Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thinking about NASA's Future

The Bush Administration made some fateful decisions about NASA's future shortly after it arrived in 2001 - most notably the decision to cancel major components of the International Space Station.

It seems as though The Obama Administration will be in a position to make even more important decisions regarding the future of the space program over the next few years.

The Space Shuttle is scheduled for retirement in 2010 and America's replacement vehicle, the Ares I rocket and the Orion capsule, is not expected to be ready for manned flights before 2015 (under extremely optimistic scenarios). If this timeline holds, it will mean that Russia and China will be the only two countries capable of sending humans into space for at least 5 years.

In tough economic times, some will make the argument that the United States should not spend money on manned space flight. It's a reasonable statement on the surface. But when considering the fact that NASA's entire budget is far less than 1% of federal expenditures, it seems like a painful and shortsighted way to save a relatively small amount of money.

You can read more about the Ares and Orion here.


Anonymous said...

Would you feel the same way if Russia and China DIDN'T have the capability of sending people into space during the years that we won't?

Jared said...

That's a great question. The short, direct answer is yes I would still being a strong advocate for keeping the manned space flight program active but I will admit that a lapse would bother me less if no one else was taking the lead (or catching up).

I say this knowing that some of the factors leading to my conclusion are a little silly:

A non-trivial part of it stems from a pride-based desire to see the United States be the undisputed leader in manned space flight. Of course, pride is often a harmful factor to inject into any analysis like this - but there it is nonetheless. (I do think it's an effective tactic to invoke in a political debate if you support keeping the American manned space program going - and I admit this is a big reason I use it)

Unknown said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with that, though, Jared. We're Americans; why shouldn't we want the United States to be the best at something, at anything? I, too, would like to see the United States decisively take the lead in human spaceflight, and I would hope that all Americans share our sentiment.

At the same time, I would like to see many more nations become capable of manned spaceflight as well, and I think that the United States should encourage this. It is an inevitable step in our progress as a species that we engage in greater exploration of outer space, and I think that as many people as possible should be a part of it.