Ask any astronomer, astronaut, and/or NASA employee about his or her estimation of Barack Obama's space plan, and you’re likely to get a strong opinion. Earlier this year, the president announced the end of the Constellation program, which was intended to replace the retiring space shuttle as the method of transporting humans into space. This resulted in accusations that the new administration was effectively planning to shut down NASA and kill the space program. Space.com recently addressed the facts behind these rumors.
Obama’s plan for space flight involves a new goal: to send astronauts to an asteroid by the year 2025. As he told reporters in April, "We want to leap into the future, not continue on the same path as before.” In 2004, it was announced that the space shuttles would be retired. So when Obama announced the end of Constellation this year, the announcement was met with calls of outrage from NASA officials and the public. One of Constellation's goals was to bring astronauts back to the moon and then possibly to Mars. Space figures like John Glenn said that the shuttles should stay in operation until another means of space transport was devised.
Obama was immediately accused of killing the space program. But Space.com reports that the new space proposal actually raises NASA’s budget — to $19 billion in 2011 from $18.3 billion in 2010. Further, the space shuttle’s retirement was conceived and first announced in 2004 during the George W. Bush administration.
But now coupled with Constellation’s dissolution, some fear there will be a gap in American space flight. American astronauts will be reliant on Russians and private enterprise to carry them back and forth from the International Space Station. Former space shuttle jobs like transporting astronauts and putting up satellites in space will be the focus of cooperative efforts or to private companies. Critics say this is the wrong direction for America’s space program.
But others say this anger is misdirected. Science advocate Bill Nye will soon be the executive director of the Planetary Society, a nonprofit space organization. He spoke with Space.com. According to Nye, “That all this is coming up now is surprising to those of us who thought it was all settled … Apparently it is people in the states directly affected by the cancelation of the space shuttle just raising a stink and promoting misinformation. We at the Planetary Society are excited about the new space policy because it's going to take us to someplace new rather than someplace old."
Further, there have been accusations that all of this was decided by a small group behind closed doors. Legendary astronaut Neil Armstrong told a Senate subcommittee in May that Obama’s directive was an invisible plan contrived by a small group in secret. Not so, protest NASA administrators. James Oberg is a former space shuttle mission control engineer. He told Space.com that "the plan went through years of analysis, modification, and critiques by a worldwide team."
Nonetheless, the finger pointing continues. There is one topic that everyone seems to agree on. NASA acknowledges that there may have been missteps in the presentation of the new program, leading to the current atmosphere of distrust and resentment.
For further reading:
- Misconceptions swirl around the Obama space plan
- John Glenn: Keep space shuttles flying
- NASA’s new asteroid mission could avert disaster on Earth