Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Future In Space Has Just Been Gutted

Go HERE for the full article in the Orlando Sentinel. basically, the Obama administration has decided to kill ALL aspects of the Constellation program and hand over most if not all manned space operations over to the private sector.

I didn't have too much problem with the current administration refocusing space efforts. Just about every administration for the past 50 years has done the same when they took office. But this isn't just turning it in a different direction, this is clubbing it on the head and dragging the body off for disposal.

This is not a 100% done deal, but without the executive branch's support, which appoints and oversees NASA's administrators, its doubtful NASA can go any way except the way the White House wants, no matter what Congress may decide.

With this decision, the United States ceases to be a nation of explorers. There will still be US citizens who explore, certainly. But as a matter of national will and direction, we have decided to abandon our outposts, anchor our ships, and just huddle by the hearth fire.

I understand there's an ongoing recession, that one out of six Americans are out of work. But space exploration has always been long-term investment, one whose seeds you plant today to reap the rewards decades down the line. No matter how hungry you are, you don't eat your seed corn. We need investments for the future--investments that go beyond shoveling cash to already affluent corporations. We need an investment that we, as a nation as a whole, can believe in and wholly own part of. Our space program was always that. It was OUR space program. The People's space program.

WE launched men into space. WE step foot on the Moon. WE sent probes to the far reaches of the solar system. WE built most of the ISS and assembled it in orbit.

But now its going to be THEY. THAT company, THAT corporation, THAT foreign country who ferries our astronauts into space.

Yes, there are other space agencies and organizations in the world, but even if they're willing, it will be a decade or more before they can catch up to what NASA is capable of...WAS capable of.

I think, when historians decades hence look back, they will mark this as the end of the First Space Age.


Zot said...

In combination with the shuttle to be retired after the next few flights, we will be entirely reliant on Russia for manned launches.

China seems to be the country that will take spaceflight by storm. Funded by selling all their junk to us no less.

I hope that in November we get politicians who care more about space and know that access to it is essential for long term security and prosperity, but I am a cynic. The competitive spirit that motivated our first flights into space is gone from many Americans.

Paul Lucas said...

Space policy isn't the only criteria I use in voting for a political candidate, but it is a factor. I hate to get political here, but I guess with this subject its inevitable. I have to confess I was never very thrilled with Obama's predecessor, but one thing I acknowledged that he did right was refocusing the space program on a concrete and laudable goal.

Of course I didn't realize until this year that Bush never budgeted out any money for his space ambitions, and planned on killing the ISS to pay for it. In light of this, I can kind of understand Obama's position, that the whole Constellation program was a boondoggle being built for a goal no one was paying for.

China and the other secondary space powers have at least a decade or more to go before they catch up to where the US and Russia are today in space capabilities. The Russians have always been interested in building space infrastructure rather than exploring; the latter was NASA's great strength and niche. But that's ending now, and NASA simply becomes a funding organ for private business.

Zot said...

Oh I am no single issue voter, and I am not a fan of either Bush or Obama or their parties. But I digress: space is a big issue for me.

Of Bush's space ambitions, I liked Prometheus. Serious effort into nuclear rocket propulsion since NERVA was canceled in 1972. As for Constellation, well I never liked the idea of doing more of the same old partially reusable vehicle. I thought and still think that funds should have gone into developing a reusable SSTO (extremely difficult to develop but in the long term the costs would be much lower). I would never have supported defunding the ISS though.

As for NASA becoming a channel for private business, well I am no fan of corporatism (government using business and vice versa) but I am not against 100% private ventures either: space tourism and sub-orbital travel are areas where private ventures would excel.

Rob A said...

I would like to point out this:

Dennis Igou said...

I too feel some lack of air in my sails about the non-moon focus. I think it is pure and simple lack of money. Keep the science in off world platforms for now.The space shuttle program itself needs a new vehicle? When tptb are funding 2 wars and who knows what else it is dificult to find borrowed money forgood projects.Four dollars of ten the gov is using is borrowed. Perhaps there is some quarentine of us going to the moon for the first time? Why did we recently bomb it? Dennis