Thursday, February 4, 2010

The New Plan for NASA

The headline from the new NASA budget was the cancellation of the plan to get back to the Moon by 2020. Good riddance, as far as I am concerned; who wants to go back to the Moon?

But as James Cameron explains, there is a lot more to the administration's plan than that:

Last year President Obama instructed the Augustine commission to report on the likely prognosis for NASA's exploration activities. After months of study, the conclusions the panel released in October were gloomy. The Constellation program, designed to put humans back on the moon by 2020, could not possibly succeed within that time frame or budgeted amount, it reported.

In response, the president and NASA have crafted a bold plan that truly makes possible this nation's dreams for space. Their plan calls for the full embrace of commercial solutions for transporting astronauts to low Earth orbit after the space shuttle is retired this year. This frees NASA to do what it does best: deep space exploration, both robotic and human. By selecting commercial solutions for transportation to the international space station, NASA is empowering American free enterprise to do what it does best: develop technology quickly and efficiently in a competitive environment. . . .

The money saved will be plowed into research and development of robotic explorers that will act as precursors and technology demonstrators, paving the way for human exploration of the moon, asteroids and Mars. Additional funding has been committed to the development of advanced propulsion technology, which can bring down the cost of spaceflight.

The idea is that the government has taken the technology of reaching low earth orbit that private companies can now take it over, and certainly a lot of entrepreneurs are eager to try. Getting to Mars, though, still requires a huge technological leap that only the government can afford, if it is even possible at all.

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