Americas Dirty War Against Manufacturing (Part 1): Carl Pope

Illustration by Tomi Um

Illustration by Tomi Um

“I’d love to make this product in America. But I’m afraid I won’t be able to.”

My host, a NASA engineer turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has just conducted a fascinating tour of his new clean-energy bench-scale test facility. It’s one of the Valley’s hottest clean-technology startups. And he’s already thinking of going abroad.

“Wages?” I ask.

His dark eyebrows arch as if I were clueless, then he explains the reality of running a fab — an electronics fabrication factory. “Wages have nothing to do with it. The total wage burden in a fab is 10 percent. When I move a fab to Asia, I might lose 10 percent of my product just in theft.”

I’m startled. “So what is it?”

“Everything else. Taxes, infrastructure, workforce training, permits, health care. The last company that proposed a fab on Long Island went to Taiwan because they were told that in a drought their water supply would be in the queue after the golf courses.”

So begins my education on the hollowing-out of the American economy, which might be titled: “It’s not the wages, stupid.”

Manufacturing’s share of U.S. employment peaked in 1979 and has since fallen by almost half. Although manufacturing has been a relative bright spot in the dismal economy of the past couple of years, in the last decade, the U.S. lost a third of its manufacturing jobs, with the damage rippling far beyond that base to erode millions of jobs that are dependent on it. Read more of this post

China’s unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou 8 blasts off

n this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a modified model of the Long

BEIJING (AP) — China’s unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou 8 blasted off Tuesday morning, in the latest step in what will be a decade-long effort by the country to place a manned permanent space station in orbit.

The spacecraft took off from a base in the far western city of Jiuquan, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Minutes later, Xinhua cited Chang Wanquan, who leads China’s space program, as announcing the launch a success.

China launched its own space station program after being rebuffed in its attempts to join the 16-nation International Space Station, largely on objections from the United States. The U.S. is wary of the Chinese program’s military links and the sharing of technology with its chief economic and political competitor.

Earlier Chinese news reports did not specify a launch date for Shenzhou 8. Chinese space officials rarely speak to foreign media.

The Shenzhou 8 will attempt to dock with an experimental module, carrying out maneuvers to couple with the Tiangong 1 module now in orbit. The 8.5-ton, box car-sized Tiangong 1 launched last month.

Following Shenzhou 8, two more missions — at least one of them manned — are to meet up with the module next year for further practice, with astronauts staying for up to one month.

Plans call for launching two other experimental modules for more tests before the actual station is launched in three sections between 2020 and 2022.

At about 60 tons when completed, the Chinese station will be considerably smaller than the International Space Station, which is expected to continue operating through 2028.

John Glenn: Keep space shuttles flying Good U.S. Jobs

MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Mercury astronaut John Glenn wants NASA’s space shuttles to keep flying until a reliable replacement is ready, no matter how long it takes.

Glenn joined the national debate Monday over America’s future in space and became the latest ex-astronaut to speak out on the matter. He issued a nine-page statement in which he questioned the decision to retire the shuttle fleet and rely on Russia to take astronauts to the International Space Station.

“We have a vehicle here, why throw it away? It’s working well,” the first American to orbit Earth said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Glenn said he’s against paying the Russians $55.8 million per person to fly U.S. astronauts to the space station and back. That’s the price for a single ticket starting in 2013; right now, it’s costing NASA $26.3 million and will jump to $51 million next year.

Glenn doesn’t believe the general public realizes what’s happening on the space front.

“Going to Russia and being, in effect, under control of Russia for our space program just doesn’t sit right with me and I don’t think it sits well with the American people, or won’t, either,” said Glenn, a former U.S. senator who rode the shuttle into orbit in 1998 at age 77. He turns 89 next month.

Glenn said little if any money will be saved by canceling the shuttle program, considering all the millions of dollars going to Russia for rocket rides. At least two shuttle flights a year could keep the station going and the work force employed, until something new comes along, he said.

The former astronaut wonders what will happen if there’s an accident and Soyuz rockets are grounded. He supposes the space station — a $100 billion investment — would have to be abandoned. He also worries scientific research at the station will take a hit if experiments have to be launched from Russia and have no way of getting back to Earth in bulk.

President George W. Bush made the decision to retire the shuttles and retarget the moon, six years ago in the wake of the Columbia tragedy. President Barack Obama is holding on to the shuttle shutdown, while killing the moon effort.

Only two shuttle missions remain on the official lineup; the second almost certainly will be delayed into early next year. NASA is hoping the White House will add an extra flight next summer before ending the 30-year shuttle program.

Democratic Glenn supports Obama’s plan, announced earlier this year, to keep the space station going until 2020 and to give up on a moon base for now. But the original Mercury 7 astronaut said the nation needs a rocketship capable of lifting heavy payloads — whether it’s part of NASA’s Constellation program or something else — if astronauts are ever to reach asteroids and Mars.

Private companies, meanwhile, interested in carrying astronauts back and forth to the space station need to first prove their capability and reliability, Glenn noted. “I’m very leery of this rush to commercialization,” he said.

Glenn said he waited to go public because he thought “people would see the wisdom” of keeping the shuttle going.

“If we’re going to do anything, if has to be done pretty quick,” he said.

John Glenn School of Public Affairs: http://glennschool.osu.edu/news/space.html

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