Might the government’s well-funded “black” programs, impervious to budget cuts, keep us boldly going?
While the docking of SpaceX’s reusable Dragon capsule at the International Space Station was a major first for private spaceflight, two far more interesting space announcements also made the news.
First, the National Reconnaissance Office, one of 16 secretive U.S. intelligence agencies funded through “black” or classified portions of the Federal budget that is not subject to oversight by elected politicians, “gave” NASA a pair of beyond-Hubble-quality space telescopes that they’d built for classified purposes (read: spying). A NASA representative noted, “The hardware is approximately the same size as the Hubble but uses newer, much lighter mirror and structure technology.”
OK, major score for NASA (if they ever scrape together the money to referb and launch them into orbit), right?
The second big news was that the U.S. Air Force’s mystery-shrouded X-37B space plane — basically a mini, unmanned Space Shuttle — landed at the secure Vandenberg Air Force Base after having been launched into a orbit way back on March 5, 2011, for an “undisclosed” mission. Yes, something top secret that took more than a year to accomplish. And all of this fun was also paid for out of the “black” Federal budget, in this case administered through the Defense Advances Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a “national security” issue.
So while the federal deficit is currently a number beyond human comprehension, compelling elected officials to hack and slash NASA’s paltry budget, we seem to have plenty of cash to fund “black” space projects to the tune of billions. Maybe the solution to NASA’s woes is to fold it into DARPA or one of those other untouchable agencies that politicians can’t meddle with for personal gain.
A few NASA employees may not want to have anything to do with anything “defense”-oriented, but I’m also sure that none of them like having to buy a passenger seat on a Russian spacecraft just to get up to the ISS.
- Stanley Manders