To Be Bold Or Not

Will President Obama be another Carter or Clinton, or a Kennedy or Johnson, when it comes to space? “Behind Moon Travel Goal, Big Talk and Little Money”, (NYTimes, Aug. 24, 2009) is an honest and clearly written article on NASA’s funding problems and the effects of the lack of funding on NASA’s Moon program announced in January 2004. The article pulls few punches, beginning with the opening paragraph,

Forty years after it first landed men on the Moon, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has little chance of repeating that accomplishment by the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

Maybe not even by the 60th

And then the Times goes on to give what is the most concise yet accurate description of the source of NASA’s funding problems:

That plan grew out of the “vision for space exploration” that President George W. Bush announced in January 2004, a year after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its seven astronauts. But in his budget requests, President Bush never asked for as much money as the Moon vision called for, and Congress, despite bipartisan expressions of support for the program, never added the money. President Obama’s budget request for the next fiscal year, which starts in October, outlined further cuts in 2011 and beyond.

At present, the space community waits for the Human Space Flight Review Committee, often just called the Augustine Committee, to finish up its review and submit its options to the White House. A week ago, a preliminary meeting was held between the Committee, staffers from OMB, NASA Administrator Bolden, and NASA Deputy Administrator Garver during which the Committee members made it clear that current funding plans by the Obama Administration leave NASA without the resources it needs to move America’s manned space program out of low-earth-orbit.

No matter what the Human Space Flight Review Committee says, at the end of the day, the buck stops with the President as to whether America will proceed with the Moon program or not. Senator Bill Nelson is quoted as saying, “Unless the president is willing to step up and take a bold step like President Kennedy did, the manned spaceflight program is going to go in the ditch”, an apt and accurate statement of where NASA and America’s manned space exploration program is, that is, waiting for President Obama to make a decision, one that will for better or worse be a part of his lasting legacy.

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