Friday, April 16, 2010

Obama´s Plan For NASA

Today, President Obama outlined his new strategy for NASA in a speech at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida (transcription of the speech).

I've talked about the budget proposal before (when it was simply a proposal) and as I was then, I'm still quite pleased with the prospect.

As previously mentioned, the budget of NASA will be increased by $6 billion over the next 5 years. And most of the increase is intended to go towards fairly specific goals, such as more exploration of the solar system, a replacement for Hubble, a new heavy-lift vehicle and an extension of the ISS.
All very cool and inspiring projects, which I'll talk about next.

The actual plan
In my opinion, the most important aspects of the new plan for NASA are (my comments are below the actual text from the plan):
  • Increases NASA’s budget by $6 billion over 5 years.
    - This one is easy; an increase in funding is always good.
  • Begins major work on building a new heavy lift rocket sooner, with a commitment to decide in 2015 on the specific heavy-lift rocket that will take us deeper into space.
  • Restructures Constellation and directs NASA to develop the Orion crew capsule effort in order to provide stand-by emergency escape capabilities for the Space Station – thereby reducing our reliance on foreign providers.
    - These two are essential for the future manned space exploration.
    So the Constellation program was cancelled; big deal, it turned out to be a huge money drain anyway. At least this way we'll reuse the knowledge gained from Constellation.
    The heavy-lift vehicle will, at first allow NASA to launch stuff into space independent of the Russians (once the Shuttle program is scrapped), and over a longer period, enable us to launch heavier space exploring material into space furthering the reach of manned space exploration.
  • Launches a steady stream of precursor robotic exploration missions to scout locations and demonstrate technologies to increase the safety and capability of future human missions, while also providing scientific dividends.
    - This one is pure science goodness. Obama mentions a replacement for Hubble, exploring the planets and their moons and probing the Sun's atmosphere and more.  This is a good thing, we need to understand the solar system better if we are to send people far away on missions.
  • Increases the number of astronaut days in space by 3,500 over the next decade, extends the life of the International Space Station, likely beyond 2020, and enables the launching of astronauts on new vehicles from the Kennedy Space Center 1- 2 years sooner.
    - I added this one because the intention is to extend the life of the ISS. Now that is is almost complete, we need to have some time were we can use it at full capacity.
  • Makes strategic investments to develop critical knowledge, technologies, and capabilities to expand long-duration human exploration into deep space in a more efficient and safe manner, thus getting us to more destinations in deep space sooner.
    "By the mid-2030s I believe we can send people to orbit Mars and bring them safely back to Earth," Obama said. Landing on Mars will follow, and "I expect to be around to see it," he said."
    - "Bloody hell, I can't wait", BarMonger said.
    So we won't be going to the Moon (or at least NASA won't take us there) but we'll go explore the solar system and eventually land people on Mars. This is what NASA is all about, breaking the space frontier and taking mankind where we've never gone before. And it's just so much cooler than another landing on the Moon.

My opinion
All in all, I'm as pleased as I was when the proposal was made in February. The new plan is even slightly more specific. And having a specific plan will enable NASA to spend their money were it matters and not waste them on projects like Constellation.

You should go read the Bad Astronomer's opinion on this plan as well.