Sunday, June 8, 2008

the future of NASA

It's official. Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. The next six months will be a constant barrage of advertisements and debates, addressing the war, the economy, and foreign and domestic policy. But where does he stand on the space program? Although Obama has been vague about his space politics (to be fair, all of the major candidates have), he has stated that if elected, he will significantly cut funding to NASA's Constellation program, delaying projects for at least five years. The Constellation program focuses on missions to the Moon and Mars, and is one of NASA's most important initiatives for developing new technology. The cuts in funding would go towards developing a nationalized early-education program for children, which has the potential to be a great step forward for our country. However, it's frustrating and disheartening to see space exploration pitted against education, especially when trillions are going towards defense.

At a campaign rally in Wyoming, Obama stated, "NASA has lost focus and is no longer associated with inspiration...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." I don't disagree with these statements, but I also don't believe that space exploration should be limited because it's no longer considered trendy.

And what does Obama's policy mean for Kibo, the international space laboratory nearly 25 years in the making? Kibo, Japanese for 'hope,' is nearly complete, and is designed to function for at least 10 years (though it could operate for up to two decades). 14 nations, including the U.S. and Japan, have invested in the station, but if NASA were to pull out, the project would face early shutdown. The United States signed a treaty requiring that the European Space Agency gets at least 10 years of use from the lab. This matter is as much about foreign policy as it is about space exploration. With so much up in the air, it's not presumptuous to wonder whether Obama would pull NASA out of Kibo ahead of schedule.

Kibo is more than a space laboratory, it's a symbol for international cooperation. It's an opportunity for some of the most amazing minds across the world to work together towards a greater goal, and could eventually aid us in building a base on the Moon. And the Constellation program is a symbol for the greatness that humanity is capable of achieving. It represents our collective desire to discover, explore, learn and understand. Even if no one's watching it on television.

To learn more about Obama's views on space, check out these essays at The Space Review:
Obama's Modest Proposal Part 1
Obama's Modest Proposal Part 2
Obama's Modest Proposal Part 3

Feeling inspired to learn more about America's history in space exploration? Discovery Channel starts airing their mini-series When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions this week.

images: NASA, Andrews Space & Technology

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