Comprehensive coverage

What is Obama planning in space?

During the election campaign, Barack Obama presented a program unprecedented in scope and detail for space exploration. What of this plan will really come to fruition? Meanwhile, she got the NASA administrator to resign

US President Barack Obama and his deputy Joe Biden
US President Barack Obama and his deputy Joe Biden

Tal Amber, Galileo

Barack Obama, the new US president, faces many challenges: a global economic crisis, the war on global terrorism, the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, the restoration of trust in the American financial system and the fulfillment of his promises to the voter, which were summed up in the catchy phrase that accompanied his election campaign - Change we can believe in.

In addition to the burning challenges and problems facing the Oval Office, Obama needs to guide NASA, the US Aeronautics and Space Agency, and chart its course for the years to come. Obama inherits a space agency that since January 2004 has been promoting President George W. Bush's lunar vision, according to which the United States must return to the moon in 2018 using modern launch rockets, modern spacecraft and a host of technologies that appear to an outside observer as a replay of the 1961 Apollo mission , ordered by President John F. Kennedy. In addition, during the "shift" of the president-elect, the US is supposed to retire its space shuttle fleet in light of one of the main guidelines from the report of the commission of inquiry into the Columbia space shuttle disaster that occurred in February 2003.

Obama is facing a space agency that is in a constant shuffle despite its successes (such as the robotic research missions to Mars), and this precisely at a time when it seemed that the enthusiasm for returning to the moon would infect its various wings and its people. In recent years, many criticisms have been leveled against the moon project in its current form. The first criticism is directed at the very use of the space shuttle components, such as rocket boosters powered by solid fuel, the construction of which was ordered by Richard Nixon in 1972; secondly, on the architecture of the future moon missions, which are supposed to use two very expensive launch vehicles for each space mission, as opposed to the use of a single Saturn 5 model rocket (Saturn V) during the Apollo operation; And finally, criticisms were voiced due to the cancellation of innovative research projects in the field of astronomy, criticism of the postponement of the construction of various research spacecraft (such as a research spacecraft for the moons of the planet Jupiter) and the lack of focus on the future of the American space program.

Obama's space exploration policy

Obama was the presidential candidate who devoted the most attention to space exploration among all the US presidential candidates ever since. During the election campaign, Obama distributed an impressive document, which deals with the problems facing the US space program - first and foremost, the lack of focus, vision and enthusiasm. Obama presented a pragmatic, coherent and orderly plan whose goal is to return to the United States the preeminence in the field of space exploration, as well as to inspire the young generation of students, researchers and engineers in the United States. The heads of the document's chapters deal with every possible aspect of American space activity. Now that he has been elected to the position of president, the question is how do you turn politics into policy (and in English it sounds even better -from Politics to Policy).

And these are the heads of the chapters outlining the positions of the new US president on the main issues of space exploration and its applications:

• Taking the space shuttles out of service and closing the gap that will be created until the new generation spacecrafts are completed: this is one of the main challenges facing Obama as president. The shuttles are supposed to go out of service in 2010, but the next generation spacecraft, Orion, will not be ready before 2014. The gap will not allow the USA independence in sending humans into space, but will create complete dependence on the Russian space agency! Against the background of the tensions between the countries, more and more voices are being heard calling for the continued use of the space shuttles, while taking a calculated risk. Obama will have to decide the debate; From his statements it appears that he is determined to order the ferries to be taken out of service on time. Obama supports an additional space mission beyond those planned until 2010, if necessary, and puts his love for cooperation between the government and the private market - especially with Xspacex, which is developing the Dragon spacecraft.

• Completion of the International Space Station: Obama emphasizes the commitment of the US to complete the construction of the International Space Station, and is ready to assign an additional space mission of the space shuttle beyond the missions planned and budgeted until 2010, if necessary.

• Strengthening the manned exploration of space: Obama emphasizes in the document his deep commitment to the continuation of human activity for space exploration. He points out that this is actually a continuation of the activities of President Kennedy, who saw the conquest/exploration of space as an inspiring possibility for the entire American public.

• The continuation of research using robots: Obama supports increasing the investments involved in the development of robotic space missions as well as the construction and launch of new space telescopes. Among other things, Obama supports a robotic mission to return samples from Mars, the study of asteroids and other planets.

• Exploration of the Earth and environmental protection: Obama supports space research aimed at the Earth using satellites for a better understanding of the problems of global warming, melting glaciers, pollution, etc. As part of this research, Obama intends to focus on mapping tasks, water monitoring and agricultural crops for food needs, for the benefit of the entire population of the planet.

• Strengthening the position of the USA in the field of aeronautics: large investments in basic research to advance the field, development of new technologies, focusing on the creation of efficient and less polluting fuels, reduction of aircraft noise, better management of air traffic and maintaining security and safety in aviation.

• Better coordination between other federal agencies related to the field of space: Obama's document indicates the large sums invested in space assets by American agencies and government bodies: the US Department of Defense, which in 2008 spent an amount of 22 billion dollars on the space field (compared to about 15 billion issued by NASA); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); The NRO, which is responsible for the US intelligence satellites, is only one part of the diverse and decentralized US space establishment. Obama states that he intends to pool resources and create closer cooperation between the government bodies in order to save on copy budgets.

