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President Obama on Thursday delivered a major speech at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida about his vision for human spaceflight in the coming years, affirming that he is "100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future."
As part of a $6 billion increase in NASA's budget over the next five years, the president aims to increase exploration of the solar system, as well as make more Earth-based observations designed to help humans protect the environment.
Katherine Noyes made a mistake in her article by saying the design of the heavy lift rocket is to be completed by 2015. Actually, Obama said he will make a decision on whether OR NOT to design a heavy lift rocket, and his decision won't be made until 2015.
Obama's space policy is incomprehensible. His budget request to Congress tells NASA specifically to develop in situ resource utilization (ISRU), which is the technology to make rocket propellants from the lunar and martian soil, which will vastly reduce the cost of a Mars mission. But in his latest back-peddling speech he said,
"Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned. But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before. Buzz has been there."
(I'm pretty sure that is the most uninformed and inane statement on space policy ever spoken by an American president.)
So if we aren't going to return to the surface of the Moon, then how the heck are we supposed to make use of the resources? I suspect that the staffers who wrote the budget didn't communicate with the staffers who wrote the speech. Obama or his writer thought it was a witty zinger to point out that we've already been to the Moon (as if anybody -- ANYBODY -- working in the space program doesn't already have that fact saturated through every fiber of their being!) and that this somehow proves that we have no reason to go there again.
Here is what George Bush the second said in his speech, which initiated the Constellation project:
"Our third goal is to return to the Moon by 2020, as the launching point for missions beyond...
"Returning to the Moon is an important step for our space program. Establishing an extended human presence on the Moon could vastly reduce the cost of further space exploration, making possible ever more ambitious missions.
"Lifting heavy spacecraft and fuel out of the Earth's gravity is expensive. Spacecraft assembled and provisioned on the Moon could escape its far-lower gravity using far less energy and thus far less cost.
"Also the Moon is home to abundant resources. Its soil contains raw materials that might be harvested and processed into rocket fuel or breathable air.
"We can use our time on the moon to develop and test new approaches and technologies and systems that will allow us to function in other, more challenging, environments.
"The Moon is a logical step toward further progress and achievement. With the experience and knowledge gained on the Moon, we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond."
Ahh, but unfortunately "we've been there before. Buzz has been there," as Obama patronizingly reminded us, and therefore we just don't have a reason to go there again. It is a good thing he told us "bluntly", since we are so dense and might not have gotten the message otherwise. We especially needed him to be blunt since his own budget request was confusing us by telling us to develop lunar technology to use on the lunar surface.
Also, Obama wants us to land -- after a 15 year delay -- on an ASTEROID (!!!). Why send humans to a body that has so little gravity that your body mechanics are unsuitable to operate there? That is a perfect place to send a robotic mission, and about the stupidest place to want to send humans. Does Obama know under what conditions we need humans in space, and therefore where it is appropriate to send them?
Then after a 25 year delay he wants to orbit Mars but not land there (landing some additional delay beyond that). But 95% of us enthusiastic space workers will be be retired or dead by then, and so in Obama's plan we are relegated to a career of not doing anything exciting for the duration. We are the "skipped" generation. The small percentage of NASA employees with R&D skills will have a chance to invent technologies without the benefit of a mission architecture to inform them what really is needed. (The technology program in NASA for the past 5 years has been the best it has ever been, rolling out real progress precisely because we had a specific architecture that needed specific problems to be solved. But no more!) Since we've already exploited the basic physics of launching rockets, the results in basic research will be only modest. Apart from the hot field of computing, basic research operates on timescales longer than 15 or 25 years to accrue much advantage. The real results are to be obtained in hard-core engineering application, making more reliable and robust vehicles. Apart from Space Station development, that is what NASA has been lacking during all those years flying the same Space Shuttle over and over again. And it is precisely what we won't have now that Constellation has been canceled. For the large percentage of NASA employees who work in spacecraft assembly, checkout, and flight operations, but not R&D -- tough luck! You'll have to go to China if you want to contribute to meaningful space exploration, because flying the 10 planned, unmanned "flagship" missions during the 15/25 year delay will require only a small group of people with those skills. And sadly many of these displaced, highly skilled space workers might go to China.
Obama's space policy has been cobbled together as a series of political re-calculations, focused more on damage control than on the real purpose of NASA. As a space worker, I am outraged. His recent speech (April 15, 2010) made matters far worse. Each re-calculation brings another stumble, proving that he doesn't really have a clue about the reason we explore space and how to do it.
President Obama stated that he is 100% committed to the mission of NASA and its future. He also said that we should do it right.
A question on his committed to NASA mission is what exactly is NASA's mission for human exploration and use of space based resources?
He also stated that we should do it right. I guess that means throwing away the many studies, plans, and evalutions already done by professional scientists and engineers and begin from scratch.
Why not set up 2-3 'tiger teams' to dust off the existing plans and proposals and enhance them a bit-then President Obama could make a decision on the type of heavy-lift rocket by Christmas, 2010 and not wait to the year 2015.
It is unclear whether the $6 billion increase for NASA is for increase robotic missions or the smooth the way for private companies to to the taxi and trucking services to the ISS.
The United States needs an aggressive, fast pace space program for many social and economic benefits for Americans and for the whole world,
Sending a crewed mission around Mars in the mid 2030s is not aggressive. Its more like if its done in 2030 okay but if it's not then it will be done someday.