, in the absence of understanding and knowledge about climate science have put themselves out on a limb from which it is difficult to retreat. Given the economic interests and the political powers involved, this dilemma will not go away quietly.

Alarmists are appealing to so-called “consensus science” and trying to scare the world into throwing away hundreds of billions of dollars in a fruitless effort to control the temperature of the Earth. In the absence of supporting facts, they have moved the issue into the court of public opinion where politics, media and money play important roles.

Read the entire article

 

 

On this episode released especially on the 4th of July in the United States, we honor an American hero: Apollo 7 astronaut Walter "Walt" Cunningham. We discuss with him the state of America's space program, as well as looking back in the past to help predict the future. We also discuss aviation, piloting, and the recently-released National Space Policy of the United States of America and his opinion on it.

Walter Cunningham is also the author of The All-American Boys, available from Amazon by clicking here. You can also find out more about him at his website: http://www.waltercunningham.com.

Host this week: Gina Herlihy. Panel Members: Gene Mikulka, Mark Ratterman, and Sawyer Rosenstein

Show Recorded - 6/30/2010

Listen now:

 

 

 

Reprinted with permission of TalkingSpaceOnline.Com

 
The following articles written by Walt Cunningham came from the pages of the now defunct online version of "Launch Magazine". We thank them for allowing these articles to be reprinted in their entirety on this web site.

Ignorance is NOT Bliss!

Educator Astronauts or Buck Rogers?

Mission to Baikonur

A Tribute to a Happy Warrior

Closing the Gap

The Saturn V

Beyond The Great Wall

Apollo Pioneer - An interview with Walter Cunningham

Been There, Done That!

Star Power

 

Have We Lost The Will?

by Walter Cunningham for the Houston Chronicle
February 28, 2010

Except in wartime, there has never been, and likely never will be, another government program that produced as much technological innovation as the U.S. space program. No other program has so successfully infused the economy, rallied the nation, inspired youngsters toward academic achievement or established the U.S. as the world leader in technology.

In spite of this, on 1 February of this year, President Obama announced the cancellation of the Constellation Program of exploration, leaving NASA, for the first time in history without a specific mission. It is as if President Ford had cancelled the Space Shuttle Program in 1975, just as the last Apollo mission was being flown. The Shuttle Orbiter development was well underway at the time, but that did not save us from a six-year gap before the next American was launched into space.

Today, there is no realistic successor for human space flight waiting in the wings.

Read the entire article

 

Trading American Preeminence for Mediocrity—or Worse

by Walter Cunningham for the Houston Chronicle
February 2010

President Obama’s budget proposal may not be a death knell for NASA, but it certainly accelerates America’s downward spiral toward mediocrity in space exploration. Now it’s up to NASA’s leaders to put the best face possible on this nail that the administration is trying to hammer into their coffin.

This proposal is not a “bold new course for human space flight,” nor is it a “fundamental reinvigoration of NASA.” It is quite the opposite, and I have no doubt the people at NASA will see it for what it is—a rationalization for pursuing mediocrity. It mandates huge changes and offers little hope for the future. My heart goes out to those who have to defend it.

NASA has always been a political football. Their lifeblood is money, and they have been losing blood for several decades. The only hope now for a life-saving transfusion to stop the hemorrhaging is Congress

Read the entire article

 

Global Warming - Facts vs. Faith

by Walter Cunningham
February 2010

There is a war going on between those who believe that human activities are responsible for global warming and those who don’t. Contrary to the way the debate is often framed by the media, those who believe in anthropogenic global warming (AGW) do not hold the high ground, scientifically. Their critics do.

Scientists have known for centuries that the Sun, cloud cover, oceans, etc. are the principal drivers of temperature change, even without fully understanding the mechanisms or interactions. This hypothesis has been evolving for centuries, but such hypotheses, especially those elements that are the least understood, are always subject to challenge.

