Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Homework for Tomorrow

If you're reading this, you are at least somewhat interested in space exploration. Tomorrow may be a revealing day or a disappointment. It will probably be heralded by supporters of the new policy as the fastest route to Mars and beyond, whilst the same speech will be dismissed as politics and destruction of U. S. human space exploration by nay-sayers.

Wherever you may lay in this spectrum, or maybe even if you don't really care, even if you haven't really been following the space budget roller coaster since Febuary, I suggest going to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and clicking on the NASA Fact Sheet and the OSTP Fact Sheet.

A recap of the February budget suggestion:
Maintain shuttle retirement in 2010 (decision made by George W. Bush in 2004).
Stop developing constellation (scrap current moon plans which are late and under-funded).
Concentrate on new technologies and breakthroughs for years to come, with no concrete manned space exploration plan.

Both the above-mentioned documents add more detail around how NASA and the administration sees the upcoming years of space exploration or working towards it, but more than anything seem to be aimed at political damage control from a cynical perspective or at least reassurance of the space workforce (especially Florida, one of the states potentially affected the most by the new policy).

Two things to remember when reading these documents or listening to Obama tomorrow in Florida:

First, the budget that will be approved by Congress preferably before October first (the beginning of fiscal-year 2011) but more likely later than that is for better or worse only for that year. Any mentions about money over the next five years relates to a vision that will need approval every year, as there is no appropriation of anything for more than one year.

Second, if Obama stays in office after 2012, this plan has a better chance of being fulfilled, but if a new president comes to office, well, look what happened to Constellation (which was backed by two authorization bills but didn't get enough funding).

For me, beyond talking about job creation and transitions (which is a must in order to cushion the change politically) and openly mentioning Mars again, the most interesting point mentioned (in the OSTP document) is about increasing the number of astronaut days in space by 3,500 over the next decade. That is very catchy way of pointing out we're not abandoning human space exploration (and even increasing it), but does it really mean more exploration or simply a way of placing one more astronaut on the ISS at any given time compared to the previous decade?

No matter what happens tomorrow, commercial-space (a.k.a. "new space") will continue to evolve, and what seemed improbable only a decade or two ago is becoming a reality - a space industry not relying on NASA as the sole customer (or even main customer). NASA won't disappear, but I'm hoping it will gradually become less of the main life-line for everything space related.

I am sure it would be inspiring being in the same room listening to the revised vision of the next five to ten years of space exploration. I will be hopefully listening or watching it on some electronic media, thinking about what part of it will become a reality in the next decade.

1 comment:

Norman Copeland said...

One of the most interesting questions would be what would Low earth orbit private science companies be researching?

The emphasis on the type of science being researched in magnetosphere space would certainly indicate what sort of science personel will be required!!!

A number of companies will have orbital test vehicles [OTV's] available for the men and women who have been waiting for the 50 - 100 vehicles designed and licensed ready for our era to begin!!!

Thank you Mr President for such an inspiring vision of stimulation for commercial space business, science and tourism...

Man it's great to be alive at this era...

Thanks Amnon,

Norman Copeland