[FPSPACE] Jim Oberg's article in /Launchspace/
Robert G Kennedy III
Wed, 6 Dec 2000 14:28:55 -0400
I hope Jim won't mind if I air this discussion in public; I think the
points are relevent to all of us.
I read your article in the Oct/Nov/Dec 2000 issue of /Launchspace/.
I agree with some of your points, and disagree with others.
I agree that the Russian military-industrial complex will try to do the
least possible on ISS that they can get away with. However, much of the
fault for this bad attitude lies with the Clinton Administration having
placed itself in an extremely bad position from a negotiator's point of
view, even though the USA would seem to hold most of the cards worth
holding. A good negotiator is always prepared to walk away from the table,
and never lets the other side know that there's some kind of deadline. I
specifically say USA, and not NASA, because the space agency doesn't hold
any cards - they just salute and do what they are told by Messrs. Clinton
and Gore and respond like a kicked dog: "thank sir, may I have another?"
NASA is probably grateful for only getting kicked in the teeth annually at
budget time, as opposed to a daily basis.
It should be "as clear as an azure sky" that science and exploration are
actually the lowest priorities on the ISS, and that the prime consideration
is a bunch of statist bullsh*t, and secondarily, white-collar welfare
(pork), which is the only thing that keeps Congress from revolting.
When the late George Brown (then chair of the Science Committee) asked me
in early 1994 if I thought bringing the Russkiis had been a good idea, and
I said emphatically yes, because I assumed the project would be run on a
businesslike basis, playing to the strengths of both sides.
The experience with Zarya proves that the Russian space industry can in
fact deliver their usual robust product on time and on budget, so long as
there is a very clear linkage between the work and the reward. Russians,
and Soviets before them, got screwed so often, and their business culture
and court system suck so badly now, that they spend a great deal of time
making sure they will get compensated. But once they are clear on that, and
they trust you, then they work very hard and very skillfully indeed. As
everyone on this list knows. Get the government (the source of most of the
screwing) involved, however, and you are asking for trouble, as the
experience with Zvezda so clearly demonstrates. Same project (ISS), same
customer (USA), same vendor (I consider the Russkii
military-space-industrial complex to be essentially monolithic), very
similar products (both Zarya and Zvezda were derived from Mir modules). The
only significant difference between the two was the contracting and payment
arrangements (Boeing-Khrunichev vs. NASA-RKA). A social scientist could not
ask for a better experimental design to answer the question.
Yet, due to Bill Clinton's and Al Gore's statist worldview, and fundamental
mistrust of the private sector, NASA is condemned to work only through
official Russian government channels, i.e. with ex-nomenklatura vampires
whose sole goal is to extract the maximum sustenance from the patient with
the least effort before it kicks the bucket (or turns pale, ha-ha). To be
sure, this deal also provides a fig leaf to those unreconstructed persons
in Russian government who think they are still a superpower.
In addition, I strongly disagree that the dollars going into the Russian
space industry are "mostly pure profit". As your post yesterday to FPSpace
indicated, Russian infrastructure is in dire shape. Russian industry has
been for the last ten years consuming capital investments made during the
previous generation, like a starving body will consume muscle and organ
tissues after the food and fat reserves are gone. But, as Jack Mansfield
said to me once, "just because they're low price, doesn't mean they're low
cost". Dr. Mansfield is a highly erudite fellow, and I trust his opinion a
lot. The true cost of crumbling infrastructure is very high, and the
Russkiis will have to replace it soon or collapse altogether. But perhaps
"victory by attrition" is what some folks over here are really after. Seems
to be working out that way in strategic arms.
If America really did value science, schedule, cost performance, the
welfare of the species, etc. the Station would be an all-American job in a
28-degree orbit, and finished already. (Or possibly not there at all; as
DDAY says, space ain't important to Congress or to the public.) Congress
very nearly killed the Station in the late spring of 1994, which is why Mr.
Brown had asked me the question then.
Later that year, the Russians must have laughed all the way to the bank
("no, no, don't throw me in the briar patch!") when the Adminstration
forced them to double their prices just to support an ossified but
well-connected industry here that hasn't had an original idea since
Sputnik went up. Everybody knows that the real potential for economic
growth, technological spinoffs, creation of new markets, and job security
lies in the *satellite* industry, not the *launch* industry. Yet who did
the administration support? The rocketeers, who can't make a profit even
with subsidies and a captive market. I'm sure those former apparatchiki
with whom we negotiated the so-called "launch quotas" understood this only
Well, this turned into more of a rant than I intended. Bet nobody responds
Robert Kennedy, PE