by Staff Writers
Bethesda MD (SPX) Dec 23, 2008
In a few short weeks we will have a new administration and a new set of mandates to be addressed by President-Elect Obama. Unfortunately, the mandates of major national concern do not seem to include government-funded space exploration.
Mandates that are on the minds of most Americans include the state of our financial institutions, health of the economy, jobs, foreign trade, social security, health care and the environment.
So, where is space in all this? In order to answer this question we must divide space into its applications. There are robotic and human exploration, Earth observation, low-orbit human space flight and national security.
Given the expected budget squeeze and huge deficits, there is little expectation that NASA will receive sufficient funds to carry out all aspects of its moon-Mars exploration program on the current schedule. President-Elect Obama has no stake in, and no obligation to continue, the Vision for Space that President Bush started in 2004.
In fact, it seems likely that any planned human activities based on journeys to the moon and Mars will be at least delayed by several years. Such a delay would probably lead to a postponement of the two Ares launch vehicles and Orion, and a several-year extension of Shuttle operations in order to sustain space station operations at least until a commercial option becomes available.
Cuts in the Constellation Program may relieve the pressure to cut other civil space programs and allow NASA to continue its science programs. Earth observation programs will almost certainly be focused on current environmental issues.
What about national security space? The global war on terror will certainly continue for the foreseeable future.
The two wars in Asia will continue for some time. And, our dominance of space and ability to maximize security applications of space are eroding as competition from China, India, Russia and Europe grows. For these and other reasons, it is almost a certainty that a high level of funding will continue for defense programs and intelligence operations that require space to enable national security.
Nevertheless, there will certainly be a call to increase efficiency and eliminate duplication and redundancy where possible. One area being considered for streamlining is the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).
There seems to be a growing consensus that a good deal of duplication might be eliminated by merging MDA with other government space organizations. A number of other consolidations are certainly being considered in order to maintain needed security levels with fewer dollars.
The bottom line on space in the Obama era seems to be a continuation of security-related programs with less funding for expensive civil programs. This is not a rosy projection, but it is realistic.
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