Rumours are circulating that President Obama plans to scrap NASA’s new generation of rockets. It’s been leaked that his budget next Monday won’t include cash for the Constellation program, a series of spacecraft designed to replace the ageing Shuttle, and return us to the moon by 2020.
If that’s true, I’m incredibly disappointed. I understand that in a time of global economic turbulence, space exploration may not be Obama’s top priority, but his new vision for NASA seems incredibly short-sighted.
Instead of “boldy going”, astronauts will spend another ten years floating around the International Space Station. NASA will concentrate on Earth-based projects – mostly climate change related – and private companies will take over the Space Shuttle’s job of ferrying cargo in to orbit. The moon and Mars will just have to wait, it seems.
This worries me, but not because of some romantic idea of humans exploring the final frontier – my concerns are far more practical. I believe getting off Earth and colonising other planets is essential for the continuation of the human race. At the moment we’ve got all eggs in the proverbial basket – if an asteroid were to strike Earth, it could potentially wipe us out completely. Colonisation simply spreads the risk.
Building a base on the moon and then eventually Mars would not only be an incredible feat of human ingenuity, but also a kind of species-wide insurance policy. It’s a project that would take decades, and unfortunately politicians only think in four-year terms. I understand that Obama is under attack because of his healthcare plans, and the budget has to be balanced somehow, but cutting Constellation isn’t the answer.