Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Obama Administration and NASA

Recently, Apollo 11 Astronaut Neil Armstrong and Apollo 17 Astronaut Eugene Cernan has criticized the Obama Administration for a number of things. One, for allowing the Space Shuttle Program to be canceled, canceling the Constellation Moon Program, Canceling the Ares 1 Vehicle and not aggressively pursuing planetary exploration. They have described the president's program as "ill-advised" and voiced their concerns during a senate hearing.

I wasn't surprised so much by Eugene Cernan voicing his concerns. Cernan makes appearances in the media quite a bit. But Neil Armstrong tends to be a bit of a recluse. For him to make these statements is quite out of character for Armstrong.

I've always had a pretty neutral stance toward the Obama Administration. There are things that the administration does that I like, and there things that it does that I don't like. And I think the Obama Administration has done some wonderful things to advance science, such as lifting the ban on Stem Cell research and increasing funding for essential university science programs. And while I understand the need to make funding cuts by the current administration, the general public should be advised that Space Exploration is not expendable. There are several very important reasons why any industrialized country should have a strong space program:
  1. The modern-day telecommunications industry would not be possible without space travel. GPS, Cellphones, Internet, and various other technologies that we take for granted in 2010 are all possible because of space travel. Many of the satellites that we use were deployed by the space shuttle and placed into orbit by shuttle astronauts.
  2. A lot of medical knowledge about cardiovascular, muscular and skeletal health is the result of NASA research.
  3. A strong space program will be the key to stopping any impact objects from striking the Earth.

Delaying the Constellation project is understandable with the economy into consideration. But canceling the Space Shuttle until a viable replacement is available isn't such a good idea. Relying on the Soyuz Rockets of Russia for transport to/from the International Space Station is relying on obselete technology in the hands of a country whose relations with the US has continued to sour over the past 5 years.

While I can certainly agree that the Obama Administration's central focus should be the creation of jobs, the improvement of healthcare, and the elimination of poverty, it is important that people recognize that space travel is no small matter and that NASA should not be allowed to falter as an agency.

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