I’ve been digesting a lot of the press coverage and advocacy that has come out against the decision to stop the Constellation space exploration project and have had a fair amount of cognitive dissonance as a result. If you check my other recent posts on this point some of what follows will be familiar. While I’ve managed to avoid the Cold War revisionist history that the Columbia Journalism Review found, I do see a similarity – a rhetorical approach that manages to ignore certain facts rather than construct factual opposing arguments.
Most of the factual forgetting I have run across seems to think that the Obama Administration proposed the termination of the Space Shuttle (this was part of Constellation). There was always going to be a gap where riding Soyuz rockets to get to space. We failed on that point a long time ago.
The notion that national prestige is connected to the ability of a federal agency to build, launch and operate spacecraft also manages to ignore some facts of current space efforts. First, contractors, and not government employees, do a great deal of the work involved in human exploration. A commercial company demonstrated the ability to launch and reuse a suborbital vehicle six years ago. A larger cousin of that vehicle will operate passenger flights within another six years (perhaps much sooner).
That somehow commercial concerns are not capable of doing on their own what they’ve been helping NASA and the military do for over a decade is also a stretch I would think it reflects just as well on the U.S. if those companies can take over the busy work from NASA, leaving the agency to focus on the leading edge of exploration. This narrow conception of national prestige – the power of the state’s apparatus – sounds like something you’d hear from the Soviets or the Chinese.
Getting back to the actual issue – the new plan to break our monotonous hold on low earth orbit – I don’t know if it will be successful. The last time this country sent humans past orbit I hadn’t learned to walk. However, this plan represents enough of a break from past practice that I think it deserves a chance. I think if the administration can convince the right members of Congress that steps will be taken to protect local jobs (as President Obama did last week in Florida), I think resistance will weaken.