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February 12, 2010

Krauthammer: Obama Blows It On Manned Space Program

Thanks to Obama's canceling of NASA's Moon program, we'll be boldly going nowhere unless we can hitch a ride with the Russians.

Of course, the administration presents the abdication as a great leap forward: Launching humans will be turned over to the private sector, while NASA's efforts will be directed toward landing on Mars.

This is nonsense. It would be swell for private companies to take over launching astronauts. But they cannot do it. It's too expensive. It's too experimental. And the safety standards for getting people up and down reliably are just unreachably high.

Sure, decades from now there will be a robust private space-travel industry. But that is a long time. In the interim, space will be owned by Russia and then China. The president waxes seriously nationalist at the thought of China or India surpassing us in speculative "clean energy." Yet he is quite prepared to gratuitously give up our spectacular lead in human space exploration.

As for Mars, more nonsense. Mars is just too far away. And how do you get there without the stepping stones of Ares and Orion? If we can't afford an Ares rocket to get us into orbit and to the moon, how long will it take to develop a revolutionary new propulsion system that will take us not a quarter-million miles but 35 million miles?

Meanwhile what will Obama fund NASA for? Climate change research.

I get that government run space programs can be something of a conservative/small government heresy and in this case I'm a heretic. As Krauthammer points out a private sector space program is decades away. The costs are simply to high as are the challenges in terms of recouping an return on investment in terms of exploration. The low earth orbit taxi/sightseeing stuff may payoff soon but that's not the same as going to the moon or Mars.

I'm also aware NASA isn't the bold, cutting edge organization it was in the 50's and 60's. That's not an argument in favor of giving up manned exploration, it's an argument for blowing up a bloated bureaucracy and starting over.

I'd love to see a viable and vigorous private space exploration industry but does anyone seriously argue it exists or will anytime soon? To me this is a case where government isn't the best answer but alas, it's the only handy with any track record of success.

To paraphrase Don Rumsfeld, you go to space with the space program you have, not the one you want.

I'm not going to make some case about great spin-off technologies, national security or increasing the number of people who go into math and science (a supposed goal of this administration) because I don't know how true they are. Nor do I entirely care. Not everything in life has to be rational or square up on some accounting ledger. Some things are important because, well they are. Great nations have always funded exploration. It's part of what makes them great. Obama, as is his won't, is ceding American greatness and letting others fill the void.

As I said, it's something of a conservative heresy and I'm okay with that.

Of course, no space related post would be complete without Buzz Aldrin punching the Moon Truther in the chops.

That right there? That was worth all the money NASA spent sending men to the Moon.

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posted by DrewM. at 04:11 PM

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