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A Perfect Storm Confronts US Space Policy

For 20 years a succession of US governments have tried to build a new launch system and failed repeatedly to follow through.
by Staff Writers
for Launchspace
Washington DC (SPX) Feb 12, 2010
A blizzard of historic proportions has hit the nation's capital. The federal government has been closed all week, there is no mail service and the schools are all closed. We are quite literally frozen.

In these white-out conditions we can't even see where we are going. A similar scenario exists for our nation's space exploration program- it may be "whited out."

With a simple stroke of the pen, President Obama has created a 2011 budget proposal that will cancel America's hope of remaining the leading space-faring nation.

He plans to replace the six-year old Constellation program with a commercial approach to the current "go-nowhere" low Earth orbit (LEO) program that has limited the U.S. space program since Apollo.

Now America, whose space successes have been the envy of the world and the pride of its people, can look forward to becoming a "has been," "also-ran," in the history books.

No doubt we will soon be begging Russia and China to allow our astronauts to be delivered to the moon and beyond in their vehicles. This certainly is a change for a nation whose space achievements have sparked the imaginations of generations of students from engineers to movie-makers.

No doubt a commercial approach will be good for many newly-founded space companies. The problem has to do with America's image and its ability to compete in the international marketplace. Space is so much more than just blasting off rockets.

Our space exploration programs have stimulated jobs, scientific knowledge, development of commercial products, solutions to problems in almost every facet of life. But U.S. space preeminence has continually eroded over the last two decades. One impact of this is a loss of interest in science and technology among our best and brightest students.

In fact, America may have already lost its ability to move humans beyond LEO. We are on a slippery slope to obsolescence and the proposed 2011 national budget will assure continued erosion.

America needs to wake up. Whether government or commercial programs, what is needed is a space challenge that captures the imagination of the world.

Humankind must explore and must not remain stagnant. One such challenge is to prepare to send U.S. astronauts to Mars. Yes, Mars! Once such an initiative starts, that slippery slope will change in the positive direction. The only question now is: Who will lead us to a bright future?

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