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Has the U.S. Finally Dug a Hole it Can’t Climb Out Of!

July 10, 2011

Source: Supercollider - knol A Unit of Knowledge

The 50’s and 60’s were a great time for young American’s; great feats in science and engineering were an everyday occurrence. From new chemicals & plastics and color TV to polio vaccine and the Pièce de résistance man in space, we were witnessing Sci-Fi up close and personal.

Classes were stopped, TV’s were wheeled into classrooms as we watched in awe one man of the right stuff strapped to the seat of a tiny Mercury capsule, which moments later would be seen splashing down into the ocean; then later on two men in a Gemini capsule docking in space with a blue marble far below, then several years later the pièce de résistance with three men in an Apollo capsule perched high in the sky on top of a colossal Saturn 5 that lifted Americans to the moon with a footprint seen on this distant land all around the world.

Today, America’s technological edge is no longer the norm. We remain frozen in an ever deepening technological chasm, which if not thawed will undermine our technological prowess in the global landscape.

Several years ago, Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist, science communicator, and Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York presented something rather profound during his lecture. He took a map of the world and normalized the size of each country by the number of technical publications released the prior year. Not too surprising, the size of the United States was tremendous, overshadowing all other countries. Then he showed another map, this time he normalized the size of each country by the rate of change in the number of technical publications over a 10 year period. This time the U.S. was a tiny sliver. China was gigantic, an elephant engulfing the world.

Without effective and preemptive measures, trends are hard to change. If left unabated, it won’t be long before China surpasses the U.S. on a yearly basis. It takes true leadership, vision, courage and integrity. Characteristics that appears lacking in the White House and Congress, Democrat, Republican and Tea Partyite.

To underscore this notion of rampant incompetence in our government.

1. Cancellation of the Supercollider by Congress in 1993 after 22.5km (14 mi) of tunnel were already dug and 2 billion dollars spent (see picture above). The Supercollider was billed as “as a means of preserving American leadership in the competitive field of high-energy physics. Some say to this day “…. the most advanced nation on earth should not have canceled this important science project after spending 2 billion dollars in construction.” The aftermath was a brain drain abroad.

According to the Government Accounting Office (“GAO”) in 1993, “Management problems hindered accurate and timely reporting of the Superconducting Super Collider’s cost and status. The GAO reported that costs have more than doubled since the Supercollider was first proposed to Congress in 1987–from $5.3 billion to more than $11 billion. Because the project’s prime contractor and the Department of Energy (DOE) have been slow to disclose project costs and anticipated cost increases, Congress has not been receiving timely and complete information.”

2. Cancellation of the shuttle program and for the first time since 1961 leaving the U.S. incapable of hurling man into space. Something that has not been seen in the U.S. since 1961.

The ink is still wet, but for reasons why the shuttle program has ended, the Wall Street Journal recently reported “One piece of the history (shuttle program) is surprisingly elusive: the price tag. Some media outlets have pegged the total cost of the shuttle program, and its 135 launches, at between $115 billion and nearly twice that amount, demonstrating the challenge of tallying a bill over such a long time span. Among the difficulties are properly accounting for inflation and imprecise budgeting in the program’s early years. Furthermore, none of the figures include about $18 billion, in today’s dollars, spent by the Defense Department on the shuttle program, by one estimate.”

3. Just last week, the NY Time reported:

“The House Appropriations Committee proposed Wednesday to kill the James Webb Space Telescope, the crown jewel of NASA’s astronomy plans for the next two decades.”

“It (the telescope) was supposed to be launched in 2014, but NASA said last year that the project would require at least an additional $1.6 billion and several more years to finish, because of mismanagement.

“Astronomers reacted with immediate dismay, fearing that the death of the Webb telescope could have the same dire impact on American astronomy that killing the Superconducting Supercollider, a giant particle accelerator in Texas, did in 1993 for American physics, sending leadership abroad.”

“Tod R. Lauer, an astronomer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, echoed his view. “This would be an unmitigated disaster for cosmology,” he said. “After two decades of pushing the Hubble to its limits, which has revolutionized astronomy, the next step would be to pack up and give up. The Hubble is just good enough to see what we’re missing at the start of time.”

4. With vast technical resources at its disposal, even our military is not immune from these fatal flaws of mismanagement and cost overruns. National security being sacrosanct allows greater tolerance to these extreme floodgates of hemorrhaging dollars. reported on June 2, 2011, “But the F-35 Joint Strike program is years behind schedule and now estimated to cost $1 trillion. And the delays have forced the military to buy upgraded versions of older aircraft to fill the gaps.

“We (U.S.) must field a next-generation strike fighter — the F-35 — and at a cost that permits large enough numbers to replace the current fighter inventory and maintain a healthy margin of superiority over the Russians and Chinese,” Gates said in a May 24 speech to the American Enterprise Institute.”

“A Chinese stealth fighter, the J-20, made its first test flight in January while Gates was visiting Beijing. Some analysts suspect the technology was at least in part stolen from the F-35 program, raising fears that China would benefit from the program’s innovations before the United States and its allies.”

