As everyone in Huntsville knows, the President has decided to shut down the Constellation program. The reviews are mixed as to the why, and really… all the tea party conservatives screaming about it are being pretty hypocritical. I mean, they will gather together complaining about raising taxes to give people health insurance, but complain about cutting a billion dollar program?
That said, just like the paranoid who might be right about the people out to get him, these hypocrites are right to be concerned. The plan essentially takes America out of the space game, handing it over to either private sector, if we are lucky, or the Chinese, if we are not. We no longer will be the dominate space faring nation, instead hitching rides on space taxis that have yet to be developed.
It’s that “yet to be developed” that has me worried. NASA went the private route once before, hoping private industry could come up with a cargo transport to end our reliance on Russia to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. It never launched a rocket. These were cargo ships, not manned vessels, who’s complexity increases dramatically.
Let’s face it, the private space race is a dismal failure. Yea, you got a couple of groups firing satellites into space using old missiles, but no one but Virgin even attempting manned flights, and the Virgin concept is sub-orbital not heavy lifting to to the ISS.
I love space. I love NASA. When I watched Crippen and Young fly into space on Columbia for the first time, I was convinced that the Shuttle was the future. Cheap access to earth orbit. Building space stations and then space ships in earth orbit, heading to the Moon. As a naive fifth grader, I was sure that the Shuttle ended the space race, and that my first job interview would be on the Moon.
Then the shuttle turned out to be a economic flop. It wasn’t cheap to fly, not significantly cheaper than the old rockets. It was reusable, and lifted quite a bit, but it wasn’t cheap. And didn’t get cheaper. We didn’t start building a space station for years later, and then with the nightmare of “international” agreements that meant we paid for it, and we repaired the shoddy work of other countries.
Follow on shuttle programs were underfunded, and even Clinton never spent his “peace dividend” money on space. I’m not a naive fifth grader any more and today I have serious doubts that my children will get a chance to see the Moon from it’s surface. So maybe it IS time to move from NASA to private industry. Even if private industry will be starting from essentially the ground floor.
How much worse could they do? We’ve already given the Moon to China, so we might as well aim for Mars… I suppose. I mean, why not? Let NASA get back to research, then pimp our tax dollars out to the highest bidder in the private sector. It’s as valid an idea as the last six years of sliding budgets and sliding time tables of Constellation.
But something about an America that buys space on taxis to get into orbit bothers me. In my core. Maybe I’m too much of a space geek, since I got excited to learn that the Russian’s cheated on their race to space and the first “man in space” broke the agreed upon rules. So the idea that it may not be America that is the first to Mars, but some international corporation, is annoying.
Maybe I’m just bummed. Maybe I’m cranky. Maybe I can’t see past the dust cloud that was Constellation to see the glory of what is to come. But I’ll give Obama this… He really shook up this town.