Will NASA’s Embrace Kill NewSpace?

Going after human space could be dangerous for NewSpace (Credit: SpaceX)

The Space Review’s post, Will NASA’s embrace kill NewSpace?, by Taylor Dinerman, is probably the most lucid and politically acute analysis of the problems facing the Obama Administration as it tries to end NASA’s human space flight program.

Dinerman begins by noting how one Senator, Barbara Mikulski, single-handedly ended President George H. W. Bush’s Space Exploration Initiative (SEI). Yes, terminating SEI was a mistake, but that is not the interesting part. What is most interesting is that one single, not-even-senior Senator was able to stop a President.

The resentment aimed at SEI is nothing compared to what the NewSpace industry now faces on Capitol Hill. The cancellation of the Constellation program proposed in the 2011 budget is facing a bipartisan firestorm in Congress.

Dinerman also notes that NASA’s Constellation human space flight program has been widely supported 5 times by Congress. The anger of important leaders in Congress like Ralph Hall, Shelby and Jackson-Lee is unusual for space. More telling of the political winds is that while several Senators and Congressional Representatives have written op-ed pieces and released statements strongly, even viscerally opposing the Obama space plan, not one single member of the House or Senate has even so much as published a blurb in support of the President.

The thousands of jobs and the irreplaceable expertise that this new plan throws away are far more important to the members of Congress, especially in the current economic climate, than are the arguments and promises from the new team at NASA.

Obama’s effort to end the nation’s human space flight program has resulted in a movement to oppose those cuts not only within Congress but by voters. As of today, the combined membership of the 4 Facebook groups advocating for NASA’s Constellation stand at well-over 45,000 and continues to grow at over 1,000 a day while he Facebook pages of those supporting the cuts to Constellation don’t even exits. Should these numbers continue to climb, members of Congress who wouldn’t normally care about space, much less Constellation, may have to reconsider. We are, after all, in a mid-term election.

If the men and women who sit on the appropriations committees feel their interests and even their political survival are threatened, they will strike back, and strike back hard. Some firms that have no government contracts will be immune to this backlash, but others, particularly the small and medium-sized ones that depend on SBIRs, will be vulnerable to the appropriators’ scalpel.

Dinerman also brings up something we think is a very real possibility–political retribution. SpaceX has been at the forefront of supporting the end to Constellation and will be especially vulnerable if the President’s efforts to kill Constellation fail.

The bitterness and anger that so many Americans feel over the end (or the proposed end) of Moon program will only grow. This fall, as the final shuttle flights take place and the mid-term elections loom, they will pull out all the stops. In some places the rhetoric will get white hot. Constellation was an all-too-rare US Government program with deep bipartisan support. Throwing it on the ash heap is a sign of just how little this administration really values the idea of working across party lines.

The debate over whether to end our national human space flight program goes to the core of not only how Americans see their nation but whether the world perceives America as a nation in decline. Being post-American may seem chique to some, but to the American people at large, it is…unthinkable.

Dinnerman’s article is an excellent read and one that we feel is spot-on from a political point of view.

If the Moon program could be described as belonging to the 20th century, the NewSpace industry is beginning to look as if they belong to the 18th century. Like French courtiers wandering the halls of Versailles looking for a favor from the King, individuals who used to be regarded as brave entrepreneurs will now haunt the corridors of power looking for a subsidy or an earmark. They will prove their technical expertise by writing proposals that are perfectly adapted to the prevailing bureaucratic winds. It may be good business, but it does not have much to do with 21st century market capitalism.

(Via The Space Review.)

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