Still hoping for that Jetsons future?
Ruh-roh, as the Jetsons’ dog, Astro, might put it.
Just six years ago, President Bush laid out a vision of space exploration that harked back to NASA’s halcyon days built on astronauts as explorers. Bush wanted to sling them from low Earth orbit to a base on the moon and then, perhaps, on to a first manned landing on another planet, Mars.
But that was before huge federal deficits arrived, public support failed to show, and unmanned explorers scored successes — namely the Hubble telescope and Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which are still sending back signals years after they were expected to expire.
So as we look to the next decade, what sort of human space exploration will we see?
“We are on a path that will not lead to a useful, safe human exploration program,” former Lockheed Martin chief Norman Augustine said when he testified to Congress in September about the blue-ribbon space exploration panel he chaired. “The primary reason is the mismatch between the tasks to be performed and the funds that are available to support those tasks.”
But NASA’s guardians say it’s premature to end the role of the astronaut.
“I do not see this president being the president who presides over the end of human spaceflight,” said NASA chief Charles Bolden, a former space shuttle pilot, when he spoke Jan. 5 at the American Astronomical Society meeting here. In the speech, Bolden said his agency would stress missions — small ones — with other nations as partners and look to new technologies, not the big chemical rockets of the past, to propel missions.
President Obama, an acknowledged “space buff,” will address that mismatch soon. He will lay out his vision for the nation’s future in space in coming weeks, in either the State of the Union address Jan. 27 or, at the latest, in the proposed 2011 federal budget due to be released early in February. So far, the administration has given only a few hints of what it intends for the $18.7 billion NASA budget.
When experts try to read the tea leaves, they’re not hopeful about human space exploration in the next decade.
Bummer. Sometimes I think there is a game where the outgoing president who is about to be replaced by a president of the other party will propose something really cool that he knows the next president will have to cut, thus looking bad. Was the goal of returning to the moon and Mars just a political shot by Bush at Obama? Before we cut out space exploration (which could save the human race some day) perhaps we could be reminded of the size of the US black budget currently for war? It’s a lot bigger than NASA’s according to aviation week:
In the R-1 (research and development), P-1 (procurement) and O-1 (operations) budgets for 2010, just over $50 billion is listed for classified programs, the largest-ever sum. The Pentagon’s “black” operations, including the intelligence budgets nested inside it, are roughly equal in magnitude to the entire defense budgets of the UK, France or Japan, and 10 per cent of the total. Highlights include the US Air Force’s classified research and development budget. Earlier estimates suggested that secret projects accounted for 36 per cent of USAF R&D spending, but the FY2010 budget shows that even this startling number is on the low side. The USAF plans to spend almost $12 billion on secret programs in 2010 – more than three Joint Strike Fighter development efforts – or just about 43 per cent of its R&D. – infowars