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The cost of cutting NASA's space exploration role

It goes well beyond what might be obvious:

The governments of China, Russia and India have accelerated their investments in human spaceflight, not only because they want their flags to be the first to fly on Mars but also because they know their investments will get a good return. Innovations that will help humans survive and thrive in space will likely create as many spinoff technologies in the 21st century as we saw in the first decades of the Space Age. If we do not incubate these life-supporting technologies here in America, our children will have no choice but to import them from other nations.

Americans simply cannot take for granted our status as the leading land of opportunity. The federal government has long helped develop revolutionary technologies that create jobs and a better future for our people. In most industries, the federal government can limit its contribution to basic research and let individual entrepreneurs take the risk in bringing new ideas to market. But in some cases, the significant costs of applying new technologies require a more robust federal investment. And there is no heavier lift than putting human beings into space.

The White House believes that the private sector can play a larger role in space exploration, which is true up to a point. We certainly want to encourage private investment and public-private partnerships in the development of space technologies. We want to help NASA become an even better partner with aerospace entrepreneurs. Leveraging the potential of the private sector is no less an imperative in space exploration than it is in many other fields of innovation.

But NASA cannot pass the baton of human spaceflight to a runner that is still trying on its shoes. The private sector requires years of further development before it can send a human being to the moon or compete with America's international rivals. NASA was assigned the Constellation mission for the same reason it took on Apollo: It remains the only entity in the country capable of getting it done.

We who support NASA's human spaceflight program have our work cut out for us, especially in the current economic climate. Millions of Americans are justly outraged by fiscal irresponsibility in Washington. They will soundly reject the president's massive $3.8 trillion spending plan for next year, which projects a $1.6 trillion deficit and recommends $2 trillion in higher taxes over the next 10 years. Our fight for the Constellation program must be consistent with keeping taxes low, cutting the deficit and dialing back the unsustainable overall growth in federal spending.

So we must make the case that NASA's human spaceflight program remains a sound investment for the taxpayer. We must convince our fellow Americans that human spaceflight represents our nation's future, not merely its past. And we must show how lifting astronauts into space continues to make sense on the ground.

Makes so much sense.

Crossposted(*).


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Comments (18)

That's a convincing article... (Below threshold)
Arizona CJ:

That's a convincing article, UNLESS you know something about space tech.

Much of it is true, regarding spinoffs, but then it utterly goes off the rails regarding NASA. The problem, in a nutshell, is that the Constellation program was a boondoggle of enormous proportions. The design was awful, and the costs utterly astronomical.

The key problem IMHO is NASA had turned the space program into another damn jobs program. That they did so is clearly evidenced by their focus on workforce continuation as a program design requirement.

If we want manned spaceflight to work, there is only one way; lower the cost. No more government boondoggles.

Private enterprise is indeed ready. We already have private launchers that can loft a capsule, at a cost vastly cheaper than the Ares 1 (if indeed that can-on-a-stick could ever be made to fly with an adequate payload)

Now we come to the issue of "man rated" launch systems, and the fact that Delta III heavy, Atlas 5, etc, are not "man rated". To put it bluntly, that's hyperbole. It's true that they aren't. It is however also true that NASA hasn't launched a man-rated rocket in nearly 40 years. Why? Because the Shuttle is not man-rated, never has been.

I think that this is one case where Obama has actually done something right, as shocking as that fact is. Private launchers are absolutely the way to go. For one thing, this will get astronauts back into space sooner than Constelation ever could have (2017 at the earliest, and no way would they have made that date). And don't forget; after the last shuttle flies this fall, we're stuck relying on the Russians for ISS access. Is anyone dumb enough to think they wouldn't use that leverage?

Does a private launcher preclude a moon or mars mission? Of course not. We do not need a heavy-lift (Ares 5 class) launcher! Modular assembly in LEO solves that problem; send up components on Atlas 5, Falcon 9, or similar and dock them together in low earth orbit. The Constellation architecture already called for multiple launch and on-orbit docking, so this is hardly a stretch.

As much as it galls me, who grew up loving NASA, to say this, it's time to go private, and on this one issue, I think Obama has it at least partially right (hey, even a broken clock is right on occasion).

There is a great deal of irony here. Obama, Mr.Government, is the one backing privatization, and some conservatives are arguing back that bloated, inefficient big-government is the best approach. The mind boggles.

Welcome to the world of "sm... (Below threshold)
Steve Green:

Welcome to the world of "smaller government," conservatives.

As always - be careful what you wish for.

smaller? Where?... (Below threshold)
914:

smaller? Where?

While the space program has... (Below threshold)
jim m:

While the space program has done much to advance technology and has resulted in some spin off companies, it has long ago ceased to do much in this area.

Private industry is far better equipped to advance space exploration if for no other reason that our government can no longer afford to fund it with Obama's massive deficits.

Private industry was able to decode the human genome 10 years sooner than the government program was projected to do.

NASA was important when there was no commercial benefit to going to the moon. Today there is commercial benefit to getting into space. The time is right for the government to get out of the way. NASA is not the innovator it once was. It's too bureaucratic. Small entrepreneurial companies can do a better and faster job.

