NASA plans

I have been asked what I think of Obama’s plans for NASA. It’s understandable, since my Ph. D. work involved astronomical observations and I did get some NASA funding. And I did go to high school with a real astronaut, John Grunsfeld who flew 5 Shuttle missions, 3 of which involved repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope whose primary mirror aberration I helped measure back in 1991.

I am not up on the details, other than that I understand plans for developing multiple launch platforms have been scaled back. This will slow if not halt further manned space flight plans, but accelerate the development of the remaining launch platform. I think that is a good thing, since manned space flight does not have much to recommend it except the Wow factor. It is very costly to send humans into space, where they are exposed to intense radiation at the least and mortal danger at worst. Robotic unmanned spacecraft can do more science and exploration at a fraction of the cost. I think we will look back at the International Space Station as a fantastic waste of money.

One other feature of Obama’s plans is encouragement or reliance on private companies for launch capabilities. I am somewhat skeptical, since even with the private sector motivation to succeed, these are large endeavors that need government cooperation and appear to rely on government funding for development, which could literally be changed with the stroke of a pen. But my preliminary research indicates a number of companies are showing some success, so I am keeping an open mind.

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2 Responses to “NASA plans”

  1. Jeff Kopin Says:

    Steve,
    It’s great you are doing this. I look forward to future observations.

    Regarding NASA (and I should start by saying I am pleased to comment on something other than the president’s Israel policy): Will unmanned space exploration, even with great science, gather sufficient public and political support to garner the funding needed for a robust program?

  2. Steve Ebstein Says:

    Jeff, thanks for reading and weighing in.

    There is no question that unmanned voyages are less sexy than manned ones, though the Mars rover, etc., have had good press. My guess is that without manned missions, NASA will shrink. Watch for a follow-on post discussing the ‘right’ funding level.

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