America’s Crisis in Space

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by Frank V. Vernuccio, Jr., J.D.

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Frank V. Vernuccio, Jr., J.D., the editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government, brings his 30 years of experience in government and professional writing and broadcast journalism to your audience. Vernuccio provides insights that captivate listeners.

America’s return to human space flight capability has been pushed yet again into the future.

The Orion spacecraft, already in the relatively distant future of 2021, has been pushed back again to 2023. That date would mean that NASA manned spacecraft would be absent from space for a stunning 12 years, since the Space Shuttle Atlantis mission of July 2011.

The gap was to be filled by the Constellation spaceflight system, which President Obama cancelled, leaving the United States with no domestic human spaceflight capability. Constellation was to be used for both earth orbital missions and a return to the moon.

According to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) “Once again, the Obama administration is choosing to delay deep space exploration priorities such as Orion and the Space Launch System that will take U.S. astronauts to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. While this administration has consistently cut funding for these programs and delayed their development, Congress has consistently restored funding as part of our commitment to maintaining American leadership in space. We must chart a compelling course for our nation’s space program so that we can continue to inspire future generations of scientists, engineers and explorers. I urge this administration to follow the lead of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s NASA Authorization Act to fully fund NASA’s exploration programs.”

The administration’s FY16 budget request proposed cuts of more than $440 million for the programs while earth science accounts have increased by 63 percent during the past eight years. Thirteen agencies do climate research, but only one conducts space exploration.

According to NASA, the “Orion spacecraft is built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. Orion will launch on NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System.”

Many have expressed deep concern that NASA has been politicized by the Obama Administration. It has been charged that the space agency has been mainly used to further the White House’s environmental agenda. They point to the diversion of funds from traditional efforts such as manned space flight and towards climate change.

In 2010, several former APOLLO program astronauts wrote to the White House to oppose the Administration’s controversial new direction for NASA, noting that “Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity. America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.”

Critics of the White House also point to bizarre comments made by Charles Bolden, whom the President appointed to run the space agency. Shortly after his appointment, Bolden, speaking in Cairo, stated

“…before I became the NASA administrator [President Obama] charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science.”

In other comments, Bolden stated that his most important task as head of NASA was to reach out to Muslims.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) has introduced legislation to de-politicize the space agency.

“I authored the Space Leadership Preservation Act which would make NASA more professional and less political by establishing a long-term NASA Administrator who overlaps presidential administrations, creating a board to drive the vision for NASA exploration, and allowing NASA to develop spacecraft using long term contracts. This legislation would provide NASA with stability and authority to pursue our universe’s most pressing questions.”

Rep. Steven Palazzo, (R-Mississippi) the House of Representatives Space subcommittee chair, applauded a budget bill earlier this year that rebalanced the space agency’s budget towards NASA’s traditional activities.

By putting off the lion’s share of funding to long after it has left office, the Obama Administration may have eluded the harsh criticism it may otherwise have faced if it had simply stated that it was defunding NASA’s human spaceflight program.

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