For the most part you will not find conservatives lamenting this turn of events. I tend to not give Obama credit for stumbling into the right decision. I believe it is more about his being able to funnel money into areas that he wants to spend it than any astute vision of space development.

By the way, the author of t... (Below threshold)
Steve Green:

By the way, the author of the Op-ed piece is U.S. Senator John Cornyn from Texas. He's naturally concerned about the impact the reduction in the human spaceflight program will have on the Texas economy.

"We must convince our fellow Americans that human spaceflight represents our nation's future, not merely its past. And we must show how lifting astronauts into space continues to make sense on the ground."

Good luck with that. Human spaceflight in horrendously expensive, and robotic missions are much more cost-effective.

NASA's "moon rocks" and the... (Below threshold)
bryanD:

NASA's "moon rocks" and the astronauts' "eyewitness reports" declared the moon Dry.

Present-day optical and chemical analysis proves the moon is Wet.

No wonder the Apollo astronauts have been recluses.

(Except for Aldrin, whose face is his hobby.)

NASA has just been given a ... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

NASA has just been given a new mission. GLOBAL WARMING!

the moon is not wet.<... (Below threshold)
jim m:

the moon is not wet.

it does appear that there may be substantial amounts of water ice trapped under the surface, mixed in with the rock.

that's very different.

"the moon is not wet.... (Below threshold)
bryanD:

"the moon is not wet.
it does appear that there may be substantial amounts of water ice trapped under the surface, mixed in with the rock.
that's very different."
8. Posted by jim m

Science is calling the "surface ice" "on" (not In) the moon "water ice".**

Capital W "Wet" is my own appellation used for effect on impressionable young minds who might then hop-to to prove Crazy Old Man wrong, to often humorous, always educational, results.

Let's call it the David Irving Method.

**I see Wiki is NOW mentioning that NASA (kinda?) knew about the Truth all along---rrright---But that NASA figured that Buzz Aldrin peed his pants (which in space means peeing Everything Including Rocks, i 'spose).

BryanD:The moon land... (Below threshold)
RicardoVerde:

BryanD:
The moon landers were all near mid latitudes of the moon. The surface exceeds 200F during daylight and for all practical purposes is at a complete vacuum. "Free" water cannot exist in these conditions. It was more than bone dry where Apollo landed. In craters that seldom see light there is still enough heat to sublimate the water. There was speculation even when I was a child (and I'm pretty much an old fart) that a very few deep craters at the poles could be cold enough that the water could stay as ice It seems that is the case, but something like 98% of the lunar surface is dryer than any earth desert.

1. Arizona:I'm with ... (Below threshold)
RicardoVerde:

1. Arizona:
I'm with you on this!. When the US had to go to war with Germany/Japan they had the Army Ordinance department come up with specs for guns/aircraft/ships/etc. The army didn't build the stuff. They just used it.
Great strides were made in short order during that time with the vast majority of the work being performed by private companies. Free enterprise easily outstrips government make work programs in all but a very few instances. Toll roads in Oklahoma are almost always in better shape than the "free" Interstates.

And don't forget; after ... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

And don't forget; after the last shuttle flies this fall, we're stuck relying on the Russians for ISS access. Is anyone dumb enough to think they wouldn't use that leverage?

They already are...they are raising their fees for transport.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/05/13/russia_raises_rocket_fare/

Present-day optical and ... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

Present-day optical and chemical analysis proves the moon is Wet.

The only thing that is wet is you. "Wet" is surface water (e.g. Earth) or surface liquid (e.g. Triton). It would be like saying the earth is "oily" or "unctious" because we have liquid petrocarbons trapped underneath the surface.

Is there any way we could s... (Below threshold)
1903A3:

Is there any way we could send steveG & brianD up to the moon to check it for water,I'd like to know if there is any.:)

During his campaigning, Oba... (Below threshold)
Prairie:

During his campaigning, Obama complained that Bush wasn't speeding enough on Space Exploration. This is all policitical standing crap.

I disagree with you Arizona CJ you make many assumptions.

It would be better for NASA... (Below threshold)
Flu-Bird:

It would be better for NASA if they had that crack-pot JAMES HANSEN retired to the ARKUM ASSILUM he is crinimaly insane

The only thing that is wet ... (Below threshold)
bryanD:

The only thing that is wet is you.---j.c.

There is ice on the moon. Wiki says so! :-)

Now, if NASA wishes to say that a UFO dumped septic waste on the moon after 1974, well...

Either way, NASA religionists have been contradicted by space agencies out of the US government's control, so NOW NASA is agreeing with me, NOT you, for the moon has ice particles as does many other extraterestrial objects apparently do.

Now, about those pyramids on Mars....

I think Arizona CJ hit it d... (Below threshold)

I think Arizona CJ hit it dead on. Much as I hate to say it, Obama got this one right. (Although, it's interesting that NASA's budget is going up despite the cancellation.) This design was likely to never fly regardless, and if so, never to fly safely. NASA has become a giant, bloated bureaucracy with massive vested interests and utter aversion to risk. The end result is that it's lost focus and its ability to innovate. At this point, the best we can hope for is that NASA doesn't use its bureaucratic leverage to kill commercial space by overregulation. (They've tried more than once.)




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