Latest NASA Launch: Viral Marketing

Fact: Aviation Week has a piece today (“Funding Biggest ISS Obstacle“) outlining the budgetary woes of the International Space Station program, noting that the five partnering national space agencies which jointly operate the ISS “say they are eager to use the facility as a stepping stone for lunar and Martian exploration, but they first must find a way to sustain operations beyond the present partnership agreement….The main question mark about extending operations is related to funding and not technical issues. No road map or timetable for prolonging the ISS lifetime can be established until these financial issues have been resolved.”

Analysis: I’m a fan of space research and travel, and I’d like to see more funding and attention go into the American space effort, and with it more American ability to collaborate on international space ventures.

Still, I think there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed, and one of those lines involves rinky-dink tin-cup-passing by the once-revered NASA. I’m late to noticing this, as NASA posted this video on its site last month, but I just came across it, kinda cute admittedly. Buzz Lightyear has finally made it to outer space, aboard the International Space Station. 

 

I’ve embedded the rehosted youTube version, but the NASA site itself has other great multimedia stuff.  That way you avoid the sinking realization that you’re virally enjoying a clever Walt Disney promotional product tie-in deal with a sadly underfunded federal agency (see also the more lighthearted take here on CNET).

NASA better pay less attention to product placement ads and more to its core constituency: no, not the research community – Congress!  The most significant news of the week for NASA is that it is again drawing the glare of Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who recently became an Internet hero for battling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats over use of Twitter and Web 2.0 capabilities as official congressional business tools.  In today’s Houston Chronicle, I find this stinging piece, “Culberson taking shots at NASA’s bureaucracy:

WASHINGTON — Two days after telling an online town hall meeting that NASA had “failed us miserably” and “wastes a vast amount of money,” Houston Rep. John Culberson said Thursday he was weighing legislation to overhaul the structure of the space agency, responsible for about 20,000 jobs in the Houston area.

Culberson, a blunt-spoken conservative from a heavily Republican westside district, said his proposal would slash NASA headquarters’ bureaucracy and enable scientists and engineers to rekindle visionary space exploration.

“We need revolutionary change, a complete restructuring,” Culberson told the Houston Chronicle. “NASA needs complete freedom to hire and fire based on performance; it needs to be driven by the scientists and the engineers, and it needs to be free of politics as much as possible.”

 

Culberson also said he’s “kicking around” an idea to make NASA more like the National Science Foundation, which has a bit more independence than NASA currently does within the federal bureaucracy.   (Want to keep up with Culberson?  Follow him here on Twitter, he’s prodigiously tweeting.)

The real battle is going to be over the politics and science of relying on Russian vehicles during the 2010-2015 gap, devoid of any U.S. operational space vehicles whatsoever (bye-bye Shuttle).  This is just heating up…

  

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