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Space Watch

What Others Are Saying

Comments Illustrate Complexity, Emotion of NASA Budget Debate

What Others Are Saying President Obama's February budget proposal has created an uproar in the industry. To see the Space Foundation's viewpoint, read Chief Executive Officer Elliot Pulham's The View From Here in this issue of Space Watch.

Here are some excerpt of what others are saying:

From Apollo Astronaut Walt Cunningham in the Houston Chronicle:
"President Barack Obama's budget proposal may not be a death knell for NASA, but it certainly would accelerate America's downward spiral toward mediocrity in space exploration... (He) has apparently decided the United States should not be in the human spaceflight business. He obviously thinks NASA's historic mission is a waste of time and money...

"After 50 years and several hundred billion dollars, the accomplishments of NASA and the U.S. space program in science, technology and exploration are unchallenged. They are admired, respected and envied by people and countries around the world... Young people have always been inspired with talk of sending explorers to the planets. Do you think they will have the same reaction when we speak of the new plan for 'transformative technology development?'...

"The public at large is not fully aware of NASA's role as a principal driver in our economy for the past 50 years. They forget that much of the technology we now take for granted either originated in the space program or was utilized and improved by the space program. That is NASA's real legacy. The investments we made in NASA in the 1960s are still paying off in technology applications and new businesses. The annual investment in NASA is not simply an expenditure; it is an investment - with a payback.

"In the ongoing struggle for leadership in science, technology and exploration, which was represented by America's pre-eminence in space, we have raised the white flag of surrender...

"None of this new vision sits very well with those of us who have known NASA at its best. From its inception, one of NASA's motivating forces was pride in being the very best, in displaying American leadership in human spaceflight, and maintaining the pre-eminence in space that derived from this attitude. It appears this attitude is foreign to a president who believes American pre-eminence should be avoided at all costs.

"President Obama, we do not want a space program that turns us into "just another country" among countries."

For full article, click here.

Another side of the coin (which the Space Foundation does not endorse), from Alex Beam in The Boston Globe:
"While discussing his spending priorities, President Obama used an image we can all understand: the shrinking family budget. We have less money to spend, he explained, at home and on Capitol Hill. So good on him for ditching the manned (shouldn't that be 'personned?') space program. It is the unneeded and extravagant lawn service of the federal government...

"If space flight had a reason to exist, that reason ended, dramatically, on July 20, 1969... Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon represented the apogee of American civilization, and the fulfillment of an ambitious technological and economic commitment undertaken by President Kennedy. We should have quit while we were ahead...

"Perhaps, yes, we are hard-wired to hike to the top of the hill to peer into the next valley, or sail on the ocean until land recedes from the horizon. But that doesn't mean we have to spend billions of dollars a year groping in the cosmos so that thousands of bureaucrats can keep their jobs. Bumbling in space costs money this family doesn't have."

For full article, click here.

From John Noble Wilford in The New York Times:
"...the Obama administration has joined the quest to keep humans flying in space. But will its measured proposals, announced last week, succeed where others fell so far short?

"It may be too soon to say, but history colors the prospects gray... Not having specified goals and targets runs the risk of having a program wander off course...

"Some elements of the new plan may be popular. A pledge to enlist other nations as partners should spread costs. Such a practice with the International Space Station has been encouraging. The proposal to outsource development and ownership of the new flight hardware to private enterprise should win support among conservatives. It also raises questions. Will NASA be able to maintain control over the quality and safety of the new vehicles that, in effect, it will rent for astronaut missions? Will the government be transferring to private hands undue influence over the pursuit of national goals in space?

"The space program has had some great successes since the Moon landings. Never to be forgotten are the robotic explorations of the Sun's family of planets and the cosmic vistas snapped by far-seeing instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope. Even if robotic surrogates can go farther and make discoveries at less cost, the Obama space plan, if nothing else, reminds us that banked fires still burn and may yet light the way to distant shores.

"Humans will probably not rest until they again ride their technologies themselves."

For full article, click here.

Multiple opinions from an article by Joel Achenbach in The Washington Post:
Brian Cullin, a spokesman for ATK, the prime contractor on the first stage of the Ares 1 rocket under development as part of Constellation, said it makes no sense to discard years of work in favor of unproven commercial rockets. "Why would you throw away this program right now with $9 billion invested, for something that is not defined?'"

"I think it is the largest strategic change at least since Kennedy sent us to the moon, and rivals even that in terms of its impact," said space analyst John Logsdon. Noting that the Obama budget gives NASA more than a billion dollars a year in extra funding and makes an investment in the long-term strategy of exploration including robotic missions to the moon, Logsdon said, "We have not abandoned the moon."

Peter Diamandis, chief executive of the nonprofit X Prize Foundation, which fosters innovation through competition, said, "It's going to cause the existing aerospace industry to change how it contracts with the government, which is a shift in risk from the taxpayers to private industry."

"Human spaceflight is a crown jewel and it resides in the heads of teams of experienced people. If you break up that team, it is hard to re-create it later if you need it," said Scott Pace, director of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute and a former Bush administration political appointee at NASA.

One of the Senate's most vocal advocates for human spaceflight, Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), said that there's a widespread perception in the aerospace industry that Obama has "killed the manned space program." Nelson said the president needs to pitch his space policy directly to the American people. "It's only the president who can summon the vision to tap the deep reservoir of the American character, which is: We are by nature explorers, and we've always had a frontier," Nelson said. "Let's go to Mars. Then, once you have the goal set, you figure out how to get there."

