Obama cancels moon mission: Who should sponsor human spaceflight?

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

According to science fiction, we were supposed to have a moon base by 2001 and were supposed to have a joint U.S.-Soviet manned mission to Jupiter to make contact by this year, 2010. (That's not to mention flying cars and personal jet packs, but we digress.)

Well, kiss all those dreams goodbye, at least as far as the U.S. government and NASA is concerned.

President Barack Obama's newly released proposed budget would cancel President George W. Bush's plan to return U.S. astronauts to the moon aboard the new Constellation rocket.

Obama's administration will instead direct NASA to turn to long-range research and development which could eventually lead to a manned space program to Mars, according to a report on AFP:

The decision will mean that NASA will be constrained to low-earth orbits for years to come, and will transform the aspirations of the US space program following the planned retirement of the Shuttle fleet in September.

Under the new plan, Obama will also propose boosting the development of commercial rockets and other vehicles that can ferry US astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), an outside US government advisor said.

Not everyone is thrilled with this decision. Daily Tech quotes former astronaut Bill Nelson:

"I, for one, intend to stand up and fight for NASA, and for the thousands of people who stand to lose their jobs," said Senator Bill Nelson (Democrat, Florida). Nelson served as a captain in the U.S. Army during the late 60s and early 70s—he also participated in a 1986 space shuttle mission (STS-61C) as a payload specialist.

The moon base from 2001: A Space Odyssey

But others think it's time government got out of the manned-space business, according to the Philadelphia Weekly's Cup O' Joel blog:

Human spaceflight is really cool—but it's also expensive and inefficient. Get a man to the moon—or, more theoretically, to Mars—is hard. People aren't made to live in space; keeping them alive there is tremendously difficult.

That's not to say it's not worth doing. But in an era where government needs to start making real choices about what it should or shouldn't be doing, it's difficult to justify manned flights to the moon. The best argument isn't for going to the moon itself; it's that the journey would create jobs and spinoff technologies that would benefit Americans. No doubt that's true: I still love Tang. But the goal of a program that does those things should—on the taxpayer dime—be vital to the American project. Going to the moon again simply isn't.

The other best argument? That we should be developing the technology to abandon Earth if the day comes that the planet becomes uninhabitable. Seems like our resources would be better and more usefully focused on keeping the planet [habitable].

What do you think? Should the government be in the manned spaceflight business? Or private business? And how important is manned spaceflight?

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