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Discovery, We Hardly Knew Ye

Americans should lose the nostalgia for NASA and look to the future of private space flight for inspiration.

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

April 18, 2012 - 12:13 pm
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Four hundred million dollars would be only half the request, as it was last year, and once again, this will only delay the day that we are no longer reliant on the Russians. Speaking of which, veteran astronaut Anna Fisher seems to be out of the loop as well:

Former NASA astronaut and “the first mother to fly in space” Dr. Anna Fisher took a veiled shot at President Obama and his space policies Tuesday during an interview with a local anchor at Dulles International Airport where Discovery was making its last flight before being retired at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Fisher pulled a little boy named Ethan out of the crowd who was dressed up as a NASA pilot and asked him if he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up, which he answered in the affirmative.

“Any advice for Ethan, an aspiring astronaut?” she asked her mom.

“Study Russian,” Fisher quipped, to laughter.

Very funny. It’s not actually a dig at Obama (though it may have been intended to be). It also reveals ignorance about what’s going on. Obama planned to get commercial replacements up as soon as possible, and sooner than Constellation would have been operational, but Congress insisted instead on starving the Commercial Crew Program and funding rockets that NASA doesn’t need because they provide constituent jobs and campaign donations.

Unfortunately, many share Dr. Krauthammer’s belief that the agency just needs more money. Over 25,000 people have signed a White House petition to have NASA get one percent of the federal budget (which it used to perennially receive in the 1980s  and ’90s). The problem is that doubling the budget won’t help if Congress continues to force the agency to waste it, as with the SLS. It also implies that NASA has taken a massive cut, when in fact the only reason that its budget has gone from about a percent to half a percent is that the size of the federal budget doubled in recent years. NASA’s budget, while somewhat reduced, is still about what it has been traditionally in absolute terms. What the agency needs is not more money, but the ability to spend the money it has on actual space exploration and technology development instead of prestige rockets.

Anyway, not everyone was sad yesterday. Reason TV took a mocking victory lap for private space (though I’m pretty sure that it’s an exaggeration to say that Richard Branson has signed up “more stars than there are in heaven” for his suborbital excursions). Perhaps, in less than two weeks, when SpaceX plans their first launch to the International Space Station with their Dragon capsule, and people contrast the vision of the newly earth-bound Shuttle with the space-bound private rocket, the Shuttle/Apollo nostalgia will subside, and more  Americans will start to recognize our true future in human spaceflight.

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Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.
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