Obama's 'Space Summit'


Discovery launch. Source: NASA

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – FL – My head is spinning as I sit here waiting for President Obama to do what should have been done when the White House rolled out its budget for NASA: do the vision thing.

I have faith in POTUS to deliver the goods and explain his revolutionary approach to space exploration.

Here are a few things to remember as you watch the speech and listen to the spin:

The dramatic job loss that has so many people riled is not the result of the Obama White House shift in space. The shuttle retirement was actually set in stone by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. The shuttle fleet could fly on longer – each orbiter is rated to fly 100 flights – but the CAIB decided that it was time to move on to the next thing in space. Something safer.

Obama is also not responsible for the so-called “gap” between the shuttle and whatever is next. The gap is an artifact of inattention and meager funding over several years. Even before the CAIB gave us a date certain for retiring the shuttles, we knew the fleet could not – and should not – fly forever. And yet no one on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue had the persistence and forethought to insist the investment in a new ride be healthy and timely enough to give US astronauts seamless access to space on US vehicles once the orbiters were chalked and pickled in museums. George Bush painted a vision for space exploration that was bold and exciting – but it never got the funding it needed to get off the ground.

This is the hand Team Obama has been dealt. The shuttles are going away – and the program of record is way over budget and behind schedule. The gap is now a chasm – and those shuttle jobs cannot be saved no matter what.

So what to do? Obama could double down on the Bush vision, but the truth is that would be good money after bad. It also means NASA would have to deep-six the International Space Station at the end of 2015 (no money to pay for it – and the moonshot program know as Constellation) and would have to continue shorting budgets for technology development, earth sciences, robotic missions and aeronautics research.

Now imagine dropping the station into the Pacific in five years – after 25 years of construction it is finally all but complete – and in a position to yield some scientific discoveries. And imagine what kind of message this would send to the 15 other nations who are a part of the ISS project.

So couple all this with the fact that some things have changed since Bush announced his vision in 2004. The time now is ripe for a new brand of companies to make their mark in space. Why shouldn’t the government stimulate a new sector of the economy – instead of stifling it?


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6 Responses to “Obama's 'Space Summit'”

  1. andylevinson Says:

    So Obama shows up after flushing all the NASA workers jobs in the toilet…..now we are going to pay ex-soviet union taxi drivers to put americans into space…obama is a douche bag

    • victormata Says:

      Do you even read the articles, or do you just search T/S for the word “Obama” so you can insert snarky, fact-free comments? If you can prove your contentions, I’d be more than happy to acknowledge them.

  2. Larry Koehn Says:

    Going to an asteroid seems very, very strange — why? What is NASA or man (for that matter) looking for on an asteroid? We have robots that work quite well as seen recently with the recent rover missions on Mars, and they will work very well on asteroids. Man in orbit around Earth is sensible for garnering the latest about our Earth and about ourselves, but to go to an asteroid… why? Is man’s goal in space for endurance reasons, or is it to find evidence of life elsewhere, or is it a rock hunt? It is probably a combination of all three, but I can’t fathom an asteroid being a space bound objective for mankind. Robots can easily handle these oversized rocks orbiting our Sun, and let me stress again, that’s all they are – oversized rocks! Let the robots handle these precarious missions and leave man in a safer environment orbiting near Earth, and then maybe later, to the Moon and Mars.

    • Nathan Strange Says:

      There are some big benefits of going to an asteroid:

      – Building up our capability in Deep Space –

      There are real challenges to be solved if we are to learn how to do three year missions in deep space (3 years is how long you need in the event of an Apollo 13 type emergency on a Mars mission). So we are going to have to do “endurance flights” that build up to 3 year mission durations. So we might as well go somewhere on these flights. Since asteroids can be landed on without developing something like Altair (just Astronauts in MMU-like jet packs) the are a very cost-effective destination for these test flights.

      – Learning how to use resources on Asteroids –

      If we can get to the right kind of asteroid there may be resources there that we can use… especially for propellant. We need astronauts to do a thorough survey of an asteroid and to do tests out of what can be extracted. There are a lot of things that show up in Asteroid spectra that could be used as propellant in Hall thrusters or something like VASIMR… but which metal do we design engines to burn? Do we build something complex that can handle molten Iron, or can we get something easier to work with off of the asteroid like Bismuth, Indium, or Magnesium? Astronauts can survey asteroids and figure out how we can use them in a single mission… With robotic missions this would take at least 10 years.

      – Learning how to deflect potentially hazardous asteroids. –

      Again, astronauts can do a number of tests in a single mission that would take multiple robotic missions (which take 5 years to develop each).

      – A better understanding of the formation of the solar system –

      You can do spectacular science at near earth asteroids that tells you a lot about the history of Earth’s section of the solar nebula. Ground based observations tell you about groups of asteroids… robotic missions give you global surveys of 1 or two asteroids at a time… astronauts will help you understand individual regions of an asteroid. Asteroids are like mountains in space… you can see the whole mountain range from far away, then you can look at individual mountains by flying over them in an airplane… but when you climb the mountain yourself you see sooo much more. These astronauts will be our mountain climbers.

  3. jomar Says:

    Miles, you are being way too easy on Obama. True he did not create the manned spaceflight gap, but he has done zero to try and close it. In fact he does nothing but widen it. Shuttle flights could be extended, but he has chosen not to. Obama’s speech had ever thing to do with politics and nothing to do with vision. Orion was only saved in a token way, to help this fall with elections in Colorado. How does flying Orion unmanned to the ISS to serve as a lifeboat reduce reliance on the Russians? They will still be the only game in town to get to the ISS. Those Soyuz spacecraft will still be attached to the ISS and they will still be the true lifeboats in case the ISS crew has to leave the station. Orion will be there (if it is really ever flown) as a token. Think about it, if you are in the ISS, would you choose the tried and proven Soyuz or some capsule with very little track record to come home.
    Now if the plan was for NASA to manned rate the Atlas 5 or Delta 4, and use Orion as the primary means to get to ISS, that’s is another story, and that would be a true plan. But that is not the plan. Shuttle derived rockets could quickly give NASA a new heavy lift rocket, but no that is not the plan. Even if NASA could develop a new heavy lift rocket by 2015, it has no mission. Obama has no vision for NASA. Why should he. He runs with the crowd that always thought manned space flight was a huge waste of money and they cannot see the return on investment. Funny because while NASA could spend more wisely, they are one of the few government agencies that actually does have a return on investment.
    Obama’s plan to so vague, he might as well say NASA is researching into warp drives so we can go to the stars by 2030.
    Sad part with all billions of dollars wasted by this administration on the so called stimulus money, that money could not be found for NASA is a crime. Cash for clunkers would have funded reducing the manned spaceflight gap alone. That someone who does not like the spotlight like Neal Armstrong would speak out says it all.

  4. dogman Says:


    Excellent article. Nobody really spelled out the alternatives as clearly before.

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