President Obama spells out his NASA vision

While I would love for President Obama to give Twitter the blind eye I think it deserves, today he used the blip medium to take (moderated) questions from the public. One of those questions was about the future of the space program and NASA. Here is the President’s response (courtesy of

I am so happy to hear Mr. Obama say this! I am totally on board with the idea that NASA should be sticking its neck out doing unproven things and pushing the frontier outwards.

The most unfortunate thing for NASA’s budget and NASA’s role over the past year or two has been how poorly the Administration articulated this vision. They let the media run with headlines about how “Obama killed the manned space program,” instead of making the story one about smart investments in proven methods and accelerated research into new technologies to get our astronauts to really exciting destinations that the Apollo veterans could only imagine. You know…buy Falcons  to get to LEO while NASA figures out how to get to Mars.

The President could make an even stronger case – I think that if he wants to advocate a “Manhattan Project” to fight climate change, push the capabilities and cost-effectiveness of medicine, engineering, and agriculture, and provide lots of jobs, industry opportunities, and infrastructure investments, he ought to announce a program to establish a self-sustaining human colony off the Earth. But I think he hit some major points for a sustainable space policy in his answer above. He also made the strongest, most unambiguous statements I’ve seen yet about the purpose of NASA and the destinations the agency should target.

Sadly, Congress is now subjecting NASA to both the Death of a Thousand Little Cuts and the Death of Stupid Over-Specified Directives. If the American manned space program ends, it will be because Senators like Orrin Hatch and Bill Nelson look at NASA more as a jobs program for their districts than as a vehicle for realizing our nation’s highest ambitions. Hatch in particular – the Ares program should have been cancelled and the heavy-lift vehicle mandated by Congress is a bad investment that will take NASA nowhere.

Maybe, just maybe, the Obama Administration is going to do a better job of putting their space policy message out in the coming budget fights. And then maybe, just maybe, we will end up with what the Augustine Commission called “a space program worthy of a great nation.”

2 thoughts on “President Obama spells out his NASA vision”

  1. Politicians don’t just view NASA as a jobs program for their districts, but also a jobs program for the companies lobbying them. A big part of why basically all of the proposals for future American launch vehicles feature Shuttle derived SRBs is because of the lobbying efforts of ATK. ATK has even gone the route of pulling the “support your troops” card. They have claimed that if NASA doesn’t continue to buy SRBs, the price of military rocket motors will skyrocket.

    Much as I would like to have faith in a good vision for the space program given by any politician, I really don’t. Even when they truly mean what they say, even when they push for the actual funding so that NASA can fulfill their mandate, the efforts of politicians is stymied by the fact that they leave office before NASA is able to complete that vision. When the “new guys” come in, suddenly whatever NASA has been working on for years gets the ax. I bet this probably would have happened to Project Apollo had it not been for Kennedy getting assassinated, and the nation viewing Apollo as an obligation to honor his memory.

    Obama can say all of the wonderful things he wants, but he has an uncooperative legislature, and he himself will be out of office in five and a half years at best, possibly quite a bit sooner. That isn’t enough time for NASA to complete any grand vision.

  2. I completely agree about ATK’s role in this situation. Their performance on Ares deserved the opposite of a reward, but Senator Hatch and the Utah reps made sure that the new NASA authorization mentioned ATK specifically by name. I also agree that NASA has succeed tremendously from the fact that it gets an annual budget – it really ought to be at least for a full Presidential term, or ideally for a ten-year period.

    I think the Apollo program, though, had as much to do with Johnson as it did with Kennedy.

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