NASA far from dead

Letter to the Editor

I applaud Will Tucker’s enthusiasm for NASA and space exploration. It is my passion, and it excites me when it ends up in the forefront of people’s discussion. More people talking about space translates to more people dreaming about space, which is the first step to us to becoming a true space-faring civilization.

I agree with Tucker’s sentiments about the importance of NASA to the state, country, and humanity as a whole.

My purpose for writing this article, though, is to set the record straight. There is no need for despair in light of President Obama’s new budget. On the contrary, it is a very exciting time for America’s future in space.

I was also extremely disappointed at the news of the Constellation program’s cancellation at first. The Constellation program was to bring NASA and our country back to the glory days of space exploration, putting men on extraterrestrial bodies.

New rockets were to be developed, the Ares 1 and Ares 5, to put man back on the moon by 2020, but this time more permanently by starting a colony. From there, we were to extend man’s reach into the solar system, first stop Mars.

Due to its large expense and many delays, the program was subjected to review by the U.S. Human Space Flight Committee with the goal of “ensuring that the nation is on a vigorous and sustainable path to achieving its boldest aspirations in space.” It was with the recommendation of this panel (which included former astronauts, industry executives, and academics) that President Obama made his decision to cancel Constellation. He took a “swipe,” as Tucker put it, at a dysfunctional program within NASA, not the agency or industry as a whole.

The president’s next move is why space enthusiasts should be rejoicing. After cancelling a very expensive program, Obama has given NASA a $6 billion budget increase over the next five years. A significant portion of this budget will be committed to the U.S. commercial space industry.

Not only will this create an estimated 5,000 jobs, but it will introduce the element of competition back into the equation, a domestic “Space Race.” Leading space entrepreneurs predict the commercial sector being able to send astronauts into Low Earth Orbit as soon as 2014 and cheaper than ever before. Even more inspiring is when SpaceX founder Elon Musk said: “I’m going to go out on a limb and say that by 2020 there will be serious plans to go to Mars with people.”

SpaceX isn’t the only company that is going to benefit from this turning point in our nations space program. The list is long and includes Blue Origin, Boeing, Pentagon Space, Sierra Nevada Corp and ULA. Alabamians would be ecstatic to know that United Launch Alliance (ULA) has their production headquarters in Decatur.

And those are just the existing companies. The industry is now ready to grow, so why not in Alabama? The budget’s refocusing of NASA can be summarized in one word: opportunity. Even Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin agrees that this is “just what our nation needs to maintain its position as the leader in space exploration for the rest of this century.”

Tucker also mentioned that the new budget will somehow diminish multinational cooperation. This is completely inaccurate as the International Space Station’s life was significantly extended to “2020 or beyond in concert with our international partners.” The old budget with Constellation had it ending in 2015.

Now that the facts are out, celebrate our nation’s reinvigorated space program. If you had enough interest to read this article you just might be a budding space nut.

I am trying to start a space exploration advocacy group here on campus, so for more information about the future of space exploration, visit the Capstone Space Society group on Facebook.

NASA is back.

Nicholas De Leon is a doctoral student in metallurgical and materials engineering.