Should NASA Die? People around Central Florida were anxiously awaiting President Obama’s State of the Union address, mostly hoping to hear word about the future of NASA and the space program. During a campaign stop here before his election, he promised that NASA and space exploration would thrive under his administration.
Politicians and NASA
It turns out, that was pretty much a lie to get elected (note: all politicians lie for votes, not just Democrats). The budget proposal from the White House gives roughly $6 Billion to NASA, which isn’t enough for Constellation and Ares. Manned space flight is up to the Russians now.
Or is it? I’m hearing quite a bit of whining lately about the impact this decision will have on jobs in the community, both directly at NASA and the trickle-down effect to other businesses that rely upon a thriving industry in the region. If this were the whole story, they’d be right.
Should NASA Die Or Go Private?
It’s not the whole story, though. Obama is presenting the notion that it’s time to privatize space travel. No longer should it be the realm of the U.S. Government to foot the whole bill, but rather let profit-driven industry take over. It’s not such a radical idea. In fact, maybe it’s time.
We don’t expect the government to run the airlines for us, though we do expect it to provide oversight. If we followed Obama’s proposal, NASA would have to change into a governing body that provides regulations to private industry in the business of space travel.
Companies like Boeing, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, or even Virgin Galactic. NASA already provides millions of dollars to some of organizations to develop experimental spacecraft.
The essential change in vision is to get these businesses off the taxpayer’s backs and into a direct line of business with other customers, including commercial, foreign governments, and even personal clients. That isn’t to suggest that the U.S. government will no longer fund space exploration; it will. It’s just that it won’t have to hold the entire infrastructure up by itself.
The Promise of Jobs
Change is scary to many people. Our local government folks are lamenting the loss of jobs. No doubt, there will be some loss of jobs. There will also be new opportunities. Private industry will need experienced employees to succeed.
Those folks who may no longer work for NASA will likely find willing employers waiting for them on a new project. I’m not suggesting this is going to be an easy or even equitable change when it comes down to an individual basis.
Killing Constellation and Ares will drop jobs at NASA and the sub-contractors who are designing and building it. Some of those folks will get jobs elsewhere in private industry, some surely won’t. There’s also no guarantee all of those jobs will stay within the Space Coast region (not all of them are there now).
That’s the real concern of our local politicians. They want thriving jobs HERE, so people and businesses will pay taxes HERE.
From the perspective of the whole nation’s needs, I think it’s a good direction. I also think that a number of those private industries will certainly come here (in addition to those at are here now) because this is where you find the experienced employees and infrastructure to support space travel.
It’s a gamble, but one I’d be willing to take.
The current economy simply isn’t going to provide for rockets to the moon, but it’s a good time to open up an industry to entrepreneurs willing to provide a service. NASA would become more like the FAA than it’s old self, providing oversight and governance for the space travel industry.
My only fear of this arrangement is the possible inclusion of the TSA.
NASA Is A Political Football
Of course, much of this is moot. Obama can propose all he wants, but Congress sets the budget. Congress has hundreds of elected officials, many from states and districts, including businesses that profit from the existing system.
Sure, it’s a drain on the American taxpayer, but that’s never stopped any politician from spending money before.
Bill Nelson and other Florida politicians are surely working the phones and pressing hands to keep their cash-cow churning out milk, even if the cow is nearly dead. Never mind that someone is willing to open a dairy store and sell us milk.
The Rise of SpaceX and Commercial Space Travel
Private companies, rather than governments, conduct commercial space travel. Private companies have been able to do things like send people into space and support the International Space Station. This industry has seen much growth recently, with SpaceX leading the charge.
SpaceX is a commercial space company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk. SpaceX’s ultimate goal is to make it possible for people to live on other planets. Still, they are also working on more immediate projects like sending satellites into orbit and transporting supplies to the International Space Station. SpaceX has successfully made space travel more accessible than ever before.
Blue Origin is a space travel company founded by Jeff Bezos. He is the founder of Amazon.com. Blue Origin’s mission is to preserve Earth by identifying additional material and energy resources and relocating the industries that are likely to harm Earth to space.
So far, they have been pretty successful, and space travel is becoming more and more accessible. Hey, they shot William Shatner into space for a few minutes.
Commercial space travel is rising, thanks to companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. This is good news for everyone, as it could lead to even more space exploration and discovery in the years to come. Who knows what we’ll learn about our universe once private companies fully involve space travel?
SpaceX and Blue Origin believe in self-landing spacecraft and operational reusability as the only way to lower the cost of access to space.
What is the Relevance of NASA in the age of Commercial Space Travel?
Asking questions about NASA’s relevance in the modern age isn’t a slap in their face. I grew up 50 miles from Kennedy Space Center and watched many Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle launches.
The men and women on those flights were and still are my heroes. They took a great risk in the infancy of space flight, and it cost the lives of some of those astronauts.
We would not have the progress we see today if not for NASA and the agency’s early work to explore beyond our planet.
Now we see a pivot in NASA’s mission. Its role now is more of guidance and governance than operational.
Ultimately, we don’t think that NASA should die. However, it’s mission statement is out of alignment with the changes in the space industry.
NASA Mission Statement
NASA explores the unknown in air and space, innovates for the benefit of humanity, and inspires the world through discovery.
It’s not just human space flight moving to foreign and commercial operations, but also satellite and rovers.
NASA, as an agency, needs to evolve beyond its legendary origins. The modern mission isn’t as exciting as when NASA started, but that’s because the people of NASA did the hard work to allow us to make such progress as we see now.
Check our review of the Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit at Kenndy Space Center.