On NASA and “the fetish for the artifact”

On the “Fetish for the Artifact”

NASA’s dangerous venture into Technocratic Progress and why the US needs to realign civil space to serve National Security interests

By Dominique M. Awis

15 November 2016

Walter McDougal’s Pulitzer Prize winning book (a part of Roger Launius’ coined New Aerospace History) credits Soviet involvement in the Space Race of the 1950s and 1960s as stemming from Bolshevism (progress) and Communist lead technocracy, or leadership from technical experts.

The US, when seeing how a secure nation might benefit from technocratic progress, took up arms against the Soviets and entered the Space Race, effectively beating the Soviets to the Moon.  

In 1957 and 1958 Congress held many hearings with witnesses from all branches of the military to come together in an agreement on how to proceed, and a civilian agency was created called the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

As Scott Pace tells us, Apollo days were geopolitical, meaning: long gone.  We effectively have no Space Race, we’ve already won.  As WD Kay would ask, [now] “what are the US’ space problems?”

Bottom line: we don’t have a direct space “problem” to solve; we just have an agency and money to get things done.  How can we use it to our best interests if we have no “enemy” to defeat and no objective to complete (Apollo)?

NASA hasn’t helped.  NASA is too focused on the progress and not focused on the Nation’s best interests.  For example, NASA was ordered by Congress to locate nearly all “city destroyer” sized asteroids, and NASA, a decade later, is still only at roughly 25% observations of those asteroids.  Without tracking them, it would be hard to protect ourselves and our cities from them.

You had one job NASA.

This is where the term “fetish for the artifact” comes into play.  The artifact is the machine, the science, the vehicle, the progress.  One gets so wrapped in the “fetish” (progress) and “artifact” (advancement) that one forgets civil space policy’s real purpose: to aid civilians and the government that serves us.  If we’re only chasing tomorrow’s progress, we’re missing out on what space can achieve for us today.

Here’s what I propose:  

  1. Going to the Moon: Lot’s of security there; communicating with China and Russia yet keeping them at a safe distance.
  2. Privitization or rather, boosting commercial space industries instead of allowing NASA 16 billion on its own.  Give SpaceX some Mars money.
  3. End NASA’s climate crusade and let it focus on space and give NOAA NASA’s infrasctructure to handle the climate (the real climate agency should handle it to be fair).

**** dA


Why space needs a popular revolution

Why space needs a popular revolution

by: Dominique M. Awis

13 November 2016

Dr. Alan Steinberg (2011) performed one of the most important studies in the small yet interesting canon of the quantitative space political sciences by finding the crucial relationship between public opinion and NASA spending: a negative relationship was found suggesting as spaceflight gains popularity and support, NASA’s budget will actually decrease.

Upon repeating this analysis using a wider range of days yet the same metric of measurements, this correlation stays the same: negative.  Since the budget hasn’t increased all that much since the 1970s (Graph 1), popular support may appear to actually be working against a NASA budget increase (Graph 2).

[Graph 1] and [Graph 2]

The relationship shows that while public opinion of spaceflight is overall popular with the public, positive popularity really isn’t helping space’s cause.  There might be many reasons for this but one is mainly that public opinion of space, despite being popular, doesn’t have an effect on space flight spending at all.

Space as a popular issue with the public doesn’t mean that much in Washington

This is likely because space policy isn’t all that popular in DC (demand for it by states) and that overall while the public is on board with spaceflight spending, they lack the motivation to push government for it.  One thing is certain: our remedy that increasing popular support for spaceflight incrementally is going to dramatically increase NASA spending is not working.  Incremental efforts don’t yield dramatic results; dramatic efforts could however.  Wonks typically have one remedy for getting a popular issue on the government or commercial table for a budget increase: popular crisis.  

Space needs a popular revolution.

Space needs a crisis and fast.  A good crisis; the kind of crisis you rally behind to promote an idea that will fix actually everyday problems.  A popular crisis.  A revolution in fact.  Space wonks need to get the word out that investing money and effort into space now is going to fix popular problems.  What popular problems can space fix?  Space can “fix” all sorts of “problems” ranging from national prestige and defense, to economic and scientific problems, even more modern rationales for space spending such as humanitarianism, sustainability, and species survival, but these “fixes” don’t address popular “problems.”  We don’t quite have a problem of species survival despite Elon Musk’s futuristic concerns.  So how can we make space a solution to a popular problem?

Everyone can use a little escape especially given the current economic and political climate.

Escape isn’t a tough sell given the economic difficulties and borderline toxic political discourse and “selling space” isn’t hard given space is a free and unlimited resource.  

Space …..

Good luck everyone!!

Citation: Steinberg (2011) Space Policy Responsiveness: the relationship between public opinion and NASA funding. Space Policy Journal.


Crucial thanks to Dr. Matthew Nowlin from College of Charleston whom I’ve learned a great deal about policy process models and budgets under the advisement as a research assistant June-November 2015.  I would also like to thank Dr. Jordan Ragusa also from the College whom I’ve learned a great deal about public opinion research while his research assistant June-July 2016.

spaceloss blogthoughts – Oct/Nov.


spaceloss blogthoughts

Oct/Nov. 2016                              



spaceloss, very limited


.pdf available here:  awis_spacex__gilleygazettenewspapertemplate-16



Dominique M. Awis

B.A. Political Science ||

College of Charleston ||


Dear Reader,

I don’t write typically.

