12 February 2010


The United States is about to blow a forty year lead in space by putting the Constellation program in mothballs, and effectively cancelling the Ares-1X heavy lift booster, which has already been successfully tested. That is the vehicle that is designed to replace the space shuttle. Without it we have no way of getting to the International Space Station and other objects in near earth orbit. The only way up or down, for the present, is via the Russians, who now having a monopoly are sure to raise prices, making the $3 billion savings from Constellation ephemeral. The administration expects that private industry will fill the gap. The trouble is there is no evidence that is happening at present. Unbelievably this is killing the dream of manned space efforts for the United States for the first time in fifty years. In addition, thousands will be thrown out of work for a tiny fraction of what the “stimulus” cost, and we will soon lose our collective memory, knowledge, and skills developed over decades if this happens.

Meanwhile the Chinese are shooting for the moon, and producing engineers and scientists while ours are retiring, while also pirating American space technology. Dongfan Chung, a former stress engineer with Boeing, was convicted of economic espionage involving 300,000 pages of sensitive data, including information about the space shuttle and the fueling system for America's biggest booster rocket, the Delta IV. In his ruling, the judge in the case noted that Mr. Chung, a U.S. citizen, had decided "to serve the [People's Republic of China], which he proudly proclaimed as his 'motherland.' " The Chinese have already had success in near earth orbit, and are planning to go to the moon within a decade. Their space program is well-funded and supported by its leadership, while ours is being killed by a total lack of vision. Even the Indians are not far behind.

We need a vehicle for near earth orbit, a capability that we have had for fifty years, where much of the activity in space is taking place. We have one planned. It is total insanity to cancel something that is already in the works. Yet we are going to spend billions on something as speculative as “clean energy” while discarding something we know how to do. Rather than inspiring dreams of the future this administration seems determined to kill them, and to rid any sign of American exceptionalism.

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