Obama's Plan for NASA

As the legend goes, when the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez landed in what is now Mexico in 1519, he ordered the boats that brought him and his men there to be burned.  Obama seems to have something similar planned for NASA.

Although the MSM has largely ignored Barack Obama's plans for NASA, the issue is likely to bubble up during the general election campaign, if he's the Democratic nominee.  Here's why.

There's a potential confluence of two events - one possible and one planned: an Obama presidency and a mission shift already underway at NASA. 

The Space Shuttle program will end in 2010.  The Constellation program is not scheduled to begin manned flights until 2015.  Meanwhile, NASA faces dramatic job reductions among its 21,000 labor force at the close of the Shuttle Program.  For example, the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, FL faces a cut of 8,000 contractor jobs. The Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans could lose 1,300 of its 1,900 jobs.

The Constellation Program is the follow-on to the Shuttle program. NASA is in the early development stage of the new Ares 1 rocket and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).  The plan is for them to take astronauts to the moon which will become a staging area for the eventual exploration of Mars. (For a brief overview of the program see a three minute NASA video here.  And, an eleven minute CBS "60 Minutes" report on the project here.) 

Cortez, according to the story, burned his boats to force his men to move inland with no option of going back. The Shuttle program is, metaphorically, like Cortez's boats. After 2010, the Shuttles are gone. The Constellation project will provide the vehicles for the next big step in space exploration. That is unless Barack Obama becomes our 44th president.

The last paragraph in his 15-page "Plan For Lifetime Success Through Education" reads:

"Barack Obama's early education and K-12 plan package costs about $18 billion per year.  He will maintain fiscal responsibility and prevent an increase in the deficit by offsetting cuts and revenue sources in other parts of the government.  The early education plan will be paid for by delaying the NASA Constellation Program for five years, using purchase cards and negotiating power of the government to reduce costs of standardized procurement, auctioning surplus federal property, and reducing the erroneous payments identified by the Government Accountability Office, and closing the CEO pay deductibility loophole.  The rest of the plan will be funded using a small portion of the savings associated with fighting the war in Iraq." (highlight added)

Something interesting happens in the Obama campaign document entitled "Barack Obama's Plan For American Leadership in Space."  The "something" is that there's nothing in there about "American leadership in space." It states,

"As president, Obama will support the development of this vital new platform [CEV] to ensure that the United States' reliance on foreign space capabilities is limited to the minimum possible time period."

Translated into English, that means that he'll maintain the Constellation project at a minimum $500 million per year budget as the band takes an extended break between sets, taking their instruments with them.  And for how long does the U.S. postpone a new space transport capability?  Obama's answer is the "minimum possible time period."  (Now is that in human or dog years?)

In the meantime, the U.S. space program sits on the tarmac. This will free-up funding for his aggressive plans to federalize pre-school.  (For one non-MSM explanation of what that's about read here.)  Note that the final three paragraphs of Obama space plan are not about space exploration at all. They're about his education plan wherein he will:

  • Recruit High-Quality Math and Science Teachers
  • Enhance Science Instruction
  • Improve and Prioritize Science Assessments

Back to the Cortez analogy.  The space boats are being burned on schedule as the Shuttle program phases out.  The way forward is on the Ares 1 rocket and the CEV - Cortez's guns and horses.  But Capitan Hernando Obama says, "Men, let's keep the guns clean and the powder dry, but not feed the horses for five years while we sit here on the beach and hope." 

In the meantime what happens to NASA's cadre of scientists for five years?  The answer is they move on because putting the Constellation Program on hold for five years is tantamount to killing it.  (Would you want your dentist to perform a root canal on you after she returns from a five year sabbatical as a lifeguard in Tahiti?)  Those scientists that can, retire. Many of those that cannot retire find jobs elsewhere - maybe teaching High School math for Obama, or working in China's space program.  Then, at some indefinite "minimum" time down the road, the U.S. space program restarts and they come back.  Or not.

In the meantime, how do our astronauts get to the International Space Station?  Simple, they hitch rides on Russian space craft until the Chinese enter the space transport competition. 

USA Today quoted Obama's perspective on the space program.

"We're not going to have the engineers and the scientists to continue space exploration if we don't have kids who are able to read, write and compute."

By the same logic, we should also suspend medical research grants and close down the National Institute of Health because we're not going to have physicians and biologists if we don't have kids who are able to read, write and compute.  Yes? 

During the Q. & A. session at a campaign stop in Wyoming, Obama was asked about the nation's space program.  Here's a revealing account of his response written by Greg Zsidisin, the person who asked Obama "Why are you specifically pitting the space program against education, and where's the vision in shutting down the [human] space program?   

"‘I grew up on Star Trek,' Obama said. ‘I believe in the final frontier.' (Huh?)

"But Obama said he does not agree with the way the space program is now being run and thinks funding should be trimmed until the mission is clearer. (It's actually much clear than his intentions toward Iran and nuclear weapon.)

"‘NASA has lost focus and is no longer associated with inspiration,' he said. ‘I don't think our kids are watching the space shuttle launches. It used to be a remarkable thing. It doesn't even pass for news anymore.'  (Neither do heart transplants. So...should we stop them?)

"Obama seemed to resent my question. A little later, he addressed another on energy, and spoke of the need for an alternative energy effort. He concluded by turning to my direction and saying pointedly, ‘And that, sir, is what our next Apollo Program should be.'"

So there it is. The Global Social Worker aims to shift funds from space exploration to federal pre-schools.  Or is it to an alternative fuel?  Hard to figure.  

All this suggests the most poignant irony of this entire campaign season. 

Barack Obama, the candidate who has often been portrayed by some in the media as Kennedyesque, would leave the space exploration legacy of JFK sitting idle on the beach. Watching the boats burn.