In the Future, Tense

April 14, 2010

The End of Space as We Know It?

President Obama is spending part of Tax day giving a major address on the future of US space policy.

As you might guess from the fact that I keep writing space operas and have been married to a rocket scientist for the past twelve years, I am a space booster.  I truly believe space exploration is important.  And cool.  Really cool.  Wanna hear my theory about life on Europa?  No, seriously.  I’m betting we’ve got neighbors and…

Okay, okay.  The Europa thing can wait.

But in all seriousness, I do think beyond reasons of national pride that exploration of the solar system and beyond is important.  So, you might expect I was terribly upset when President Obama announced the Constellation program created by President Bush to build new rockets to take humans back to the Moon would be cut.

Actually, no.

The Constellation program was poorly-thought-out and drastically under-funded.  It was sprung on the professional space community pretty much without consultation or warning and had the net effect of suddenly moving money from useful research and tech development (such as brought us the Mars rovers) to a haphazard attempt to recreate the old Apollo program.  In short, it was, a lousy idea.  I’m actually glad it’s been cancelled.  Maybe now we can quit trying to re-do Apollo on a shoestring and get on with real work which will allow us to do basic space exploration and improve the technology that is going to take crewed missions further out than we’ve been yet.

That certainly seems to be the plan at NASA.  The following are highlights from details of the Workforce Breakdown under NASA’s 2011 Budget.  Here are just a few projects in the works:

At the Kennedy Space Center:

Commercial Crew Development: New Program Office at KSC, in partnership with a Deputy Program Manager at JSC, will manage $500 million in FY 2011 and $5.8 billion over five years, to foster private sector transportation services to Earth orbit

At Johnson Space Center:

– Commercial Crew Development: New Deputy Program Manager to manage, with KSC’s (Kennedy Space Center, see above) Program Office, $500 million in FY 2011 and $5.8 billion over five years to foster private sector transportation services to Earth orbit.

– Commercial Cargo: The FY 2011 Budget provides a onetime increase of $312 million to add new capabilities and demonstrations to this program, and to ensure commercial cargo servicing of the ISS through 2020.

Marshall Space Flight Center:

– Heavy Lift and Propulsion Research and Development Program: New Program Office to manage $559 million in FY 2011 and $3.1 billion over five years to develop nextgeneration engines and propulsion technologies.

– Exploration Precursor Robotic Program: New Program Office to manage approximately $105 million in FY 2011 and $2.6 billion over five years allocated to scout locations for eventual human visits.

Langly Research Center:

-Game Changing Development: New Program Office to manage $124 million in FY 2011 and $1.5 billion over five years to foster innovate research and development projects that have the potential to revolutionize spaceflight.

Glenn Research Center:

– Exploration Technology Development and Demonstration Program: New Program Office to manage $223 million in FY 2011 and $1.8 billion over five years to mature key exploration technologies through laboratory, ground and flight tests.

Ames Research Center

-Exploration Scouts: New Program Office as part of Exploration’s Precursor Robotic Missions effort to manage approximately $20 million in FY 2011 and $400 million over five years allocated to scout locations for eventual human visits with a focus on small, competed robotic missions.

– Small Satellite Subsystem Technology: New Program Office to manage $6 million in FY 2011 and $126 million over five years in research and development in this important technology area.

– Edison Small Satellite Demonstrations: New Program Office to manage $10 million in FY 2011 and $90 million over five years to demonstrate key small satellite capabilities.

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