Thursday, September 30, 2010

Speaking of space stuff

Barack Obama has now put his stamp on the space program.
Congress approved a blueprint for NASA's future Wednesday that extends the life of the space shuttle program for a year while backing President Barack Obama's intent to use commercial carriers to lift humans into near-Earth space.

The bill passed by the House on a 304-118 vote brings major changes to NASA's space agenda: It dismantles the Constellation program under which former President George W. Bush sought to return astronauts to the moon, and extends the life of the International Space Station from 2015 to 2020. The Senate passed the measure last month. ...

[Obama] told NASA workers at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in April that he was committed to manned space flight and envisioned sending astronauts to near-Earth asteroids in the near future as a prelude to trips to Mars in the coming decades.
Okay, first, I'm not going to get into the argument about "manned" space flight versus probes beyond stating my conviction that while probes should be emphasized (they not only reduce the human risk but in terms of scientific knowledge they produce more bang for the buck) they should not be the sole focus. The very idea of exploring, of actually going out there and seeing, of being there, is such a powerful one that human space exploration should be continued; it must be a part of the overall effort.

Second, what the article mentions but doesn't make clear is that this kills the shuttle program. It extends it to the end of the 2011 fiscal year, but that's it. Instead, the program proposes to rely on the still-barely-existing commercial space industry; that is, it proposes to use commercial rockets, private industry rockets, profit-making rockets, to get to and from the International Space Station. I think that's both utterly idiotic (and the reason why Obama's plan "met resistance from the space industry, former astronauts and lawmakers") and offensive, as it is yet another example of the government (i.e., the public) doing the research, doing the development, proving the concept, creating the technology, and then basically just handing it over to private, profit-oriented interests that never would have been in the field if they'd had to do the original work themselves. And here it's even more offensive because after handing off to private industry another technology developed with public money, the government is going to finance the profit of that industry by paying them to use that same technology (i.e., the rockets).

But what I really wanted to say is that I am just f'ing sick and tired of presidents and politicians (Obama is hardly the first) pushing for their own "vision" of space exploration rather than seeking out the vision of the scientists, the astronomers, the astronautical engineers - of, that is, the people who know what the hell they are talking about.

It just pisses me off.

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