Maybe these programs were wrong to begin with. Either the right questions were not asked or Congress did not want to hear the truth. Today as in 1993, the same theme runs true – mismanagement and extreme cost overruns.

Sounds all too familiar for those of us trying to promote, develop and install renewable energy projects within the U.S. The government is at loss on how to formulate an effective energy policy that provides energy security, prosperity and a cleaner environment. The answer from Capitol Hill always reverts back to some level of support for fossil-fuels.

Notwithstanding those on Wall Street who should be in jail for causing the financial crisis, those in the private sector who would run a business like our government would be walking the street with a can in hand faster than one could say “its approved and cancelled.”

In closing, not sure we can find, in time, a magical ladder to climb out of this widening technology gap. As opposed to the 50’s and 60’s where our future looked bright and promising, the future now looks bleak. In the face of a catastrophic $14.3 trillion dollar hole, it’s fearful to think how this collective wisdom on Capitol Hill will reshape our destiny and restore America as a land of opportunity.

Criticism should always be met with constructive measures. Bearing few ideas on how to remedy the situation and restore America, the only idea is for us to band together, stop the squabbling and forget the politics, bipartisanship, self-interest and the next election. Government must finally regain its roots and focus on the citizens. This can only happen if our leaders believe in just a few words:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

If not, it is hoped the Constitution allows the government to cancel itself?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jay Rosenberg permalink
    July 10, 2011 8:56 PM

    Actually, Barry, we have solutions, e.g., my high efficiency,inexpensive multifuel turbine. But, it is exceedingly difficult to find teaming partner, folks that are willing to take small risks, white knights. Most of the folks with the wherewithall or “power”, are shielded by their entourage.
    Its a people problem. Introduce me to RWA people.

    Jay Sannerprojects, Inc

  2. Barb Moore permalink
    July 11, 2011 8:10 AM

    Barry, As I watched the last shuttle launch, I was very aware of the sinking feeling that this is the end of an era. And that this downward spiral just deepened. I am overwhelmed by the task of getting “we the people” organized into a comprehensive energy policy without mismanagment and cost overruns. Let’s use the same approach the US government used with General Motors….fire the top leadership and get some people in the right positions with the intellectual (technical) knowledge needed to put the United States back in the lead. But what are the actionable steps we need to take to do this?

  3. Keith Denton, P.E. permalink
    July 11, 2011 11:43 PM

    Barry, I do admire and respect you for putting your opinion out on the line. I was right there with you until you hit the “renewable energy diatribe”. I think it is a bit of a paradox for you to lament cost overruns and other fiscal inefficiencies of the SSC, Webb telescope, and F-35, yet the only way that any renewable energy project in the US (and I would argue, the world) is fiscally feasible is to create a completely false economy in which existing cheap energy sources are taxed into oblivion. If such taxation where based on shrinking reserves, I *might* be able to go along with it. But when the taxation is based on junk science, purposefully flawed mathmatical climate modeling, and an overt political agenda for the global redistribution of wealth that completely lets the BRIC nations off the hook, I cannot get on board.
    Case in point: What this approach is getting us is the outlawing of the $1.39 100W incandescent bulb, only to be replaced by the $50 LED or CFL light whose service life is questionable, is illegal to throw into the county landfill and could get John Q Public, Private Citizen into trouble with the EPA, an organization that was created to go after corporations. Don’t get me wrong – I can afford the $50 light, at least for the time being until I’ve been successfully demonized and taxed out of “wealthy” status (and no, I do not make over $250K). My retired mom and dad, living on fixed incomes, can NOT afford the $50 light. Neither can the ‘working poor”. So now where are we?

    While I, too, would like to see an affirmative, bold energy policy that moves the US into total energy independence, I have even less of an appetite for Ms Moore’s solution a la General Motors. Look, you may not like GM as a shareholder, customer, or citizen, but no government has the right to simply appropriate the wealth of a private corporation, fire its management, blow off, or worse, threaten, its legitimate creditors while giving away equity and management muscle to organized labor which has made no investment or taken any risk in the enterprise.

    At best, this is nothing less than the despotic theft of assets and property of thousands of shareholders and investors in the name of some made-up higher purpose. The only ones who have a right to take such action are the shareholders themselves and the government should stay out of it. At worst, do you realize, Ms Moore, that you are asking the very same incompetent institutions that ran the aforementioned programs into the ground to swoop in and “fire the top leadership and get some people in the right positions”? Are you sure you want that? The people that need to be fired are the ones we go to the polls and vote for every 2 to 4 years. Pay attention to who they appoint, the laws and regulations they pass, and then hold them accountable for the results.

    I’m willing to be bold and to play the long game but I am not willing to sell out Constitutional rights to individual liberty, private property, and the “pursuit of happiness”, i.e. your and my use of the free enterprise system to create security for ourselves and jobs for our countrymen. Nor am I willing to shackle one industry or fuel source in favor of another that is not fiscally viable on its own merits.

  4. July 21, 2011 10:16 AM


    Like to talk with you off-line.

    Please email me at


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