The experts say don't jump to conclusions so we won’t. Some cry that the world is ending - the moon rather - but most caution President Obama’s budget proposal for NASA must still be vetted.
Regardless, Obama has tipped his hand by revealing a shift from government to private-funded space craft meant to free up NASA’s attention for space exploration and create new jobs during the recession. And the real story: Obama budget to drop US return to Moon.
Space experts offer two opinions. One is that NASA’s Constellation space program, including a manned moon mission and eventual lunar base, just died. The other is that the program is being reorganized after George Bush crashed it.
"The 'vision' to return to the moon that has been guiding NASA since 2004 was always an inadequately funded fantasy," said Joan Johnson-Freese, chair of the Department of National Security Studies at the Naval War College in Newport, R. I. "One of the goals of the Obama space plan appears to be to give NASA the opportunity to build and use enduring hardware - rather than an impulsive and unrealistic return-to-the-moon on a shoestring plan."
In many ways she’s right.
A committee commissioned by Obama found that, “NASA was severely underfunded to accomplish its vision of replacing its space shuttle fleet with new Orion vehicles and Ares rockets. It also suggested that relying on commercially built spacecraft would allow NASA to focus on more ambitious human space-flight missions, like expeditions to a nearby asteroid or the moons of Mars.”
Bush had planned the mission in at attempt to restore American glory, not with any real objective in mind. Obama has good reason to reorganize America’s space policy if it’s in disarray and allocate resources accordingly. We hope he has no plans of dropping Moon and Mars exploration and the Constellation program.
These are matters of unlimited importance.
Obama must not to drop Moon exploration but develop a realistic, fully funded program to reach the Moon by 2020 and begin construction of a lunar base by 2025. China is making a realistic push towards the same goals and, more importantly, has the political ambition.
The highest echelons of China’s political establishment understand the wealth of the Moon is worth any price. America’s civilian and military leaders must embody that same attitude.
The numbers speak for themselves. NASA was disappointed after expecting a billion dollar raise and receiving less than half. Its budget weighs in at 19$ billion. America’s defense budget saw a small reduction to a base 660$ billion, with additional requests pending.
The Air Force's budget for 2010 is $160.5 billion. With an 111$ billion dollar base, Obama also requested and is expected to receive from Congress an additional $16 billion for “overseas contingency operations” in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Now one question we attempted to answer and have yet to is how much of the US Air Force’s budget goes to its space programs. Having taken the domain as its own billions of dollars now flow into space through this alternative channel, possibly close to NASA’s own budget. Of course the Air Force isn’t primarily focused on exploration, but armament and sub-orbital travel.
But the point remains that the mentality of American leadership is what really needs restructuring, along with rearranged priorities.
Obama’s commission, “also said a worthwhile manned space exploration program would require Obama to budget about $55 billion for human spaceflight over the next five years, some $11 billion more than he included in the 2011-2015 forecast he sent Congress last spring.”
Are we really to give 40$ billion total to Afghanistan and Iraq for this year and not 11$ billion to NASA over five years? How is the first endeavor a better investment than the second, and how has this discrepancy become so wide? America’s military complex has come to dominate itself and yet it cannot see the ultimate military prize in the Moon.
It's not worth another dozen billion or two and Afghanistan is?
Lunar bases are critical for two reasons: jump off points to Mars and other space bodies, either comets or planets, and resource harvesting. While admittedly distance prospects, they are no less relevant than future military and renewable energy technology. Obama wants to lead both revolutions, but seems to have assigned limited value to reaching the Moon ASAP.
Potentially trillions of dollars in minerals, at a modest cost, are being outweighed by the here and now of wars certain to require even more funding next year. If America is to spend several trillion dollars in defense over the next five years, we shouldn’t hesitate for a second to invest 100$ billion towards space exploration.
Money and power that, if used wisely, would come back over and over in the future. We don’t care how America gets to the moon. Public, private, military, just get there - unless the intention is to get ideas as China builds its base.