Obama’s budget shoots for the stars

On Feb. 1, President Barack Obama unveiled a new plan for space exploration to help develop NASA technology and restructure the U.S. space program.

Obama’s ideas were deemed too risky by some, while others called them potentially lucrative and beneficial.

According to a New York Times editorial that ran Monday, the president will begin by scrapping the current plans for the space agency set forth by President George W. Bush. Obama believes they have become outdated and are well behind schedule.

First to go will be the once-ambitious goal of launching another manned mission to the moon by 2020. The editorial surmised that NASA’s lunar landing couldn’t happen until some time after 2030.

What’s worse is that the formerly advanced technologies the program started developing in 2005 have already begun to lose their luster.

Part of Obama’s plan is to remove older lunar technology, such as rockets and capsules.

In a Feb. 1 New York Times article, reporter Kenneth Chang wrote, “Mr. Obama’s proposal seeks to cancel the Ares I rocket, in development for four years as a replacement to the space shuttles.” Chang later wrote, “The request also would kill Orion, the crew capsule that was to sit atop the Ares I. The Orion is the only spacecraft in development that would be capable of traveling beyond low Earth orbit.”

Rather than utilize existing equipment, Obama will focus on the creation of technology that pushes the limits more so than the older programs.

Chang reported that Obama’s aspirations lie past the moon, as the president wants to eventually send a mission crew to Mars. Once NASA receives $18 billion in proposed funds, the agency is expected to develop the tools, vehicles and programs necessary to make long distance space travel possible.

The president’s speech included his thoughts on orbiting rocket fuel centers, weight reduction for rockets and life support systems able to operate with no need for repair or service from Earth indefinitely, Chang wrote.

The editorial said that along with those proposals, more powerful engines and advanced propulsion designs would be installed in the rockets to help them travel through space in weeks, as opposed to a year.

However, Obama’s proposals that are designed to save money have stirred up quite a bit of controversy.

Instead of continuing the programs implemented by the Bush administration, Chang wrote that Obama plans to fund NASA with an additional $6 billion. This money would finance space taxis, filling the void of the cancelled Ares 1 rocket.

The New York Times editorial board wrote, “The idea of hiring private companies to ferry astronauts and cargo to the space station is also risky and based on little more than faith that the commercial sector may be able to move faster and more cheaply than NASA.”

On the other hand, allowing the private industry to explore space could open up a very intense and lucrative space technology race within our own country. The foundation for it is already in place.

We have Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which makes up United Launch Alliance, and Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, led by PayPal founder Elon Musk. That’s a great start to securing the birthplace of a market for space technology and travel.

Although concerns surround how private companies might struggle in this sector, people must consider that our country is still using old technology.

The most gratuitous roadblock of any of this is Congress. Approval of the space budget would be enormous. The impact could position the U.S. as the world leader in space exploration and technology for decades to come.

Or it could start an ugly, deep and depressing slope.

Andrew Taylor is an economics senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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