A competing hypothesis must be confirmed by considerable evidence and endure all attempts to disprove it before it can be considered a legitimate competitor to the status quo. The hypothesis advocating that human-generated carbon dioxide (CO2) is responsible for heating and cooling the atmosphere has not satisfied either of these criteria. In spite of this, alarmists have succeeded in labeling us "deniers," as if we are denying a pre-existing truth. The application of the scientific process has been bypassed in the new social/political culture with little opposition from lifelong scientists—until relatively recently.

Read the entire article

 

The Current State of the Augustine Report.

By WALTER CUNNINGHAM
Aug. 12, 2009
 

The future the Augustine Report paints for NASA is about as exciting as a cup of warm spit. The pap it contains is not inconsistent with the outlook for the rest of our society these days. It tempts me to quit concerning myself with the future of NASA, our society and our country. The only problem is that I never learned how to give up.

The report does cautiously push the boundaries of its marching orders to "stay within the budget." There is nothing really challenging in the report, except paying for whatever the administration chooses to pursue. It puts us firmly on the path to mediocrity.

They were pretty positive on the point of international cooperation, which does not excite me much for the following reason. The greatest tangible benefit from the space program of the sixties was the return on investment; the technology driven economic engine that drove our economy for the next 30 years. Yes, there was fallout for the rest of the world as well, but it first contributed to American leadership of that world in a myriad of areas. America received the same, well deserved admiration from the rest of the world for the Hubble telescope and the Mars Rovers. I am an unabashed patriot in such things.

In an international program of exploration, even if we led it, the fallout will benefit all equally. We will fall further back into the morass, like we would racing with Russia or China to be the second country to land on the Moon. We have much to give the world, IF we continue to lead and NOT join the masses.

Charlie Bolden needs to set a bold path for NASA, and he shouldn't let the Augustine Report be his guideline, like was done with the C.A.I.B. Report. However, Charlie will find it very difficult to stand up to the cabal in the White House. That group has its own priorities and it does not include space.


First priority should have been shortening the gap; the second, keeping the space station flying. Anything else should follow.

 

It's Time For NASA To Get Back On Track!

By WALTER CUNNINGHAM
HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Aug. 1, 2009
 

The Review of the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee is expected to publish its report at the end of the month. It is charged with the thankless task of reaffirming or redirecting NASA's vision for space exploration. What should the agency be doing with its existing hardware and its plans for the future? The real catch is the part of their charter that reads, “fitting within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities.”

Money isn't NASA's only problem, but it has been its biggest problem for decades. NASA is one of the most successful agencies in history, providing the best return on investment of any government agency in my lifetime.

My main concerns with NASA's plans going forward include the decision to ground the space shuttle, the woefully inadequate funding for the last several decades and the absence of a space program that will restore the sense of wonder and adventure to space exploration that we knew in the 1960s.

The continuing debate for several years over the Constellation program and alternatives to the Orion/Ares architecture needs to be resolved. There is a general feeling that NASA's 2007 trade-off study of those alternatives, updated last year, is tainted and protective of the status quo. NASA officials are best qualified to make that evaluation if they can find it within themselves to be objective.

Read the entire article

 

 

Get the Space Shuttle Back In the Air!

By WALTER CUNNINGHAM
Published in the Houston Chronicle, May 16, 2003

Okay, so we've had another manned space disaster, the third in 40 years, and the faint-hearted are once more out to save us from the risks.  They are concerned age and corrosion have taken their toll or the shuttle is too fragile or the wear and tear of going in and out of space is greater than anticipated.  Congressman Joe Barton goes so far as to say, "We ought to scrap the program, or limit it to transporting only cargo, not humans."

Columbia won't be the last space disaster!  Unfortunately, we can spot some common factors in the three tragedies.  Complacency was a factor in at least two of them and Management decisions played a significant role in all three.  Following the Apollo 1 and Challenger accidents, virtually everyone got on the bandwagon to make the vehicles accident proof.  In the aftermath of Columbia, we have an opportunity to break that pattern.  We can become more accepting of the risk in manned spaceflight and more realistic about our expectations.  We can still avoid the mistakes of spending billions of dollars and years of time for dubious or cosmetic "improvements" or adopting operational restrictions that add little or nothing to safety but have a severe impact on operational flexibility.

