Astronomy

The Impact of Obamas NASA Plan



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President Obama's vision for the future of space exploration includes a trip to Mars, which is obviously an interesting idea.  The reality is that such a trip, if it ever materializes, would happen long after the current President leaves office.  It is interesting to evaluate the fiscal priorities of a President when it comes to programs that will develop over the period of decades.  Some may argue that current plans can always be changed by future Presidents, and this true.  However, there is some momentum that is created by certain Presidents, particularly when they create and fund particular programs.  There is no guarantee that these programs will come to fruition, but like-minded Presidents may keep them going for a long time.  With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on the impact of Obama's NASA plan.

Short-term losses

The Space Shuttle program is set to end in the current year.  Some employees may have hoped that the program would be extended, but most probably knew that the Shuttle's days were numbered.  NASA estimates that many jobs may be lost in the short-term, as the Shuttle program draws to a close.  Despite the fact that many people who work on the Shuttle are highly-skilled, it may be difficult for them to easily transition to other projects, and without immediate NASA funding they may be out of work.  This is obviously troubling to NASA and their industry partners, as adding job losses to the current economic climate is not exactly welcome news.   

Change in direction

Another aspects of President Obama's plan involves the cancellation of the Constellation program, which was supposed to be the next phase of manned spacecraft.  The combination of retiring the Shuttle and cancelling the Constellation program makes the United States dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsule if they want to transport people into space.  The plan is for commercial solutions to emerge over time, but this could take years.  Recently, noted astronauts such as Neil Armstrong sent a letter to the President urging him to reconsider.  The challenge is knowing if the Constellation program would have yielded the proper results and stay within budget and timeline.

Long-term solutions

The astronauts in question did express happiness with the President in terms of total funding.  The Obama plan is to increase the amount of money spent on space exploration but to allocate additional funding for research and alternative solutions.  Spending money on research and development is always an intriguing prospect, but sometimes research money can yield few tangible results.  The NASA budget is massive, and there are likely to be critics who worry that expenditures without direction may be a poor use of taxpayer dollars.  In addition, future commercial solutions are also an interesting idea, but when profit becomes a focus, there can be different priorities than those of a government agency.  For now, the philosophy of space exploration is changing and it will likely be decades before people know if Obama's vision is wise or based on wishful thinking. 

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