Most young boys, and now girls, look to the heavens and dream of being an astronaut. It is exciting to think about space travel and exploration. As we get older the dream slowly fades away but our fascination with space remains. And, as we get older we come to realize that travelling to the moon and space exploration costs billions of dollars.
Since 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been America’s space agency. And, according to NASA’s website, “Since its inception in 1958, NASA has accomplished many great scientific and technological feats in air and space.” There is no disputing that but today, in 2010 it may be time to reevaluate NASA’s missions and budget.
A program that is increasingly becoming a symbol of the “old” NASA and what the “new” NASA needs to become is the Constellation program, which was initiated under President Bush with the goal of putting a man on the moon by 2020. And, according to FoxNews.com:
NASA’s Constellation program aimed to create a new generation of spacecraft for human spaceflight, consisting primarily of the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles, the Orion crew capsule and the Altair Lunar Lander. These spacecraft would have been capable of performing a variety of missions, from International Space Station resupply to lunar landings.
The Washington Post has recently reported that:
Obama’s 2011 budget request would nix Constellation’s rocket and crew capsule, funnel billions of dollars to new spaceflight technologies, and outsource to commercial firms the task of ferrying astronauts to low-Earth orbit.
It is about time. Numerous problems have been reported with Constellation. According to an August 2009 Government Accountability Report:
NASA estimates that Ares I and Orion represent up to $49 billion of the over $97 billion estimated to be spent on the Constellation program through 2020. While the agency has already obligated more than $10 billion in contracts, at this point NASA does not know how much Ares I and Orion will ultimately cost, and will not know until technical and design challenges have been addressed.
One potential solution is for NASA to go to private companies to take over launch duties. There is more accountability and incentives for a private company to develop and build private launch facilities. Unlike 1958, there are a number of private companies chomping at the bit to provide these services.
As a country, we can still dream and explore space, but it’s past time to rethink how it is done.