Friday, April 16, 2010

Obama's New Space Policy. (Very Nice!)

As many of you have heard, President Obama has laid out his new space policy.  Bad Astronomy has a good write up about it:
1) As before, NASA’s budget will be increased in the new plan. Let me repeat that: NASA’s overall budget will go up. And not just a little; we’re talking $6 billion over the next five years. A lot of that goes into scientific research. So far from it being doom and gloom, that’s good news.

2) A new heavy-lift rocket will be developed. Let me repeat that as well: funding is provided for NASA to create a new heavy-lift vehicle. So yes, Constellation will be canceled, but a new system will be developed that (hopefully) will be within budget and time constraints.
3) The Orion capsule, based on Apollo capsule legacy, will still be built. Initially it will be for space station operations as an escape module, but can be adapted later for crewed space missions.

4) He wants NASA to plan manned missions to near-Earth asteroids in the 2020s, and to Mars in 2030s, but no return to the Moon.
As Phil gives his thoughts over at BA, here I will give my thoughts:

People need to understand NASA's budget is going up.  I see this as a good thing.  More money and less expensive moon missions == more science.

Second, going to the moon accomplishes three main goals:
  1. Good for PR and America's image.
  2. Good for inspiring the next generation of scientsis and engineers.
  3. Good for developing new technologies that otherwise would not have needed to be developed.  (That later can be used for other useful things)
But we've already been to the moon several times!  If we instead now shift to near-Earth asteroids and Mars four things should happen:
  1. I think successfully going to near-Earth asteroids and Mars will be even better for America's image than returning to the moon.  There is not as much "coolness" in been-there-done-that type accomplishments.  Near-Earth asteroids and Mars missions would demonstrate we are once again forging new frontiers that nobody has ever traveled.
  2. There is much better science to be discovered in going to near-Earth asteroids and Mars.
  3. Between #1 and #2 above, I think near-Earth asteroids and Mars missions would be better for inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers than accomplishing that which was done in the 1960s.  This will be new and exciting with lots of new science to boast about. 
  4.  We already have the technology to go to the moon.  Again, think 1960s.  The new technology will really come by going to new places with new hurdles to jump over.
  5. Near-asteroid missions are cheaper than the moon so we get more bang for the buck.
Anyone else have any thoughts?  Is Obama's plan perfect?  No, but it is better than funding us to just return to the moon and show everyone that in 2020 we can still do what we did in 1969

It's time for a little innovation, and yes, it's time for change. :)

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