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A New Mission for NASA?

The Obama Administration is taking a bold new step for mankind… into the private sector.

From the NY Times: the 2010 budget proposal for NASA will shut down the Constellation program (rockets and spacecraft designed to replace the aging space shuttle fleet) and make a permanent Moon base the enduring dream of sci-fi movies. And that’s probably a good thing.

Under the new budget’s vision, NASA may transform from a vertically integrated, space exploration organization, into an advisory committee for astronautics. Like the FAA. Spacecraft and spaceplanes will become the projects of the private sector, just like the airline industry.

Nothing spurs innovation like the private sector, so this could be a brilliant long-term strategy. But escaping the Earth’s 9.8 m/s2 gravitational acceleration, is not quite the same thing as flying. The pressure and temperature change between the surface of the Earth and space, is another difficult thing for a ship to endure, over and over again. As of today, spacecraft continue to be considered experimental vehicles, and not operational vehicles. It’s a small miracle every time we get something up into space, according to engineering best practices; the space shuttles largely made us forget this, and begin to take space launches, for granted. Is it a good thing to mothball the technical knowledge base of NASA? Can best practices be maintained in private industry?

It’s a tough call.

NASA’s mission statement describes three charges, for their role: “To improve life here, To extend life to there, To find life beyond.” While the exploration of the solar system and the Hubble mission have more than contributed to the last two charges—and NASA’s study of Venus has proved an invaluable resource for climate change scientists, here at home—the first charge, doesn’t seem to be an explicit rallying cry for NASA, thus far.

Maybe, this new vision for NASA may lead to a renewed focus on its first mission charge: their organization is uniquely suited to taking on the climate change challenge in technology research, observation and identification of warning signs, and advisory roles.

Could be a win-win on many fronts.

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  1. Michelle Brienza says

    If we respond to your blog, will it count as one of the two responses required?

  2. tmeisel says

    Moving NASA projects into the private sector is bad for budget reasons, but wouldn’t this also be a good move to have less government control on something that could potentially offer life-changing information to man-kind on Earth? I know there are books out about the government covering up evidence of life on other planets and structures on the moon that were not put there by Earth. For the most part, none of this is common, wide-spread knowledge. But if it’s true, wouldn’t NASA be better off without a government hold and cap on its database?

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