Fine Structure

The End of Constellation

The White House unveiled a new direction for NASA today, cutting the Constellation program as expected. What else is changing? Let's take a look through the fact sheet:

Top of the list! $6 Billion more for NASA over five years! Okay, NASA is still way underfunded compared to defense, but let's not pretend that this isn't a step in the right direction. NASA has picked up some serious cash in the last year and although it's not enough to fund every project ever, there need to be constraints. NASA needs to learn to be ambitious and efficient and getting rid of constellation (more later...) and the shuttle is a part of this.

Constellation is done with. I think we were all pretty pleased when Bush announced that we'd be heading back to the Moon and eventually going to Mars via the Constellation program, but I had the feeling that it was a nebulous end goal. Why were we going back to the Moon? To build bases? For what? There was no real idea of what we were going to do at the Moon when we got there. This administration is based on forethought and using actual numbers to figure out where we should be going and it shows in this document. It is, however, up to us to execute on this direction in the coming decades.

Fund the ISS with partner nations until at least 2020. A lot of people say that the ISS is a waste of money. Things I'd like to see explained: what science is going to be done between the previously scheduled end of the ISS in 2012 and 2020? What was the cost split between the US and our partner nations? Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I think we need a permanent presence in space and this is our only option at the moment. All I know is that they play on "deploying new scientific facilities" which means the ISS is going to be HUGE.

New research. This is what we need. With nearly $11 Billion going to two separate projects (one strictly propulsion, the other general R&D), we'll hopefully see the technologies that will drive future space exploration come out of this investment. The past has proven that R&D is critical for new technologies and is a huge return into the economy. I can't wait to see more details on projects funded here.

Climate science. Regardless of how you feel about climate change, we're going to spend money to better understand how Earth works. End of story.

Investment in NASA itself. It's a little bloated and perhaps wasteful in spots but there are metric tons of smart people at NASA and this is hopefully going to trim the fat and keep the smarts, so to speak. I would almost go so far as to include this in the earlier research total since the document speaks of "spin-off technologies and potentially entire new industries" - that would make $15 Billion for research!

Scientific understanding of the universe. No money specifically mentioned but it does suggest that we're keeping the important stuff important: a Hubble successor (James Webb?), robotic Moon and Mars missions, Sun research and asteroid detection.

And of course, education. We need to fund our decades of new R&D with new scientists as well. Science and math education is how we're going to do it. I think this administration has already shown commitment to science and math, so I'm hopeful that it will continue.

Those are the specifics, what do you think about the new direction? A good bit of thought about the future or too much cash on a wasteful department? We're open to all sorts of discussion... ]