Conservatives are wrong when they accuse our President of being against private business and the free enterprise system. In the administration’s proposed 2011 budget, America’s manned space flight program is turned over to the private sector. So, on the one side of the ledger we have government ownership of banks, insurance firms, automobile giants GM and Chrysler, and, if the Congress can ever get out of its own way, health care. On the other side of the ledger, we have the private sector now totally responsible for getting Americans back into space. The scales seem to be in balance.
Never mind that U.S. private space launch companies have never put a living thing into orbit. Never mind that the Obama budget only allocates $6 billion over five years to be spread among multiple potential applicants, far less than the $3 billion a year that the so-called Augustine panel said would be required to continue with a credible manned space program. Never mind that the administration’s decision means that the United States will be dependent on Russia for its access to the Space Station. Never mind that this decision will cost thousands of jobs in states such as Florida. Never mind that as Obama is reducing America’s investment in space, China, India and even Iran are moving with increasing rapidity and fervor into that domain. The important thing is to support the private sector.
In fact, the claim that the administration’s decision is supportive of private sector initiatives is simply false. Under the existing program, responsibility for developing the required rockets and capsules was in the hands of private companies such as Boeing, ATK and Rocketdyne for the Ares rocket and Lockheed Martin for the Orion capsule. So, at best, it can be argued that the Obama budget simply shifts money from proven private companies potentially to untested ones.
Can the new private sector be relied on to get Americans back into space on the basis of the funding profile provided by the 2011 budget? No way. Even the Augustine panel recognized this when it criticized the 2010 NASA budget as inadequate. Here is what former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said. “It means that essentially the U.S. has decided that they’re not going to be a significant player in human space flight for the foreseeable future. The path that they’re on with this budget is a path that can’t work.” But even if the private sector could perform miracles on a shoestring budget and return Americans to space in the desired time frame, this would not answer the need for other capabilities such as heavy lift.
More broadly, the NASA decision is in keeping with the administration’s apparent policy of mortgaging this country’s future in the interest of funding near-term priorities. A similar example is the cancellation of the F-22 program. Not only did this decision risk America’s superiority in airpower but forfeited the possibility of export sales. In both cases, the administration appears willing to see thousands of high paying jobs vanish. Another example is the decision to go forward with a Senate health care bill that taxed medical device makers, thereby disadvantaging one of America’s few areas of continuing technological superiority.
The Obama Administration is developing a track record of devaluing America’s private sector and areas of proven technological superiority. Instead, it wants to “bet the farm” on the uncertain future of so-called green jobs — many of which could not be created or maintained without massive government subsidies.
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