Saturday, January 03, 2009

Obama's Yes We Can In Space. has published an interesting story about the incoming Obama Administration's plans for America's space programs. That's right, programs not program: the military and the civilian wings.

George W. Bush got lots of grief for militarizing space with his national security emphasis on America's space policy. Undeserved, by the way. But Bush's NASA also moved to expand civilian options for launch vehicle with its competition for a private sector replacement to the shuttle. Also Bush's regulators at the FAA helped to make it possible for Burt Rutan to launch SpaceShipOne into space, and have been very helpful in setting up a favorable regulatory regime for the new private space programs.

Now the incoming Obama administration is considering breaking the barriers between the Pentagon and NASA and having America's two government spacefaring organizations share resources.
"President-elect Barack Obama will probably tear down long-standing barriers between the U.S.’s civilian and military space programs to speed up a mission to the moon amid the prospect of a new space race with China.

"Obama’s transition team is considering a collaboration between the Defense Department and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration because military rockets may be cheaper and ready sooner than the space agency’s planned launch vehicle, which isn’t slated to fly until 2015, according to people who’ve discussed the idea with the Obama team.

"The potential change comes as Pentagon concerns are rising over China’s space ambitions because of what is perceived as an eventual threat to U.S. defense satellites, the lofty battlefield eyes of the military." (Here.)

At first glance this appears positive. Combining the military and the civilian wings of America's space program instantly increases the resources available to each. Also, if I may, it takes two wings to fly, you know. Ultimately, a serious American government space program will look more like a military organization than it does now.

Space enthusiasts spend enormous energy and time trying to figure out how to get the younger generation more interested in space exploration. Recommendations include making space exploration be about the coolness of astronomy, searching for alien life, saving humanity through space colonization, saving the Earth through space industry, or learning about other planets to better understand and save our own. For example, if we can understand why Venus became a greenhouse hothouse, maybe we can prevent it happening here. If we can understand why Mars lost its magnetic field, maybe we can prevent it happening here. If we can beam clean energy from orbit, maybe we can slow down pollution on Earth. If we can strip mine the asteroids, maybe we can preserve our own planet. Call it Greenspace.

But space enthusiasts have another option for increasing the glamorous allure of space. Make space exploration about something that is part of humanity's soul: nationalism. Make the space program about serving the country, throw in uniforms and ranks, and we'll have no shortage or recruits. Call it Spacefleet.


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