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Friday, February 5, 2010

Is This the End of the American Manned Space Program?

The Dream that was Constellation

It is now official. Yesterday's release of the 2011 budget has finally laid bare what the Obama administration has in mind for the future of American Manned Spaceflight.

It's over.

Despite his campaign promises, the President has directed the elimination of the Constellation program that aimed to replace the ending space shuttle program and return Americans to exploring the lunar surface. No more Ares-1, which was to be our country's transportation to low-Earth orbit once the shuttle is gone. No more Ares-5, the future heavy lift vehicle that would take astronauts and equipment to the Moon and launch heavy equipment to orbit. No more Altair lunar lander, which would take not two but four astronauts to the Moon's surface. No more Orion command capsule, designed to hold 4-6 astronauts depending on mission type.

Instead, Americans must beg for rides to the International Space Station on a Russian spacecraft. The cost of that ride jumped suddenly this week from 40 million per seat to 50+ million per seat. Don't ever think the Russians don't know how to profit from demand.

The White House, and the NASA administration, is spinning this disaster as a "Bold, Fresh Approach" when it is nothing of the sort. Although NASA's budget is being given a small increase, it is at the cost of America's space leadership. Claiming the necessity of needing to carefully trim budgets at a time of fiscal emergency, the administration continues to spend HUNDREDS of billions on pet political paybacks when NASA is being starved of the funds that it needed to meet the obligations placed on it. Claiming that the new NASA direction will bring in new jobs and technologies seems very hollow as NASA prepares to lay off 7,000 employees with the ending of the shuttle program. ATK here in Utah ponders the terrible news, having just laid off hundreds of people, it now looks at the cancellation of a major part of its production.

Currently there are members of Congress claiming outrage and indignation at this turn of events, but there is probably little that they can do. All that is left is for us to look at possibly the only ray of light in the new direction, which is the granting of several billions of dollars over the next four years to commercial space projects in the vague hope that they may be able to save American pride, jobs and space leadership.

Over the next month I'll be looking at each major part of the new directives and making my own decision on whether it bodes ill or good. While we wait to see how Congress and the Space COmmunity react, consider this as well: Obama is directing that a major directional shift for NASA will be to embrace the study of Global Warming.

Heaven help us.

Mr. Daymont
Magellan Flight Director
Space Center Educator
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