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Poll: Constellation cancellation (and more on spaceflight)

February 1, 2010 |  4:36 pm

Shuttle When NASA does it, it's good for the country.

That's the guiding philosophy I can glean from those throwing temper tantrums over President Obama's proposal to kill NASA's 4-year-old Constellation program, the onetime successor to the retiring space shuttle that was to eventually return astronauts to the moon (and cost us more than $100 billion in the process). Critics of Obama's plan -- including senators whose states have the most to lose from Constellation's stillbirth -- accuse the president of dealing a crushing setback to American manned space exploration and ceding our leadership in the field to those dastardly Chinese and Indian boogeymen.

Wrong; in fact, I would assert the opposite. Sure, Obama's budget would shut down Constellation, but it also offers more support for private-sector spaceflight, which could reap major dividends well into the future. It directs NASA to leave the small stuff -- ferrying astronauts and cargo into low-Earth orbit -- to rockets built by contractors and focus on developing technologies that can help supersede the achievements in manned spaceflight made by the Apollo program more than 40 years ago. It also restores to NASA a crucial mission neglected during the George W. Bush years: Earth science, including monitoring the levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere from space. Most important, Obama proposes to increase NASA's budget by $6 billion over the next five years -- hardly the action of a president so hostile to space science.

I would go so far as to say that Obama's order for NASA to make fundamental changes is long overdue. Over the last three decades, no president took the political risk of hitting the pause button on NASA while the agency poured its manned space exploration dollars into a program that killed 14 astronauts and was far too costly to truly be called a shuttle. Sure, there have been two multiyear flight interruptions over the program's history, but those involved returning the shuttle to flight after major disasters, not a fundamental reexamination of NASA's programs.

Anyhow, I promised a poll: Is Obama right to call for Constellation's cancellation? Take our unscientific poll, post a comment or do both.

-- Paul Thornton

Photo: Space shuttle Endeavour arrives at launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida January 6, 2010. Credit: Red Huber / MCT

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