Orient, who gets the lead quote in the FoxNews.com piece (a quote recycled a few days later in another Fox story on the space debate), is followed up immediately by one Shannah B. Godfrey, cited as a “former rocket scientist.” According to a resume posted online, Godfrey’s highest educational credential is an MBA. The resume states that she used to work as a chemist for ATK, an aerospace and defense contractor, and now owns a company that sells phonics books. For the purposes of this story, she stands in as a space security expert. “Remember a few years ago when China ‘accidentally’ hit a satellite in space?” she says in the story. “They were subtly sending us a message that they could cripple us instantly by taking out our satellites.” The relevance of this speculation to the new NASA policy is not clear. The space shuttle did fly five missions to service the Hubble Telescope, but satellite defense was never in its charter, nor was it part of the scrapped Constellation project. NASA is currently developing robots to refuel and potentially repair satellites in hopes of showing the private sector that it can be done profitably, however.
In all, nine of 11 named sources in the Fox piece titled “Lost in Space” are hostile to Obama’s proposal. The two supporting voices are a NASA spokesman, John Yembrick, and a retired physics professor, who rebut the claim that NASA is endangering its astronauts by relying on Russian spacecraft to get to the International Space Station. In case of emergency, Yembrick notes, a Soyuz capsule is docked to the station with enough seats for a return to Earth. Responding to the insinuation that the Russians might intentionally strand astronauts in space, Howard C. Hayden, an emeritus professor at the University of Connecticut, says, “I can’t imagine that the Russians would avoid a rescue mission simply because relations had soured. That would bring very loud international condemnation. They’d go out of their way to establish their moral high ground.”
Fox’s Koprowski deserves credit for giving cooler heads a voice in a piece that sounds almost hysterical in places, but the gesture quickly gave way to more tendentious hand-wringing. Input from politicians is limited to three senators and one representative from states – Florida, Alabama and Texas – that will be maximally impacted by the cancellation of Constellation. (By the way, the two Florida pols referenced, Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Susanne Kosmas, went on to accompany Obama on Air Force One for his speech at Kennedy Space Center, where they offered conditional praise for the plan.) The piece also quotes science writer Michael Carroll despairing over the dependence on Russia. Last year, he published a book based on NASA’s big plans for a lunar base. Titled “Seventh Landing: Going Back to the Moon, This Time to Stay,” it may fall out of print soon if Obama’s plan to bypass the moon for deep space is realized.
The final word, however, goes to Lord Christopher Monckton, Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley and a former science adviser to Margaret Thatcher, a man listed by Mother Jones as one of the 12 loudest climate change deniers. Monckton reinforces the main thrust of the story, that the new NASA strategy, especially its dependence on Russian transport, will put astronauts in imminent danger and perhaps even be an existential threat to the United States. “The administration’s policy in space was calculated to do maximal damage to the defense interests of the U.S, and without even yielding a financial savings,” Monckton declares.