President Obama’s proposed NASA budget certainly polarizes opinions. Low funding is explained away as a boon to commercially-funded space companies. States with NASA-funded jobs foresee an economic crisis. Some, who I suspect are relieved to see any reduction in the budget, see the cuts as a mixed blessing.
Libertarian-leaning conservatives are quite happy. They make a persuasive argument that Obama has acted, for once, wisely. Removing government funding and letting private industry take the lead? Conservatives have clamored for just such an outcome in other areas (especially “green” technology). Why would we object now?
My first and obvious answer is that the space program is also a national defence program, which is the only true function of government. For instance, China isn’t looking toward the moon for the sheer joy of exploration. How wise is a decision that lets Russia control access to the Space Station? When Iran, and subsequently the entire Middle East, goes nuclear wouldn’t a space-based defense system come in handy? I’m surprised the libertarians gloss past these issues.
Those are only the nuts and bolts arguments. Does this flashback hold any power to persuade:
President John F. Kennedy ‘answered his own rhetorical questions about the wisdom of a trip to the moon in his initial space-race challenge at Rice Stadium in September of 1962:
‘But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why 35 years ago fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
‘Many years ago the great British explorer, George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said: “Because it is there.”‘
King Arthur sent his knights after the Holy Grail for the glory of God, but also to keep his men from getting bored and beating the piss out of each other. A wise and useful sentiment. Kennedy understood that man must have a mission and that a strong leader can determine the course for his country. Obama abdicates that responsibility. The true irony is that Obama himself is a man in need of a mission. In his determination to turn America socialist he misses all the opportunities, including this crossroad moment in space exploration history, to become the pivotal president he wishes he could be.