Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Get Government Out of Space!

Looks like the Obama administration is doing exactly what they said (while campaigning) they would never do: gut the space science program to fund the manned space program.  I'm beginning to think the Glenn Reynolds is right: if you want to know what the Obama administration is going to do, just assume it's the opposite of what they say.

From an article by Lou Friedman (for 30 years the director of the Planetary Society):
We’re in a similar situation today. Behind closed doors, the administration is deciding on NASA budget cuts that may not be in the best interest of either the agency or the American people. Having caved in to Congressional special interests on the Space Launch System (SLS), the administration is now prepared to sacrifice science and exploration programs in order to prematurely start its development, with requirements that will neither be met nor needed for more than a decade.

Imagine a NASA that for ten years (say, 2015 to 2025) ceases to explore the solar system and stops looking deep into the universe. Already, the administration has said that flagship missions to explore the outer planets will cease. Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini will be followed by nothing. Already, the administration has deeply cut the Mars program, reducing American plans to support a 2016 European mission and taking away funds that were to be used for a 2018 follow-on to Mars Science Laboratory, leading to Mars sample return.

Now, news reports and reliable sources are saying that the administration (in the form of OMB) may refuse to allow NASA to proceed with any joint Mars exploration plan with Europe. This decision would destroy the whole NASA/ESA Mars collaboration that has been built in the past several years. The collaborative plan was to have the US provide an Atlas launch of a European Trace Gas Orbiter mission (with several US instruments) in 2016, and then NASA and ESA would jointly develop a sophisticated astrobiology and sample cache rover mission in 2018. OMB seems to be cutting out the American role in the 2016 mission and refusing to let NASA commit to the 2018 collaboration. (ESA has sent a letter to NASA saying that ESA has committed about $1 billion to the joint NASA-ESA mission, but that financial commitment depends on the US formally committing to its role in the mission. We hear that OMB has refused, thus far, to let NASA respond positively).

The administration has also punted the James Webb Space Telescope. The current plan states that they will support JWST, but they do not specify either a budget or where the money will come from. Are they going to leave that to Congressional special interests too?

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