An Insightful Columnist

Charles Krauthammer’s, Closing the new frontier, which is a good op-ed piece that lays out in general terms why the Obama Administration’s cancellation of our nation’s human space flight program is misguided.

For the first time since John Glenn flew in 1962, the United States will have no access of its own for humans into space — and no prospect of getting there in the foreseeable future.

Krauthammer is claiming that, if the Obama Administration has its way, that the U.S. will, for the first time since Glenn orbited in 1962, not have a plan or program for getting humans into space. Given the President’s budget and his NASA Administrator’s press events, and non-events, at Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center, and Marshall Space Flight Center, yes, Krauthammer’s point is right. Because, as it currently stands, the human space flight policy of the United States, as stated by President Obama in his FY 2011 budget, is to have the audacity of hope that SpaceX and the other human space flight toddlers making up the commercial launch business today will get our astronauts, or theirs–nobody at NASA or the White House has figured yet who will actually be flying those commercial launchers–into low-earth orbit.

Sure, decades from now there will be a robust private space-travel industry. But that is a long time. In the interim, space will be owned by Russia and then China.

Some have opined that the gap between Apollo – Soyuz of 6 years, the same time span that optimistically the commercial launchers should have a human rated launcher ready to get astronauts back into orbit after the Shuttle is retired, was tolerable, so why not now? Well, the history is different.

The original gap between the Apollo-Soyuz mission and first flight of the Space Shuttle was anticipated to be only a few years, not six. At the time, we still had the Skylab space station orbiting untended. But the Shuttle was a pretty complicated craft and NASA’s original budget for the Shuttle, based on 1970 dollars, was revised so that NASA only got a portion of that money, at least according to Dale Meyers. The Shuttle saw its late-70’s roll-out stretch to 1981. During that time, the original plan to use the Shuttle to boost Skylab was obviated when Skylab’s orbit around the earth decayed faster than expected, causing its unplanned re-entry in 1979. Though Skylab was a national treasure, it wasn’t the equivalent of today’s $100 billion space station currently orbiting the earth.

What we also didn’t have in presidents Nixon or Ford was a leader willing to step-up to the plate and continue Apollo hardware construction in order to maintain human space flight capability for this country until the Shuttle was ready. And once the Shuttle started flying, it was apparent to all who had worked during Apollo that the human space flight program had lost a great deal of talent during the tough years on the Space Coast between 1975 and 1981.

So, yes, between 1975 and 1981 we did not have human flights. It was not planned that way. And in that time, we lost a valuable space station and space flight know-how. Nobody who was a leader in U.S. space efforts during those years is proud of any of that.

Obama’s NASA budget perfectly captures the difference in spirit between Kennedy’s liberalism and Obama’s. Kennedy’s was an expansive, bold, outward-looking summons. Obama’s is a constricted, inward-looking call to retreat.

Fifty years ago, Kennedy opened the New Frontier. Obama has just shut it.

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