For full article, click here.

From Greg Dobbs at The Denver Post:
"Why the seismic shift in NASA's direction? Because Constellation wouldn't have worked. It could have reached the moon, sure, but Mars, even when it's closest to Earth, is six months away with today's technology. Then, another six months home. That just won't do.

"A member of the president's advisory commission on space, Edward Crawley, rhetorically asked, 'Do you protect America's leadership in space by building a system largely based on the technologies of the past, or by investing in technologies for the future?' Like figuring out how to refuel in space... We might dispense with chemical fuels, and go to ion fuels. Maybe even beam energy up from a source down here on the ground. We don't know how to do it yet, but neither did we know how to get to the moon in 1960.

"As for commercial 'rocket-taxis,' critics say Obama is forcing 'the destruction of our human space flight program.' But what's (their) interest? Jobs, perhaps?... What they don't acknowledge is that commercial companies provide jobs, too. And that private firms always have played a role in the public's space program. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the space shuttle, none was constructed by civil servants; it was companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin...

"Critics fear we'll be overtaken by the Chinese, the Indians, the Russians. But even with Constellation, we probably weren't going deep into space until after 2020 anyway. Now, at least, when they go, they will go with tomorrow's technology, not today's.

"But where to go? The moon? Eventually, yes... But do we need to rush back to beat other nations in the space race? As (NASA Administrator Charles) Bolden put it, 'There are six national flags on the surface of the moon today. All six of them are American flags. That's not going to change.'

"We probably will go to some asteroids... and to what Bolden calls our 'ultimate destination': Mars. Because if we don't keep pioneering, someone else will. And then, America's supremacy will truly be threatened."

For full article, click here.

The Washington Post again, this time an opinion from Charles Krauthammer:
"By the end of this year, there will be no shuttle, no U.S. manned space program, no way for us to get into space. We're not talking about Mars or the moon here. We're talking about low-Earth orbit, which the United States has dominated for nearly half a century and from which it is now retiring with nary a whimper...

"Of course, the administration presents the abdication as a great leap forward: Launching humans will be turned over to the private sector, while NASA's efforts will be directed toward landing on Mars. This is nonsense. It would be swell for private companies to take over launching astronauts. But they cannot do it. It's too expensive. It's too experimental. And the safety standards for getting people up and down reliably are just unreachably high.

"Sure, decades from now there will be a robust private space-travel industry. But that is a long time. In the interim, space will be owned by Russia and then China...

"As for Mars, more nonsense... If we can't afford an Ares rocket to get us into orbit and to the moon, how long will it take to develop a revolutionary new propulsion system that will take us not a quarter-million miles but 35 million miles?...

"Of course, the whole Mars project as substitute for the moon is simply a ruse... Kill the doable in the name of some distant sophisticated alternative, which either never gets developed or is simply killed later in the name of yet another, even more sophisticated alternative of the further future...

"Moreover, there is the question of seriousness. When John F. Kennedy pledged to go to the moon, he meant it. He had an intense personal commitment to the enterprise. He delivered speeches remembered to this day. He dedicated astronomical sums to make it happen. At the peak of the Apollo program, NASA was consuming almost 4 percent of the federal budget, which in terms of the 2011 budget is about $150 billion. Today the manned space program will die for want of $3 billion a year...

"As for President Obama's commitment... Has he given a single speech, devoted an iota of political capital to it? Obama's NASA budget perfectly captures the difference in spirit between Kennedy's liberalism and Obama's. Kennedy's was an expansive, bold, outward-looking summons. Obama's is a constricted, inward-looking call to retreat.

"Fifty years ago, Kennedy opened the New Frontier. Obama has just shut it."

For full article, click here.

And, finally, from Craig Nelson, author of Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon, in The Wall Street Journal:
"As a longtime NASA booster, I couldn't help but feel a gut kick when the President's new budget meant the end of Constellation... To many of us, Constellation offered an end to the directionless Space Shuttle era and a return to the glory years of Apollo. As a historian, though, I knew at the program's announcement six years' ago that such an epic undertaking, back to the Moon and then onto Mars, would never happen...

Though congressmen from Texas, Florida, Alabama and California would like to believe otherwise, space travel today lacks political capital. Lyndon Johnson said that he refused to cut NASA's budget in order to reach John Kennedy's "within this decade" target as part of tending to the slain president's legacy. But Congress and most of the American public in the 1960s fundamentally supported going to the Moon as a crucial element of national defense.

 "Just as Obama's announced budget freeze omits the Pentagon, so did NASA stay fully supported forty years ago, even with federal deficits rising in the wake of Vietnam and the Great Society. At its Apollo peak of funding in 1966, the agency held 5.5% of the federal budget. In 2009, it corralled .55%. In 2008 and 2009, meanwhile, the $200 billion cost of going to the Moon, adjusted for inflation, was spent in 540 days on the Iraq War.

The Space Race was a key element in a contest of wills, culture, science, technology, propaganda, and defense with the Soviet Union, what Dwight Eisenhower termed "Total Cold War." It is almost certain that the future will bring some new competition, whether through national security or commerce, and Americans will once again insist on being at the forefront of manned space travel.

"They do not insist on it in 2010."

For full article, click here.

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