One of the “trial balloons” of the incoming Obama administration is a proposed consolidation of NASA with US military programs for space. The ostensible reason is “national security,” but insecurity about our military’s capabilities to keep up with Chinese efforts to explore and exploit space are at the core of an effort to strip away space efforts from NASA.
As a life-long frustrated astronaut, I oppose the idea of NASA’s space programs becoming just another arm of the US military. As just another part of the military, NASA will likely lose sight of its mission to explore the universe and its origins, and NASA would be far less for it.
Some argue that the over-emphasis on military training and background of astronauts makes NASA already a part of the US military, or at least the Air Force.
Others look at the US history of space based defense and see a future where defense is the primary function of the use of space, apart from exploration of the universe and its origins.
For me, however, I remember my father awakening me to go downstairs and watch the early morning liftoffs of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, and how we were captivated by the advance to the eventual lunar “excursion” by astronaut Neil Armstrong. I built model rockets from kits from Estes, radios to listen to other parts of the world from Heath Kit, and was a total space dork. I still am a space dork (go to Mynasa), and have tried to pass that on to my kids by staying up to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower and others (more on meteor showers). We’ve located the planets and constellations in our Midwest sky with a map and flashlight (we went out to the street, map in hand, and they oriented themselves, picking out five planets!), and we’ve frequenting the St. Louis Planetarium and Science Center.
In fact, I have sought (unsuccessfully) to start a new business to launch and maintain satellites using the talents of ex-military personnel, modified surplus C-5A aircraft, and the folks who won the X Prize. With the proposed cancellation of the Space Shuttle Program, there will be a no-less-than 5-year lapse of US capability to send aloft new payloads and service them as is currently done with the Space Shuttle (Heck, we’ll even have to hitchhike with the Russians to get to the International Space Station!). Unfortunately, funding is an issue, just like it was when I proposed to launch satellites so as to have worldwide broadcast coverage over 30 years ago.
I have watched many shuttle liftoffs on TV and I’ve knew for a certainty that my then-girlfriend (now wife) was the one for me when she took me to the National Astronaut Museum and we watched a shuttle launch from the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral. [Fast forward!] This year, my son wanted a telescope for Christmas, and my daughter a microscope. My kids want to go to Space Camp!
I will not get in their way if my kids decide they want to serve their country but, I don’t see the military as the proper gateway to the continued exploration of the universe and its origins. This and the advancement of science and aeronautics are central missions of NASA that would be at risk if NASA were to merge with the military.
The total proposed NASA budget for FY 2009 (ending Oct. 1, 2009) was about $18 billion, including huge cuts for educational efforts by NASA. New military spending in space for FY 2009 is around $16 billion, with many other billions for satellites, satellite launches, servicing, staffing and information technology.
If NASA were to become a cog in our nation’s military, I doubt that NASA’s unique contributions to the understanding of the universe, and its contributions to the advancement of science and aeronautics could flourish.
Mr. Obama, please keep NASA independent of our military!