Thursday, November 22, 2007

Obama Talks Space - Sort of

Senator Barak Obama has become the second Democratic candidate for President to say something important on future space policy, but he did it indirectly, as an aside to his education plan. To pay for an $18B/year increase in Federal aid to education, one of his solutions is to delay NASA's Constellation program for five years.

COMMENT: It's not at all clear how much money you could free up this way, and NASA supporters are naturally deeply cynical about the idea that any major cuts would eventually be restored. It's easy to say "we'll delay a program five years," but it's extremely difficult to do it without causing significant and permanent damage. You have to find a level of spending which will maintain the critical workforce and minimize the "brain drain" over those years, while also maintaining the physical infrastructure and keeping enough work going to ensure the contractors and NASA centers are capable of completing the program eventually. I'm not arguing NASA is sacred or that Constellation must be executed as it stands today. I do, however, think that this plan will be a disaster for human spaceflight. We will see a mass exodus of top engineers, managers, and scientists into related fields like private spaceflight and aviation, and the experienced astronauts who would have been first to fly the Orion CEV will likely be gone, too.

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