I suppose it’s only to be expected that my column about global warming, published two weeks ago, would appear on the coldest day Southwest Florida has ever seen.
Global warming, of course, doesn’t mean that every day will be warmer in every place on Earth. As a matter of fact, the unusually cold weather experienced by the eastern half of the country certainly shows that the climate is changing.
Of course, the world’s climate is always changing — usually so slowly that we don’t notice it. But the changes seem to be coming faster than ever nowadays, and although those changes include some bitterly cold snaps, the long-range prognosis is for a warmer planet Earth.
If human activities are a major factor in global warming, that’s good news! Then we can do something to alleviate the warming. Of course, sooner or later the world’s supply of fossil fuels will dwindle to the point where petroleum becomes so expensive that we will be forced to seek alternative fuels to power our transportation systems and heat our homes.
Doesn’t it make sense to develop those alternative fuels now? The sooner we stop sending trillions of dollars overseas for petroleum — dollars that are used to support brutal dictatorships and buy weapons and training for terrorists — the better off we’ll be.
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Speaking of cosmic ironies, it’s bitterly true that the exploration of the universe depends on down and dirty politics here on Earth.
Former President John F. Kennedy pushed the Apollo program to upstage Soviet Russia’s space endeavors — and to make Americans forget about the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba.
Kennedy placed major NASA facilities in southern states such as Florida, Mississippi and Texas to win political support from those states. The Manned Space Flight Center was sited near Houston, of course, to keep former Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson happy.
The Nixon White House killed the Apollo program and pushed the development of the space shuttle — but refused to fund construction of the permanent space station that the vehicle was designed to fly to. That’s why it was called a “shuttle,” after all.
Former President Ronald Reagan pushed for the space station, and the Clinton administration supported the International Space Station for political reasons: Clinton saw the ISS as a way of working with the Russians in the post-Cold War era.
So now we have a multibillion-dollar International Space Station in orbit, but we’re going to retire the space shuttle. How do we get cargos and people to the ISS? One way is to buy rides on Russian spacecraft (or maybe, eventually, Chinese).
NASA, of course, wants to build a new launcher and spacecraft that can be used not only for servicing the space station but to bring humans back to the moon and one day to Mars.
But NASA’s Ares I launcher is woefully over budget and facing a host of technical problems. President Barack Obama commissioned a high-level panel, chaired by the respected Norman Augustine, to make recommendations about the future of America’s human spaceflight effort.
To his credit, Obama is heeding the advice of the Augustine panel. The president wants to turn to private companies to provide transportation to and from the ISS. This is the kind of assured market that entrepreneurs need to build new launch vehicles and create a profitable space industry.
But pork-barrel politics still bedevils the space program. NASA is not happy with having its Ares I program scrapped, even though Obama has directed the agency to develop a simpler but vitally necessary heavy-lift booster.
Several senators, led by Richard Shelby, R-Ala., fear that canceling the Ares I program will cause layoffs in their states. Shelby inserted language into the 2010 NASA funding authorization that requires the agency to get congressional approval before changing the program.
In the meantime, the Obama White House is moving to increase NASA’s budget by about $1 billion this year, short of the $3 billion recommended by the Augustine commission, but a step in the right direction.
On to the stars! But only if we can get past the pork barrels.
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Bova, a Naples resident, is the author of more than 120 books and has been involved in the space program since before the creation of NASA. Bova’s Web site address is www.benbova.com