Thursday, May 27, 2010
Obama Plan Faces More Congressional Criticism
President Obama's plan to scrap the Constellation program returning astronauts to the moon continues to face criticism on Capitol Hill.
As I've said before, I'm cautiously optimistic about the new plan, which funnels more money into robotic science missions, and aims to send astronauts to an asteroid in 2025 and to Mars a decade later. Ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station, meanwhile, would be handed over to the private sector.
This last part is probably the most contentious aspect of the new vision for NASA (more than abandoning a return to the Moon). So far it is not clear how exactly this will work... or at least, NASA and the administration have done an inadequate job of explaining to the public how this will work. What sort of government involvement will there be for these private launches? Will the government be in charge of mission control? Who will be training the astronauts? Will it be as safe, and will the technology really be ready in the next five years?
Of course, private industry has been building military aircraft for the government for many years, and no one is worried about Boeing or Lockheed having too much control over what our pilots fly, or whether we can trust private industry to make an aircraft safe. We ask them to build something, we take bids and they build it. And it seems to work out pretty well, for the most part.
If this is what the President has in mind, we probably shouldn't worry too much about it. If it can bring down some of the costs of space travel (by making the industry more competitive), that's a great step forward, especially since budget woes have always been one of the most serious obstacles for NASA's progress. But the answers, so far, have been unsatisfactory, and Congress is going to need more information before they sign on.