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Rush on NASA's Shuttle Program


RUSH: It wasn't long ago that I found myself in Tampa. I had to fly over to Tampa to have a meeting about the upcoming release of our new iced tea product, Two If By Tea, which we have a website, TwoIfByTea.com, and we have a phone number, 866-662-1776. At any rate, we had to go over there for a meeting, and on the way back home, when we got back to the FBO at the airport, my pilots were talking to a guy in a blue Air Force uniform. I get out of the car and I approach the stairway to board EIB 1, the pilot says, "This is one of the astronauts of the final, last-ever shuttle mission." I said, "No kidding?" So I went over and I said hello to the guy. I don't want to mention his name. I know who it is. I had a great, great conversation. The commander of the mission was there, too.

Their T-38 had encountered a mechanical -- astronauts get to fly around in T-38s. They get their own jets. A T-38, you ought to Google a T-38, see what it must be like to sit in the cockpit of one of these things and fly. You're basically in a go-cart doing 1500 miles an hour. I mean if it weren't for the canopy you'd be exposed. It's an old plane but they had a mechanical problem. They had to put down. They were on their way to Houston back from the Cape. I had a great conversation with this one astronaut. These are the guys going up Friday, and they were nice as they could be.

And I said, "The thing that has always amazed me," and I dropped a name that I knew they would know. You remember, Snerdley, there was an astronaut back during the TV show, he was a fan, and one of the other astronauts going up on a mission he was commanding had requested a videotape on Super 8 video that they would play for him in orbit from me, recorded from the set. His name was Kevin Chilton. Kevin went on after his astronaut days to run the Air Force Space Command. He's retired recently, but he went on to run one of the most powerful, influential space agencies, space organizations.

So, anyway, I mentioned to this astronaut that I had met Kevin Chilton. Of course his eyes lit up because everybody in the astronaut program knows Kevin Chilton. That's how important Kevin Chilton was. And I said, "I told Kevin Chilton..." I finally got a chance to meet him after we did the video from the TV set, and by the way, Kevin Chilton took some pictures outside the window of his shuttle of New York at night and blew those pictures up and gave them to me as a gift, EIB headquarters at night, and then during the daytime, and those pictures hang with pride in my domicile even to this day. But I told this guy, after mentioning Kevin Chilton's name, and I said, "I even mentioned this to him and he said, 'Oh, gosh, that's nothing.'" I said, "What I have been most amazed at, and there's a lot that I'm amazed at, but here you've got this space shuttle with a glide ratio of like nine to one," which means it falls out of the sky like a rock.

It comes down from 230 miles high with no power. They hit their retrorockets and they slow down and they fall out of orbit and they go through the atmosphere and the heat shield deploys and all that stuff happens, and then they reenter the atmosphere, they're aiming at basically a three mile runway at Cape Canaveral from 200-plus miles high, and they've got one chance at it. They can't power up and fly around and try again. And I'm going on and on and on, telling this guy I'm just amazed by this.

He said, "You know how we train that? You know how we practice that?" I said, "No." "We go up in a Gulfstream II with the thrust reversers deployed to try to re-create coming in with no power. Of course, we gotta have power our Gulfstream, we can't come down with no power on the Gulfstream." I said, "Why? You can do it with your shuttle. You're falling out of the sky." See, I'm amazed the thing even glides, to tell you the truth. But it does. Now, the thrust reversers -- folks, those are the things in the rear of a jet engine that are used, they're deployed when the jet lands to help slow it down on the runway. They're metal plates that fire up at the rear of the exhaust on the jet so that the exhaust, the thrust is reversed and thrown forward. So it's like air brakes.

If those things deploy in the air on your airliner, well, you fall out of the sky. They practice the shuttle coming back with the thrust reversers deployed on a Gulfstream II. It still amazes me that it's worked. I know a computer is handling it, but they still manually do the last thing at the last minute to flare the nose up and get it to land. It still amazes me.


RUSH: Kevin Chilton became the CEO of the United States Strategic Command in October 2007, the Air Force Space Command. That's what he took command of. He got his fourth star and assumed command of the Air Force Space Command in 2007.


RUSH: One more thing on this final shuttle mission and these two astronauts that I met. This is probably six weeks now or two months ago. There's a female astronaut in this crew, and there's four of them, and I asked them some things. In addition to having them try to explain to me how that thing comes down -- and, by the way, this is maybe the third time I've had a chance to tell a space shuttle astronaut that I just don't understand how that thing comes out of the sky, 'cause here's why: If your average Boeing 747 were to lose power in flight, do you think it's gonna glide? It has a glide ratio, but you never hear of it happening. You seldom hear of a commercial aircraft losing power. But if it does... The results are not good, let's put it that way. But here's the shuttle with no power from 200-some-odd miles, and it comes down on target and somehow they manage to slow it down.

