Monday, February 1, 2010

Obama kills NASA's Human Arm - Private Sector Must Carry Torch

It is official. The American Space Program, a dream inspired by the likes of John F. Kennedy himself, has been killed today as a non-essential government expenditure. The Obama administration has announced that it will defund the Constellation Program, the follow-on Human Space Flight Program intended for lunar colonization. FoxNews reports:

The key elements of Constellation include the Orion crew capsule, its Ares 1 launcher, a larger rocket dubbed Ares 5 and the Altair lunar lander. Obama's top-line spending proposal for NASA is expected to increase slightly over the 2010 appropriation of $18.7 billion and would including some funding for an alternative means for transporting crews to and from the international space station

Facing a federal deficit of $1.26 trillion in 2011, Obama is proposing a three-year freeze on most non-defense discretionary spending, a move the president believes will save $250 billion over the next 10 years, Orszag said. In addition, the White House is proposing more than 120 program terminations, reductions and efficiencies that together are expected to save $20 billion in 2011, Orszag said.

While Obama is picking off major programs at $20 Billion a pop, he is still pushing an increased expenditure on the order of a trillion dollars. I digress.

As I stated in my previous post regarding the early reporting of this information, I applaud the cancelling of the NASA Human Space Flight division (though here I found it to be a bad idea). This is said as a former employee of Lockheed's Ares/Orion team. The program was a mess - extremely overbudget, attempting to make a horribly designed system work. We have Mike Griffin to thank for that - but we have NASA to thank for driving impossible requirements changes, making a state of the art system nothing more than a "larger Apollo" on an underpowered candlestick. We were heading the wrong direction... and instead of throwing money at a bad Government Problem - me, like any like minded fiscal conservative and libertarian should embrace the surrendering of a government agency to the free market.

Could Obama have simply directed the cancelling of Ares I and embrace Ares 5 as a multi-purpose Moon/Mars launch vehicle? Should he have? Or is this the motivation the private sector needs in order to begin the free market colonization of near and far space? Let's take a look at what is on the horizon:

1. Space X is within 1-3 months of the inaugural flight of the Falcon 9 - a private, green, and reusable launch vehicle built with the intention of human passengers. They are already in full scale production and have a launch manifest planned out to 2015 covering over 26 flights of varying payloads. SpaceX, owned by Google, has drastically reduced launch costs - estimated at a 90% cost savings over NASA programs, while focusing special attention on safety and reliability. This private sector innovator stands at the ready to take immediate ownership of NASA astronauts, and is slated to act as a launch platform for prefabbed/inflatable space infrastructure built by Bigelow Aerospace.

2. Virgin Galactic, though not able to attain full orbit, is nearing the end of their test flight phase for their sub-orbital commercial space vehicle. Private citizens, the first space tourists, can catch a ride on the ship for a mere $200,000. I am sure that full orbital trips will be just around the bend.

3. SpaceDev is working with Lockheed Martin and Boeing's United Launch Alliance in order to man-rate their Delta and Atlas launch vehicles. I wonder, however, if a collapse of NASA Humans Space Flight, if "man rating" will be a necessary regulation for future start-ups. This falls under the realm of "how congress reacts" - if a launch vehicle is safe, reliable, and has a great service record - what more do you need to 'over-engineer' the launch vehicle for human safety?

In short - this is the perfect opportunity for the private sector to shine. We can smack Obama around for cancelling the JFK Moon Dream, and chastise him for putting America behind the Chinese or the Russians (the only two countries in the world capable of currently launching humans to orbit - after our remaining three launches this year exhaust our Shuttle fleet). But what we are bearing witness to in our protest is the hypocrisy of our "cause" - that is, give up government bureaucracies - so long as you don't touch the things WE want you to keep. Obama should take notice of his own maneuver, and don't stop until Education, healthcare, identification and the like are off the payroll of the federal government.

We stand, dear readers, at the beginning of something grand. So long as private ventures see a profit or need in Human Exploration - it will be so. This is our opportunity to take the government to task and do it right! Instead of writing your congressmen, write the start-ups like SpaceX and ask what you can do to invest and help drive human space flight on a private level. In the mean-time, write your representatives and remind them to keep their regulatory paws out of what will be an explosion in private space exploration.

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