Thursday, April 03, 2008

"Mankind" might be going into space, but America isn't.

The Orlando Sentinel reports:

"NASA Constellation program -- the successor to the aging space shuttle -- faces critical problems and might never work as intended, according to a congressional report set for release today.The report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, ticks off a list of difficult issues, especially with the Ares I rocket, which it said is prone to violent shaking on liftoff and might not have enough power to reach orbit with a capsule full of astronauts. . .

'Ares is subject to excessive vibration, called thrust oscillation, which has the potential of shaking the spacecraft to pieces, killing anyone aboard.'

'So far, no company is capable of producing a heat shield big enough to protect the Orion capsule when it re-enters Earth's atmosphere. Proposals to use thermal tiles like the ones on the shuttle are still in the design stage.'"

Otherwise, every thing is great, right on track. We know how well those heat shields work, too, Kaboom!

Not to worry, though, Chris Shank, a special assistant to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, says "We have a mitigation strategy."

That's great Chris, how about you show us how exactly you're going to mitigate the fact that the rocket system we're spending billions on is most likely going to blow up the minute it leaves the launch pad before the tax payers spend one more penny on this boondoggle.

[The Sentinel: "NASA already has awarded $7 billion in Constellation contracts and could ultimately spend nearly $230 billion during two decades on the program, GAO estimated."]

The NASA Constellation project web site reported on that on March 27 the the Orion crew module simulator was flown to the "U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to test Orion's astronaut escape system, which will ensure a safe, reliable escape for astronauts in case of an emergency."

In case of an emergency?

The idea here is NASA is rushing to get this new Constellation project going at the same time that it's trying to finish constructing the ISS so it can retire the Space Jalopy before another blows up. It should be clear by now that NASA can't walk and chew gum at the same time, never mind build a space station and send a man to Mars.

The best part of this whole plan is that after the retirement of the Space Jalopy, and while NASA works furiously to mitigate the little explosion problem involved with the Ares I (which, according to NASA, is using "parts of a decommissioned Peacekeeper as stand-ins during the test for the Ares I") before it risks putting a human on top of the thing, we'll be paying the Russians to move our astronauts and equipment up to the ISS. On 40 year-old space ship that has to crash into the Central Asian steppes when it lands, no less.

The Russians! The ones who're always threatening to cut the European's natural gas supplies, the ones who're building a nuclear power plant for the Iranians, the ones who just blocked Ukraine's and Georgia's membership to NATO. We're going to have to rely on them to get us into space for God knows how long?

Didn't we go to the moon once? By the time we get back there we'll be jostling with the Albanians for a parking space on Tranquility Base.

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Monday, March 31, 2008

The myth of the Iraqi military's abilities.

I just heard Guy Raz, NPR's defense correspondent, say on TOTN that al-Maliki's defeat isn't all bad. He says Pentagon officials tell him the offensive showed large numbers of Iraqi security forces can operate independently, without US help.

Judging by the outcome of the fighting, I'd say they really can't.

Only three days into the fighting the WaPo reported:

"U.S. forces in armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday in Sadr City . . . Iraqi army and police units appeared to be largely holding to the outskirts of the area as American troops took the lead in the fighting. Four U.S. Stryker armored vehicles were seen in Sadr City by a Washington Post correspondent, one of them engaging Mahdi Army militiamen with heavy fire. The din of American weapons, along with the Mahdi Army's AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, was heard through much of the day. U.S. helicopters and drones buzzed overhead."

Last Friday AP reported:

"U.S. forces stepped deeper Friday into the Iraqi government's fight to cripple Shiite militias, launching air strikes in the southern city of Basra and firing a Hellfire missile in the main Shiite stronghold in Baghdad."

The NYT reports:

"At about 5 p.m. on Sunday, an American soldier was killed just north of the capital when the vehicle he was riding in was hit by a roadside bomb. In Sadr City, witnesses said an American armored vehicle was blown up by a homemade bomb on Falah Street, in the center of the neighborhood. Ali Khayon, who lives on the street, said the blast occurred about 1:30. 'The American soldiers opened fire randomly in a crazy way and shot many people,' he said. 'I started taking the wounded people in my truck in order to move them to the hospital, and on the way I saw the American tank still burning.'

