The Intermittent Kevin

As rarely and randomly updated as most blogs

Why does Obama hate space? (Part 2)

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Previously, on Why does Obama hate space: NASA designed a next-generation Apollo capsule, an awesome new rocket, and started planning a trip to the moon… until THIS GUY came along and cancelled everything.

Pictured: Neil Armstrong, moments before punching the President.

What the heck, Barry? You’re gonna let the Commies beat us back there?

So, a few things. First, the Orion capsule’s first big mission—ferrying astronauts to the space station—is redundant with the contracts we’ve signed for private companies to resupply the space station. That’s right, there’s actual companies making their OWN space capsules now.

Second, it costs lots and lots of money to go to the moon. The Apollo program cost more than $135 billion in today’s dollars (source) and it would cost more, not less, to repeat the feat today. (The basic physics of getting off the ground and to the moon still involve lots of rocket fuel, and 50 years of advancement in computers doesn’t change physics.) Know who doesn’t have $135 billion laying around right now? The US government.

So the Obama administration wants to reshuffle priorities and go back to the science fair. In exchange for cancelling the Constellation shuttle-replacement program, it wants NASA to work on fancy new technologies.

Here’s an example. At the space center, we watched a video of a shuttle docking with the space station. And get this: they gauged their distance to the space station’s docking port by pointing one of those laser distance-measuring devices—the ones you get at Home Depot—out the window. It was a hilarious-but-sad reminder that they were up there steering a boat designed in the 1960s. The Obama plan calls for developing technology to let spaceships find and dock to each other automatically, no laser pointers required.

The proposed budget splashes lots of money on other fancy tech like:
– Ways for robots to make rocket fuel out of moon and Mars rocks. (It’s very expensive to land on Mars if you need to bring your return fuel with you.)
– Cool tricks like the ion engine, which would be an awesome way to get all the way to Mars (and looks science-fictiony to boot).

So on the plus side, we design all sorts of fun new robo-technology. On the minus side, we have absolutely no definitive plans for getting back to the moon or to Mars. And—this is worth a re-linking—China wants to put Chinese men on the moon by 2030.

Obviously there’s goods and bads, here. Space enthusiasts, and Congressmen whose districts get lots of NASA money, are downright pissed off. Meanwhile some very bright people are in favor of a more far-thinking approach; none other than Buzz Aldrin is in love with the idea (source).

Kevin, the intermittent blogger, gives the whole thing a cautious thumbs-up. For all this talk, the budget for NASA is actually increasing, not decreasing. It’s going to more diverse places, not just one big rocket-and-capsule project. And even though NASA has the most talented engineers in the world, there’s something to be said for bringing private enterprise into the space market. Hey, it’s been done before.


Written by Kevin Miller

March 3, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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