In a carefully worded editorial, “A Cloudy Visions“, which appears in this week’s of Aviation Week & Space Technology, AvvWeek’s editorial board takes issue with NASA’s “new” direction in human space flight, both from a policy and implementation perspective. The tone and content of AvWeek’s editorial is anything but positive in its reading of the Obama Administration’s attempt at ending our nation’s human space flight program and replacing NASA’s capability with unproven, really undeveloped, commercial alternatives.
That is not to say that AvWeek’s editorial board is against commercial launchers–it is not. Further, the AvWeek editorial likes the idea of extending the life of the International Space Station, replacement of the Orbiting Carbon Observer and a 14% budget increase for NASA’s aeronautics efforts. But turning NASA into a technology research organization, much as its predecessor the NACA was, carries risk, “It is hard to accept that human spaceflight will flourish if NASA’s role is merely to spawn new technologies and wait to see what vehicles can be built with them before deciding on what actual missions to sponsor.
It is a gamble—scrapping the government’s Constellation program that was to have returned U.S. astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and turning to commercial alternatives instead. If it pays off, history may record this as a turning point in the evolution of spaceflight. As Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin says, it might be Obama’s “JFK moment.” But if this challenge to private enterprise and American ingenuity falls flat, NASA will still be licking its wounds as Chinese astronauts land on the Moon and Russia sets the terms to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from Earth orbit indefinitely.