Friday, 16 April 2010

Obama's Space Plan

From the UK Daily Telegraph
President Barack Obama will on Thursday unveil a "bold and daring" new space mission to send astronauts to Mars months after he scrapped a project to return to the Moon.
His plan? Hope. And Change.

From the AP :
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – President Barack Obama boldly predicted Thursday his new plans for space exploration would lead American astronauts on historic, almost fantastic journeys to an asteroid and then to Mars — and in his lifetime — relying on rockets and propulsion still to be imagined and built.

"I expect to be around to see it," he said of pioneering U.S. trips starting with a landing on an asteroid — a colossal feat in itself — before the long-dreamed-of expedition to Mars. He spoke near the historic Kennedy Space Center launch pads that sent the first men to the moon, a blunt rejoinder to critics, including several former astronauts, who contend his planned changes will instead deal a staggering blow to the nation's manned space program.
The biggest criticisms of Obama's plans have been that they have lacked details and goals.
Obama sought to explain why he aborted President George W. Bush's return-to-the moon plan in favor of a complicated system of public-and-private flights that would go elsewhere in space, with details still to be worked out.

"We've been there before," Obama said of the nation's moon landings decades ago.
Obama also said his administration would rescue a small part of the moon program: its Orion crew capsule.

But instead of taking four astronauts to the moon, the not-yet-built Orion will be slimmed down and used as an emergency escape pod for the space station.
One problem - no plans for a man-rated booster to take it there.

It's not so much a plan, as a statement of intent for a plan to be made by someone, details to be worked out by future administrations. Meanwhile in the here-and-now, the 10,000 jobs that were going to be lost will now only be 8000. Oh Joy.

I've said before that the Constellation program had gone off the rails. Obama was right there, it needed mending with a new one. But what do we have now?
White House science adviser John Holdren summed up Obama's program as "a faster pace in space, more missions to more destinations sooner at lower cost."
Details to be worked out later, when it's more convenient. Hope! And Change!
"We want to leap into the future," not continue on the same path as before, Obama said as he sought to reassure NASA workers that America's space adventures would soar on despite the impending termination of space shuttle flights.

Obama did not predict a Mars landing soon. But he said that by 2025, the nation would have a new spacecraft "designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space."

"We'll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history," he said. "By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it."
In other words... "when I'm safely out of office. It's someone else's problem, and their fault if they're incapable of fulfilling my grand vision of Unicorns and Rainbows."


Steve said...

Zoe, to me, the most outright stupid thing that has come out of the Obama space review is the suggestion that it makes any sense at all to send astronauts to merely orbit Mars and come back. Any trip to Mars will be dangerous, claustrophobic and (I suspect) mainly dull. That you would do it merely to test life support systems and take some photos which could easily be done by robot probe strikes me as the silliest idea ever.

But I haven't yet found anyone else saying this yet...

Any thoughts?

MgS said...

I'm guessing that Obama is heading in the direction of what Robert Heinlein described in "The Man Who Sold The Moon".

The leverage will come from bringing the private sector into commercializing space, rather than the quasi-military/research model that NASA has come to represent.

(Not saying that NASA isn't valuable here, but rather that there is a change of mindset on the winds which resets the context in which NASA exists)

amandainsjc said...

I just think its ironic, crazy and perverse that O's supporters are touting the benefits of the privatization of spaceflight, right after the HCR debate. Since when do American liberals support libertarianism?

Zimbel said...

That's Pegasus (or a pegasus, if you're not referring to the brother of Chrysaor), not a unicorn. Unicorns have a single horn on their heads; pegasi have wings.

I'm trying to remember the last U.S. president for whom I wasn't skeptical about their NASA policies; I'm not coming up with any. That said, I'm disappointed in some of Obama's current NASA policies.

@amandainsjc -
You might be surprised - particularly if you replace "liberals" with "Democrats"; while more libertarians are Republican than Democratic, the duopoly system encompasses them on both sides. In his NASA proposals, I'm seeing a significant de-funding (as a percentage of federal budget, not in absolute monetary terms), with the following significant changes:

1) increase in Earth Science.
2) large increase in infrastructure research
3) increase (?) in heavy-lift/propulsion R&D
4) heavy increase in robotic missions
5) mild increase in ISS.
6) increase in commercial usage.
7) severe drop-off in Space shuttle
8) increase in technological investments
9) Constellation canceled

That said, I'm hardly an expert in this field, feel free to correct any/all of the above.

Anonymous said...

We will have to change from rocket science to energy science.


Vene said...

Just felt like commenting to add <a href=">this.</a>

$6 billion over five years is definitely some significant funding and I'm all for throwing money at science and engineering. Hopefully some good will come out of this. Unfortunately, this really isn't my area (I'm more of a biochemist).

SnoopyTheGoon said...

To be fair to Obama (which I am usually not), I have to say that it would be unrealistic to expect him to announce a four year plan for Mars. Or even an eight-year one. The goal is of necessity beyond his presidency period.

And the vagueness is also of necessity, since NASA is not yet in a shape to lay out precise planning for this project. Lets' hope we'll see more in a few months or a year.

Anonymous said...

Big surprise from the first person to win a nobel prize for campaign promises.