The cost of cutting NASA’s space exploration role

It goes well beyond what might be obvious:

The governments of China, Russia and India have accelerated their investments in human spaceflight, not only because they want their flags to be the first to fly on Mars but also because they know their investments will get a good return. Innovations that will help humans survive and thrive in space will likely create as many spinoff technologies in the 21st century as we saw in the first decades of the Space Age. If we do not incubate these life-supporting technologies here in America, our children will have no choice but to import them from other nations.

Americans simply cannot take for granted our status as the leading land of opportunity. The federal government has long helped develop revolutionary technologies that create jobs and a better future for our people. In most industries, the federal government can limit its contribution to basic research and let individual entrepreneurs take the risk in bringing new ideas to market. But in some cases, the significant costs of applying new technologies require a more robust federal investment. And there is no heavier lift than putting human beings into space.

The White House believes that the private sector can play a larger role in space exploration, which is true up to a point. We certainly want to encourage private investment and public-private partnerships in the development of space technologies. We want to help NASA become an even better partner with aerospace entrepreneurs. Leveraging the potential of the private sector is no less an imperative in space exploration than it is in many other fields of innovation.

But NASA cannot pass the baton of human spaceflight to a runner that is still trying on its shoes. The private sector requires years of further development before it can send a human being to the moon or compete with America’s international rivals. NASA was assigned the Constellation mission for the same reason it took on Apollo: It remains the only entity in the country capable of getting it done.

We who support NASA’s human spaceflight program have our work cut out for us, especially in the current economic climate. Millions of Americans are justly outraged by fiscal irresponsibility in Washington. They will soundly reject the president’s massive $3.8 trillion spending plan for next year, which projects a $1.6 trillion deficit and recommends $2 trillion in higher taxes over the next 10 years. Our fight for the Constellation program must be consistent with keeping taxes low, cutting the deficit and dialing back the unsustainable overall growth in federal spending.

So we must make the case that NASA’s human spaceflight program remains a sound investment for the taxpayer. We must convince our fellow Americans that human spaceflight represents our nation’s future, not merely its past. And we must show how lifting astronauts into space continues to make sense on the ground.

Makes so much sense.


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