I've written several times that space exploration is one of those government programs I don't mind paying for. The public sector has funded the human need to expand our horizons since the time of Columbus. So I was dismayed when I heard Persident Obama might be cutting the money for a return to the moon, especially since it sounded like one of those tired, typical "Why should we waste billions on such extravagances when there are so many problems in our back yard?" arguments. Instead of going to the moon, NASA would be funded to . . . more closely monitor global warming. Good Lord -- talk about keeping the cave you're huddling in safe and comfortable instead of venturing outside to discover what may be outside the cave. Hey, water was just discovered on the moon -- no need to go back there, no siree.
The budget is out now, but the story is a little more complicated than the rumors painted it to be:
The Obama administration instead will fund research into technology that would be used for a manned mission to Mars. An estimated $6 billion will be dispersed to the private sector to develop "space taxis" to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and back.
So we're not returning to the moon, but we will spend more to research a manned mission to Mars. A case can certainly be made for that -- why go where we've already been when we can concentrate on going someplace we haven't been? I suspect getting to Mars without a moon base might be difficult, and there is danger in sort of bowing out of the space race when certain other countries aren't. But it's hard to argue that the adminsitration is turning its back on space. And I also can't argue with trying to turn over some functions to the private sector, especially the routine task of taxiing back and forth to the space shuttle.
So, a mixed bag, with lots of details still to emerge. Wait-and-see time.
UPDATE: The initial verdict from other exploration enthusiasts is in, and seems to be highly favorable:
They're explicitly stepping away from a roadmap, and onto the technology base that most of us long term experienced enthusiasts have been pushing for.
If I had to summarize my first impressions, especially of Bolden's statement -
“We were doing Flags and Footprints. The President and I don't want to do that. We want to colonize space for real. We're going to do the foundations for that now.”
[. . .