A police officer in Sadr City said a second armored vehicle that came to tow away the one that was bombed was hit by another explosion. . . An aircraft called in to support the soldiers killed 25 people, according to the statement. American forces also conducted air strikes in the New Baghdad neighborhood, just south of Sadr City, in Kadhimiya, in Ghazaliya in eastern Baghdad and in the northern part of the city, according to the American military. At least 21 people were killed."

And Reuters reported yesterday:

"The United States confirmed on Sunday that U.S. special forces units were operating alongside Iraqi government troops in Basra. . . A U.S. military statement described a joint raid by Iraqi and U.S. special forces units which killed 22 suspected militants, including '16 criminal fighters' strafed in an air strike on three houses." [Or just civilians who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's so hard to tell.]

And Newsweek reporter Michael Hirsh says this extensive US help for Iraqi forces, especially air support, is a long term deal.

Michael Hirsh reported in Newsweek last year:

"Despite all the political debate in Washington about a quick U.S. pullout from Iraq, the vast Balad Air Base, a 15-square-mile mini-city of thousands of trailers and vehicle depots located 43 miles north of Baghdad, is hard evidence that the Pentagon is planning to stay in Iraq for a long time-at least a decade or so, according to military strategists. . . . With 27,500 landings and takeoffs a month, Balad is second only to London's Heathrow Airport in traffic worldwide, Brig. Gen. Frank Gorenc, the base commander."

So, don't believe the hype about the abilities of the Iraqi army to wipe their own asses without massive US aid.

Extra note:

I count at 7 US casualties listed in Baghdad since al-Maliki launched his offensive. More than likely these deaths can be attributed to al-Maliki "taking the lead."

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Al-Sadr wins again.

The NYT reports today:

"Iraqis returned to the streets of Baghdad after a curfew was lifted, and the southern port city of Basra appeared quiet on Monday, a day after the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called for his followers to stop fighting and in turn demanded concessions from Iraq’s government. Mr. Sadr’s statement on Sunday afternoon was released at the end of six days in which his Mahdi Army militia had held off an American-supported Iraqi assault on Basra."

Naturally, the indirect fire raining down on the Green Zone continued unabated, but that's pretty much a given.

In reaction to this news, John McCain told reporters today at a campaign stop over in Meridian, Miss, that he was "surprised" by the turn of events in Iraq. McCain said, "Maliki decided to take on this operation without consulting the Americans. I just am surprised that he would take it on himself to go down and take charge of a military offensive. I had not anticipated that he would do that.’’ [NYT]

How about that, a puppet acting without its master's permission. There is a silver-lining here, though, McCain say "it certainly shows a degree of independence." It turns out, of course, al-Maliki's gambit at independence backfired badly and has left the survival of his government in question.

Ever the optimist McCain said, "Apparently it was Sadr who asked for the ceasefire, declared a ceasefire. It wasn’t Maliki. Very rarely do I see the winning side declare a ceasefire. So we’ll see."

Yeah, we'll see. Maybe part of the reason McCain was so surprised is because he keeps misreading the situation. Al-Sadr hardly backed down, al-Maliki had to run to him to him to put an end to the fighting before it brought down the entire facade of Iraq's democracy.


"[al-Maliki's failed offensive] was a chance for Mr. Sadr to flaunt his power, commanding both armed force and political strength that can forcefully challenge the other dominant Shiite parties, including Mr. Maliki’s Dawa movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. . . Mr. Sadr . . . demanded concessions, including that the government grant a general amnesty for his followers, release all imprisoned members of the Sadrist movement who have not been convicted of crimes and bring back 'the displaced people who have fled their homes as a result of military operations.'”

No one knows exactly what the Iraqi government has agreed to do in regard to these demands, but something tells me other parties in the government can read the writing on the wall and are looking to al-Sadr as the man with the power. So, it appears, the "decisive" battle W. was talking about, the fight al-Maliki said he'd fight "until the end," has resulted in a boon for "fiery," "anti-American," "radical" cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Didn't see that coming.
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