EnviroReporter.com – February 1, 2010
The future of manned space exploration may be revealed Monday when President Obama unveils his 2011 budget request for NASA. The budget’s approval by Congress may also determine the future of 28 squirrel monkeys and renewed animal radiation experiments.
Obama’s budget will request an extra $6 billion over five years to develop a commercial spacecraft that could taxi astronauts into low earth orbit, according to a background briefing from an Administration official Sunday. Obama’s 2011 budget for NASA increases funding $276 million to $19 billion.
Much like the Department of Defense looking to private contractors to ferry its satellites into space, NASA will have to do the same if the president isn’t stymied by Congress. Congressional delegations from Alabama, Florida and Texas will undoubtedly be upset with no additional funding to continue President Bush’s ambitious Constellation initiative launched in 2004.
Constellation envisioned sending humans back to the Moon by 2020 with Mars exploration to follow. An Obama commission has already reported that it would take at least $3 billion a year to finance human spaceflight beyond Earth and extend the International Space Station’s life until 2020. Subsequent yearly increases will bring it to $21 billion in 2015. NASA would receive $100 billion over the next five years with Congressional approval.
The space agency will run out of rockets to put humans in space once the Space Shuttle is retired this year, after four more flights, costing 7,000 jobs. American astronauts will have to hitch rides into space now that two new rockets, the Ares I, and the larger Ares V have been cut.
President Obama has a fight on his hands with Congress over this radical departure in NASA focus. Last year, lawmakers made cuts to Constellation programs subject to their approval. That provision sent a “direct message that the Congress believes Constellation is, and should remain, the future of America’s human space flight program,” wrote Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., in December.
America’s manned space program is at a crossroads. Most if not all NASA missions can be completed robotically, leaving Constellation supporters with the main argument that human exploration inspires the nation. That powerful notion worked during the Cold War, but may not now considering the astronomical cost of keeping people alive in the forbidding environment of space.
The question of unmanned space exploration also gives cause to re-examine of NASA’s claimed need to irradiate primates to see how humans in space will function when bombarded with intense radiation outside the protective atmosphere of the Earth. It also reignite debate over the space agency’s high-flying schemes based on outdated notions of space exploration first envisioned by Nazis that have been eclipsed by technological advancements in robotics.
NASA’S Nazi Past
Bush’s vision for space exploration actually came from the leader of a large group of 120 German scientists captured at the end of World War II, Waffen SS-Sturmbannführer Wernher von Braun.
Von Braun’s feared V-2 rocket rained death and destruction upon English and Belgian civilians during the London Blitz. The weapons were built by concentration camp slaves who died by the thousands working on them. The prisoners perished from starvation, poisoning and execution.
But apparently one man’s Nazi is another man’s hero.
“Wernher von Braun is, without doubt, the greatest rocket scientist in history,” according to NASA’s website biography. “His crowning achievement, as head of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, was to lead the development of the Saturn V booster rocket that helped land the first men on the Moon in July 1969.”