In order to maintain orbit, it's at least 17,500 miles an hour. Then they have to slow it down to get it to come out of orbit. They manage to get that thing down -- I forget what the landing speed is -- to 300 miles an hour, 200 miles an hour. By contrast, your commercial jet probably lands at 140 or 150, your average commercial jet -- or 120, depending on what the jet is. This thing is landing fast. No power. Every time I mention this to these astronauts they act like it's nothing. "Oh, it's nothing!" NASA -- the one government agency with innovation, exploration -- gets shut down. You know what? I was flying to Joplin. I got on the plane five o'clock on Monday, and the flight attendant always has the day's newspapers laid out on the credenza.

She had the Palm Beach Post there, and there was headline on the front page Palm Beach Post: "NASA Job Losses Will Not Affect Florida Economy." I said, "How in the hell can that story be written?" NASA's expecting 3,000 jobs to be lost with the shuttle program being shut down. Now, actually, this may not be so bad because this is gonna get privatized. Space travel will be privatized, and it will continue to happen. So it has hopes, but still: Do you think if George W. Bush were president and shutting down NASA with 7,000 jobs lost, the Palm Beach Post would run a headline, "No Big Deal! Job Losses Will Not Affect Florida Economy"? (laughing)

I looked at that, and I just laughed. But I've been amazed. These astronauts -- and I guess it's understandable. It always works, and they don't seem to worry about it. But they told me the way they train for it is in a Gulfstream II with the thrust reversers deployed, and then I also knew there were only four astronauts on the crew. I said, "Why? The thing holds many more; it's the last mission. Why only four?" He said, "Because there is no possibility of a rescue mission. Every other shuttle flight, there's always a shuttle that can be ready to go up to the space station where this one's going or to a stranded shuttle and rescue them."

This, there's no possibility of a rescue. So they'll have to stay, if something happens to the shuttle -- on the way up or up there, they'll have to stay -- at the International Space Station and come down in a Russian Soyuz, which doesn't have a high passenger capacity. So that's why there's only four crew. They kind of looking forward to it, having all the room. In fact, Mark Kelly's mission, Gabby Giffords' husband, only had four on that one, too, for the same reason: There's no possibility of rescue. These shuttles, as they've completed their final missions, are effectively mothballed. We are stopping the shuttle mission basically because of the age of the fleet and the International Space Station is essentially built, which was its primary mission.

That's what they say. Ask Obama. In fact, I don't know that Obama actually shut down the shuttle program. This might have happened before Obama and he's just seeing to it. I have to check the timeline on it, but I think those are the reasons. Florida today, February 2010: "23,000 now expected to lose jobs after shuttle retirement." The Palm Beach Post headline: "Losing Shuttle Program To Hurt Space Coast Far Worse Than Palm Beach County." That was Sunday, July 3rd, 2011, but there was another headline that said something different. (interruption) Well, but that was back in February 2010, and that was Florida Today (which is USA Today's Florida's version), but the Palm Beach Post headline, "Losing Shuttle Program to Hurt Space Coast Far Worse Than Palm Beach County."

Well, maybe that was the headline, but I thought there was a different headline that said that it wasn't gonna hurt Florida that much at all. So, anyway, they go up Friday. This is it. By the, if you're interested, there is an app -- and this is fascinating. There is an iPhone app, and I think it's also worked for the iPad, and I'm gonna have to get the name. You know, if you go to the app store on your iPhone or iPad just search "shuttle," and I'm sure you'll find this app. It will track this mission, it will track based on your GPS (the phone knows where you are), where the shuttle is as it orbits the earth. (interruption) What's so funny, Snerdley? Oh, well, that's nothing new. The phone knows where you are. It knows your GPS coordinates. It doesn't know that you're who you are but, anyway, it's for the purposes of being able to show you where the shuttle is. Apparently it's a fabulous app graphically and is a freebie. It's an app built just for the last shuttle mission. It's not the NASA app that tracks every mission. I think STS-135 is the name of the mission, the last one.


RUSH: Here's Brittany from El Segundo, California. Great to have you on the EIB Network. Hello.

CALLER: Thank you, Mr. Limbaugh, and a Rush Baby turned wayward youth turned true believer, so it's an honor, sir.

RUSH: Thank you.

CALLER: I heard some comments you were about NASA, and wanted to hear more about your position on what are the merits or necessity of agencies like NASA and other federally funded scientific endeavors? I'm a scientist, and work in the aerospace industry, and it's my opinion... No one loves space more than I do, space research and development and things like that and advances, but I don't think it's the proper function of the federal government to spend people's tax dollars on huge expensive delivers like that. I believe there's a purpose for it, there's a value; and that if the private sector is allowed to pay for it, there's people that will benefit from the research being done in space and they're the ones that should pay for it and develop the science.

RUSH: Okay.

CALLER: I just wanted to hear more from you.

RUSH: All right, fine. NASA actually has a bunch of phases. The NASA that I refer to as the home of innovation is the NASA of the sixties. Now, I grew up in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and my father was an aviation aficionado. He loved aviation and flight. He was an expert, as much as he could make himself. I remember once... You may not know this name. One of the early PR -- this sells him short to refer to him as "PR," but one of the Space Agency -- people that went around the country and became quite famous in selling the concept of NASA and manned space flight and the moon was named "Shorty" Powers, and he was named "Shorty" Powers 'cause he was short, and "Shorty" Powers came to our little town in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to the Arena building and gave us a speech on the space program at the time.