Thanks and best,


Mars (Pics: NASA)

Crucial Thanks

Thank you, Reader, for taking the time to read the articles presented here.  I have tried the best to give proper credit where credit is due.  This includes crediting journals, journalists, Representatives, public figures, photographers, etc. to my greatest and humblest confidence.  Forgive me Twitter, if you say some clever verbatim I will mention, however, I do not have adequate access to credit individuals.  I also try to write from memory and thoughts alone, without clinging to notes to build a blog that isn’t reseach heavy as a break from my normal routine.  Forgive me and thanks again.  dA

Human Exploration to Mars and US policy

By dA

It’s no secret that the U.S. government has plans to eventually get to Mars, however, a point that is largely missed here is the natural inefficiency of government to get things done.  A wonk might use the term “institutional friction” here, largely, forces working against the system to get the system changed or competing forces for change within the system, however when it comes to Mars one may conclude we don’t have a direct plan to get humans there.


We do however have unlimited routes for the US government to take, we have companies like SpaceX and our own government agency NASA to do the heavy lifting for us, and we have a total of about $16 billion tax dollars per year to spend.  We have a new Presidency coming in 2016, and therefore a new space agenda to be set.  One can only hope for the best and expect Congress to match the President’s direction.

SpaceX and Mars Colonization

By dA

Mulling over recent coverage of fatal SpaceX firexplosion (Twitter) or rather, anomaly, upon which a payload valued at $200 million dollars (largely a Facebook satellite meant to bring internet to poor South Africans) was destroyed, I’ve concluded SpaceX has isolated the incident to a problem through SpaceX’s own fault, with fueling the spacecraft.  Skipping any and all hype about the incident, I wanted to move on and discuss SpaceX involvement and plans to colonize Mars.

Elon Musk gave a rather boring but rich-in-content, hour-long presentation about SpaceX’s ambitious plans to go to Mars, this past 27 September.  There are quite a few articles that explain Musk’s details of the plans, and I encourage reading many articles about the “lecture”, or simply watching the presentation yourself.

In conclusion, the current price for ticket to Mars would be 10 billion dollars, far more money than anyone, even perhaps Musk, has for the venture.  The tricky part is lowering the cost of the ticket.  My next point will be criticism from those who look at Mars as an endeavor that can be achieved with let’s say, $10 billion.  This is too high of a cost to pour money into.  The price of this “ticket” must simply come down, and Musk either 1) Foresees the prices to drop; or 2) needs $10 billion to get his project off the ground.

The crucial detail here is you can’t “colonize” Mars without getting humans there first, and without humans occupying Mars land in some form, through NASA or SpaceX, etc, then we simply don’t have human exploration of Mars program.  We have visions and plans, costs, benefits and investors, astronauts, physicists, lawyers and engineers, but we lack a human presence simply because the technology for an affordable ticket for one individual just isn’t there (yet).    

Sci-Tech Today covers SpaceX explosion inquiry results in more detail: “SpaceX Closer to Understanding Rocket Explosion at Pad” by Marcia Dunn.  Dated: 1 November 2016

SpaceX HQ is located in

Hawthorne, CA.

Spaceloss Blogthoughts page 2
Attracting the Talent for Tourism

By dA

Talent is key here.  We need a massive amount of talent to create the technological advances to cut down the costs of making Mars tourism possible.  This talent isn’t going to come from SpaceX alone.  In Musk’s late september presentation, a question was asked about allowing international employees to work at SpaceX to which excitement arose (I mean, who doesn’t pretend they work with SpaceX?), to which Musk responded about the law prohibitions and “Green Cards”, etc.

This is largely missing the point.  To Aldo from said lecture, who expressed concern regarding water systems and Burning Man, these are the types of innovators who will be largely key in bringing costs down with their ideas and efforts.  International companies, even small startups, can create a water filtrations systems, and attract investors by being adaptable to harsh environments such as deserts.  Creating a project that successfully serves hundreds or thousands of people can create a piece of technology that will serve an important purpose now and perhaps cut the cost of a ticket to Mars down in the future.

Attracting the Workforce

By dA

Talent is one thing, a talented workforce is another.  Talent comes from an idea, a company, investors, scientists, artists, engineers, etc.  A talented workforce are individuals that are motivated, willing to put in hard work and willing to wait until benefits may be reached.  A talented workforce isn’t afraid of making tough decisions that could potentially ruin a project, and still be motivated enough to try again and re-attack the problem, often re-starting from a difficult point.  Individuals make crucial decisions, prepare for consequences, and must be resilient.

These traits sound easy and no-brainers, and of course things are far easier said than achieved.  Young people need inspiration and motivation, they need to be inspired and need room to grow, but they also need to be disciplined, trained to anticipate failure, and able to making tough decisions in a short time.  Individuals are resilient and far more capable than we often give credit for, however, these traits are hard to measure and often a huge problem or disastrous inevitability must happen before the desired traits in individuals are tested and proved.  NASA is an agency that has proven itself countless times to bounce back, redirect projects, change management, rebrand, and reproduce.  Credit to both NASA and SpaceX for their stunning project achievements and successful workforce management.  

Photo Credits

Page 1

  [1]  National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  [2]  National Aeronautics and Space Administration