• International cooperation in the field of space: cooperation between the US and the European Space Agency and the Russian Space Agency is an important component of the space mission of the president-elect. In addition, Obama intends to strengthen scientific cooperation agreements that NASA has with 13 other space agencies, mainly in connection with the lunar exploration program.

• Space security: Obama intends to act on space security issues, including preventing the spread of anti-satellite weapons, and reaching understandings with space powers such as Russia and China in the context of space warfare. Obama opposes the weaponization of space and intends to place the United States at the forefront of the countries that oppose turning space into a battlefield and stop the space arms race. At the same time, Obama talks about the vulnerability of the US's space assets and seeks to strengthen the US's ability to protect them. There is a certain contradiction in this with his desire to avoid an arms race in space, but developing the concepts of Responsive space can be a step in the right direction.

• Development of new technologies: Obama points out that the field of space serves as a first-rate scientific, technological and economic catalyst, and mentions over 30,000 applications and technologies that have flowed from the field of space into everyday life. Obama sees NASA as the leading body in the US in the field of technological innovation; He intends to strengthen the relationship between NASA and the business world in order to leverage the technological developments in new and profitable directions; Obama intends to strengthen the private sector in space and the cooperation between the federal government and private space companies, including in the field of space launches. A very important issue is the easing of restrictions on the sale and transfer of space knowledge and technologies, restrictions that make it very difficult to export American space components on the one hand, and make it difficult for space agencies in the world to develop satellites on the other hand. The new administration will examine the restrictions (ITAR International Traffic in Arms Regulations) and if it is decided to ease them, this will be very important news for many countries in the world, including Israel.

• Education: The document presents interesting programs for the education of the youth and the public in the USA, starting with the extensive use of websites, continuing through the active participation of students in scientific projects and ending with programs for training teachers for science in general and space science in particular. Obama also emphasizes the importance of experiential educational activities for students, who will be integrated into the research of the American space agency already at the stage of their studies in college.

Choosing a new administrator for NASA

One of the first decisions that Obama must make is the decision on the identity of the new director of NASA. The director of the agency for the past four years, MYakel Griffin, announced last Friday (January 16) that he will not continue in his position. Griffin's statements in recent times indicated that he does not see eye to eye with Obama's vision for space exploration, especially not regarding the decision to fundamentally change the design of the lunar spacecraft and their launch rockets. With Obama's election as president, Griffin resigned, and Obama did not ask him to remain in office for an interim period.

Recently, Barack Obama's transition team, which deals with the transfer of power ahead of the inauguration of the president-elect on January 20, 2009, submitted to NASA a 5-page document detailing a series of issues for clarification, including options for cutting and canceling various programs in the space sector. It should be emphasized that the document does not necessarily indicate Obama's intention to cut and cancel various space projects, but it has something to teach about the state of mind among the group of experts assisting Obama in his space policy. We will mention only a few of the issues on which NASA is required to respond: what are the costs and risks of continuing to operate the space shuttles in the manned configuration until 2015; What are the costs of turning the space shuttle into an unmanned vehicle, including reviving the Shuttle C program; Examining the issues involved in downsizing the Orion spacecraft and adapting it for launch by the European Ariane 5 launcher or the Japanese H2A launcher; Examining the costs of the continued support and maintenance of the space station, including safety aspects, until the year 2020; Examining possibilities to raise the space station to a higher orbit than the current one, while examining new means of propulsion; and an economic and technical examination of the possibility of converting an unmanned launcher (such as Atlas 5) to carry a team of astronauts to the space station.

The document, known as the "NASA Presidential transition team request for information" lists dozens of other topics related to research satellites designed to explore the Earth, Mars and the rest of the solar system; Issues regarding the partnership between NASA and private space companies and more. How will the issues in the document fit in with Obama's promise during the election campaign, to increase the NASA budget by about two billion dollars of that, and with the political commitments of the American space program to cooperate with other countries than that?

In conclusion, the American space program makes use of technologies, some of which were developed in the early seventies of the twentieth century. A new and inspiring presidential vision for space exploration will inspire both the American space establishment and the public, and can catapult the US to new heights of technological, scientific and economic innovation and creativity. Will Barack Obama fulfill the slogan he carried during the elections - Yes we can - and restore to the USA the enthusiasm for the space program, which seems to have died down since its greatest achievements forty years ago when man landed on the moon? Definitely a matter for contracts in the stars….

Tal Inbar is the head of the Center for Space Research, the Fisher Institute for Strategic Air and Space Research, and the chairman of the Israel Space Association. The article was published in the January issue of the magazine "Galileo and Innovations"

Obama's space exploration policy document presented during his election campaign for the US presidency

Translated excerpts from Obama's website in an article that appeared in a series on the position of the US presidential candidates, in the episode that dealt with space

One response

  1. If Shuttle C is resurrected it will simply be the craziest thing...
    I'm not saying yes or no... it just sounds so imaginary, like a spontaneous journey in time!

    I am not a big supporter of the above design, but it is not much more or less practical than Venom, which will also use the engines and boosters of the space shuttle.

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.