I was probably nine or ten, maybe 12. This is the early sixties. My father took me to it, and it was the most fascinating thing I can remember hearing. "Shorty" Powers was laying out for everybody that showed up -- and there were about 800 people could squeeze in this room -- what the plans were. And this was back in the day, Brittany, when this was happening, this was the essence of patriotism. This was, "We are going to put a man on the moon." The Soviets had Sputnik up there. We were responding. We were talking about manned space flight. The Mercury program had been announced, the astronauts had been chosen, and NASA was out there selling it. They had some guy running around from Washington going community to community and really talking it up, and it was the essence of patriotic at that point, and the things that became a part of everyday American life -- affordable advances in lifestyle -- were directly attributable to scientific discovers that were necessary for space flight. I remember a list that my dad had and he gave speeches about it. I don't remember all of the things, but you remember Tang? I'm sure you know what Tang is. Do you know what Tang is, Brittany?

CALLER: Lot of things. It wasn't just Tang. Diapers were invented by NASA.

RUSH: Okay, well, then you know what I'm talking about, but there were countless things. I wish I had that list in front of me. It was impressive, and at that time those advances in innovations had a profound increase on the lifestyle of the average American. So many things became affordable to them because they were necessary for manned space flight. Now, I think those are the glory days of NASA. After the moon --

CALLER: Those were the glory days because it was necessary. It was a defense necessity for the space race in the sixties, it was for political posturing against the world. Now --

RUSH: Well, now, wait a second. There were some defense ancillaries that resulted from this. Because, don't forget, even though Sputnik was benign, the fact that the Russians could put a satellite up there and perhaps the next one would be armed scared to death out of us. So there was a defense component to it back then. Now, what is your point? Are you asking me if I'm being a little bit hypocritical today in suggesting NASA is a success?

CALLER: No, sir. No, sir, not at all. I've been listening for a long time and I agree with everything you say. Just today I did hear a note of tenderness and warm feelings toward NASA and I just wanted to get that position clarified and I think you did explain it. I just... I don't know. It's a huge chunk of change, NASA is; and I don't think that regular people should be paying for it. Well, also in the industry, NASA is way less efficient than the private-public sector companies that are starting up doing the same exact thing. It's run by the government. It spends huge amounts of money on things that everybody else could do so much cheaper.

RUSH: I don't disagree with that. But back in the sixties, there was no private sector entity capable of doing what we embarked on.

CALLER: No one had enough money to do what they were doing inspect sixties.

RUSH: Exactly. Exactly. But what's your...? I don't want to misunderstand. What is your point about that?

CALLER: Well, that now I think the government should not have such a large role in NASA. I don't think so much money should be spent there. I think that the government should step back, pull some of the capital out -- or maybe hold NASA to a higher standard -- but regardless, allow the private sector to take over more of the financial responsibility and the financial benefits of the space industry.

RUSH: Well, I don't think there's any "allowing" to anything. It's a necessity now because Obama's turned NASA into "Muslim outreach."

CALLER: (giggles) Yes, that's true.

RUSH: You said you're rocket scientist?

CALLER: Yes, sir. I'm an orbital spacecraft propulsion systems engineer.

RUSH: I an orbital --

CALLER: Orbital spacecraft -- you know, satellites -- propulsion systems: The way that the satellite orbital spacecraft gets into space and then oriented the way it's supposed to be to it can talk to earth and, you know, point the cameras or whatever it's doing.

RUSH: Cool. Cool.

CALLER: (giggles)

RUSH: You're actually a rocket scientist!

CALLER: Yes, sir. (giggles)

RUSH: So you work for a private sector concern?

CALLER: I do. I worked for Boeing for a few years and now I work for a private contract but it's a defense contractor. I work, one way or another, for the government.

RUSH: Well, that's cool. That's cool.

CALLER: Yes, sir. (giggles)

RUSH: Brittany, I'm really short on time and I have to go but I'm glad you called. Thanks. I'm honored and flattered.

CALLER: Thank you so much.

RUSH: No, I'm honored and flattered that you're in the audience. I really am. She's a Rush Baby from the get-go. "Shorty" Powers -- John Anthony Powers was his name -- was known as "the voice of astronauts," the voice of Mercury Control. He was the eighth astronaut. He was an American public affairs officer for NASA from '59 to '63, and he was great, and I remember he came to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, when I was like ten or 11. I got to meet him. It was big stuff then, folks. We were racing the Soviets, and they were riding ICBMs. The Soviets, there was definitely military component to what they were doing with Sputnik. We were scared to death.


RUSH: I'm getting notes here about the T-38. The Air Force guys call it "The White Rocket," and it is supersonic. We'll post a picture of one at RushLimbaugh.com. You can see what sitting in one is like. You're literally on a rocket with the shortest little white wings. It's the astronauts' limo.



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