So the rumors that have been swirling around the Internet for the last few days are true – Obama’s budget proposal does scrap NASA’s Constellation progam – or in other words, NASA’s planned missions to the Moon and Mars. The Ares rockets will be scrapped, and the space shuttle program only has five more flights left before it ends this September. After that, NASA has no way of sending any astronauts into space for the foreseeable future. We will still have the Internatonal Space Station, but it will be serviced by Soyuz rockets, and given the state they are in, I wonder how long that will last.
The Ares 1-X at its test launch (Pic: NASA)
I was horrified when I first heard the news, and I tried to reason why the Obama administration was doing this. It’s true that the Constellation program is way behind schedule and there are lots of problems with the Ares rockets, but you don’t give up on a moon mission just because it’s expensive, or because you’re running a little late.
So is the Obama administration giving up on manned missions altogether? Do they feel that manned space programs aren’t a good use of scarce funding, and they would rather divert the funds to robotic missions instead ?
If that were so, I can see some rationale in that argument. But instead (and this is what’s even more puzzling and horrifying) Obama’s budget, while cutting NASA’s budget, plans to instead spend $6 billion in funding commercial space taxis. In other words, it wants to subsidize private companies who are planning for-profit space tourism flights for the rich. I cannot figure this out. Why?
Is this the direction America’s space program will go then – from research to junkets? If so, that is very sad indeed.
I am very glad, though, to know that all is not lost. We will still have humans on the moon in just a decade. India plans to have a manned mission to the Moon as early as 2020, around the same time that China too, plans to send its astronauts. The Russians had a 2025 mission planned a few years ago, I’m not sure if it still exists. Now that the US is definitely not in the race (at least not for a mission by 2020), we can safely assume the next person on the moon will be from either India or China.
So perhaps what we are seeing is really a passing of the baton from the US to India, China and other countries with ambitions in space.
So bye, bye moon – for now. We will visit you soon, though.