08 February 2010

New Direction For NASA Includes Private Space Industry

Excerpts from article by Buzz Aldrin: President Obama's JFK Moment

The President courageously decided to redirect our nation's space policy away from the foolish and underfunded Moon race that has consumed NASA for more than six years, aiming instead at boosting the agency's budget by more than $1 billion more per year over the next five years, topping off at $100 billion for NASA between now and 2015. And he directed NASA to spend a billion per year on buying rides for American astronauts aboard new, commercially developed space vehicles-that's American space vehicles. Other NASA funds will go into developing and testing new revolutionary technologies that we can use in living and working on Mars and its moons.

But this change in direction will not be easy -- like turning a big ship around in a small space. For those who will think about opposing this new plan, let me explain why I think it's a necessary step forward, not back.

To keep the focus on the return to the Moon, NASA pretty much abandoned all hope of preparing for Mars exploration. It looked like building bases on the Moon would consume all of NASA's resources.

Before deciding what to do about national space policy, Obama set up an outside review panel of space experts, headed up by my friend Norm Augustine, former head of Lockheed Martin and a former government official.

The report strongly suggested the nation move away from the troubled rocket program, called Ares 1, and both extend the life of the space station and develop commercial ways of sending astronauts and cargoes up to the station. And it suggested a better way to spend our taxpayer dollars would be not focused on the Moon race, but on something it called a "Flexible Path." Flexible in the sense that it would redirect NASA towards developing the capability of voyaging to more distant locations in space, such as rendezvous with possibly threatening asteroids, or comets, or even flying by Mars to land on its moons. Many different destinations and missions would be enabled by that approach, not just one.

Now President Obama has signaled that new direction -- what I'm calling Flexible plus, containing much of the steps called for in the Augustine report. If Congress agrees, we'll turn over all space taxi services to the private sector and aim NASA at fully using the station -- extended to at least 2020 in Obama's plan -- and spending a billion dollars a year in creating these new private sector spaceships. When the time comes to start building deep space transports and refueling rocket tankers, it will be the commercial industry that steps up, not another government-owned, government managed enterprise.

America's space entrepreneurs have all the talent and tools they need to take advantage of the proposed Obama plan. Even our rocket pads at the Kennedy Space Center, where the same pads from which Apollo 11 was launched more than 40 years ago are still used, will get a user-friendly makeover. And NASA will do what it does best -- preparing the capability to explore.

No comments: