Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mars in NASA chief's lifetime may rest on whether Obama believes space shuttle is a clunker

Whether or not the United States is capable of sending a human expedition to Mars in the lifetime of new NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr., who's 62 years old, may revolve around whether President Barack Obama believes our aged fleet of space shuttles qualifies for the “Cash-for-Clunkers” program.

Bolden, a retired United States Marine and veteran of four space shuttle flights, "did grow up watching Buck Rogers and Buck Rogers didn't stop at Mars.” In one of his first interviews last month, the
new NASA chief said, with surprising candor, "In my lifetime, I will
be incredibly disappointed if we have not at least reached Mars."

Obama, who last spring appointed a 10-member presidential panel headed by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine to review the future of NASA, will be in the hot seat by the end of the summer, when the Augustine panel presents him with a menu of options. Among the many difficult decisions the President will have to make
is whether to scrap the clunky space shuttle program in 2010, take the budget money earned from the scrap heap, and roll it into a fast-lane-to-Mars-in-my-lifetime expedition. If Obama decides the rickety old space shuttles do not qualify for the “Cash-for-Clunkers” program, Charlie Bolden will probably not see Mars before he departs planet Earth.

Pictured: NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr.


Republibot 3.0 said...

I'm actually not one of those Republicans who goes around ragging on the president. In fact, I don't think I've said a single negative thing about him since he's been in office, so please don't assume this is politically motivated: We ain't goin' to Mars.

Obama stated - repeatedly - during his campaign that he intended to "Postpone" the Orion program for "Five years," so as to free up money for other federal programs. The Shuttle becomes a lawn ornament in december of next year (Maybe. More than likely, Congress will simply extend their arbitrary deadline arbitrarily), and the Orion isn't due to go in to service until 2015, meaning that we as a nation will have no manned acces to space for half a decade. "Postponing" the program for another five years means a full decade with America on the beach while Russia, China, and (probably soon) India go swimming.

Realistically speaking, "Postponing" a project as big as Orion is effectively cancelling it, since the cost of reactivating the program a half-decade later is greater than the startup cost of simply designing a new vehicle from scratch. (This is why the Saturn V hasn't been revived, though the Bush I administration looked at it)

So: bottom line: Manned space exploration is not a priority for this administration, and we won't be seeing an American on Mars for a very long time.

Paul said...

No disagreement here. The Augustine panel won't even be making a recommendation, just presenting options.

republibot 3.0 said...

Yeah, it's disappointing. As Stephen Baxter said in one of his novels, "NASA's job is to limit access to space, not expand it; anyone who hasn't realized that simply isn't paying attention."