Read the entire article

 

It's time to get realistic about the Columbia "rescue"

By WALTER CUNNINGHAM,
Published in the Houston Chronicle, June 8, 2003
 

Since a proposed scenario was first leaked and then released that "NASA could have staged a rescue mission had managers recognized that fatal damage had been done," it has become the source of great speculation. All official releases from NASA and the investigating board have emphasized the necessity for management to have been aware of "mortal danger" and to have learned of the lethal wound "almost immediately." Both of these qualifications were physical impossibilities for the incident in question.

Former astronauts and others have entered the debate, so I will add my two cents worth. It's time to talk some sense before the media gets too carried away with Buck Rogers rescue scenarios emanating from both inside and outside of NASA that may be technically possible but absolutely impractical in the real world.

Read the entire article

 

On the Road to Recovery?

By WALTER CUNNINGHAM,
Published in Florida Today, 26 August 2003
 

The verdict is in! The recovery is underway, but will it get the job done?

The investigation of the Columbia disaster was conducted in the full glare of public scrutiny, the difficult environment in which NASA has always operated.

It is apparent NASA management has anticipated the recommendations contained in the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) report. After all, even in their wounded state, NASA knows more about what went wrong and what needs fixing on the shuttle than any committee of instant experts.

NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe, announced his intention to go beyond any recommendations of the CAIB when he said, "Recommendations on deficiencies will be not only met but exceeded." He added, "If it applies to the shuttle, it ought to apply to every program at NASA."

That's nonsense! It misses the point completely. In the manned spaceflight business, we have always had to live with trade-offs. All programs do not carry equal risk nor do they offer the same benefits. The acceptable risk for a given program or operation should be commensurate with the potential benefits to be gained. The goal should be a management system that puts safety first but not safety at any price.

Read the entire article

 

Grand Vision for NASA, or Unfunded Mandate?

Without a cost estimate for the president's new vision, the administration and Congress cannot truly embrace the investment.

by Walter Cunningham
Published in the Houston Chronicle, February 2004

It was wonderful to see President Bush identify himself with NASA and announce a new charter and grand vision for NASA. For any grand plan of exploration to succeed it must be championed at the highest levels. The president's plan can provide the focus that NASA has been missing for a long time. The plan, however, did not sound like it had much input from engineers and operational types.

I want to see an American standing on Mars or one of its moons in the worst way, but it won't happen in my lifetime. If it takes a return to the Moon to eventually get a mission to Mars funded, I enthusiastically support it.

Read the entire article

 

The Wrong Stuff Is Tipping the Scales At NASA

By Walter Cunningham
Published in the Houston Chronicle

In a Sunday Op-Ed article (Advancing Both Science and Safety), NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe defended (once more) the decision he announced in January to cancel the last Hubble repair mission. Mr. O'Keefe claimed it was too risky, citing compliance with the safety recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). But nothing in the CAIB Report precludes flying a mission not associated with the ISS, the only destination on Mr. O'Keefe's shuttle itinerary.

O'Keefe announced he would do everything the CAIB recommended even before their report was finished. But recommendations are just that, recommendations, not something to which management must blindly adhere. Leadership demands that intelligence, common sense and operational factors be applied in considering which recommendations to follow, when, and by how much?

Read the entire article

 

Is a Robotic Servicing Mission the Answer for Hubble?

By Walter Cunningham
Published in the Houston Chronicle June 2004

Two days after President George W. Bush announced his "Moon, Mars and beyond" initiative, NASA disclosed it was canceling the last Space Shuttle mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.  Since then, the public outcry over the cancellation has drowned out support for the new initiative.

In response, NASA's managers have proposed a robotic mission to extend Hubble's life and, in the process, demonstrate new technologies that can advance its broader space exploration agenda.  In reality, they are risking science, exploration, taxpayer dollars, and possibly even human lives to avoid flying the Space Shuttle one more time. 

Read the entire article