I have mentioned before that Obama appears to be no friend of space development. His actions suggest that he is at least sympathetic to the philosophy that we should not be wasting any money on space exploration as long as there are problems on earth to be solved.
Last year, Obama created a committee to look at the future of human space flight and to make recommendations. The committee came to the conclusion that NASA could not even carry out its current projects without an increase in funding and suggested a set of increases, starting with $1 billion in 2011.
However, the talk around town is that there will be no increase in the manned space flight budget. Obama will increase the budget in other areas such as earth-monitoring satellites (the science program that the Bush Administration neglected almost to death) and education, but not for manned space flight.
However, this news, combined with a few other stories that are making its way through the space development community, suggests that Obama may be the best friend that human space development could ever have. While he is cutting back on space programs that the government plans and executes with its own money, he may well create the foundation for a commercial spce program that will do more with less.
Let's look at some of this other news.
(1) Virgin Galactic rolled out the VSS Enterprise at the end of last year. This will be the first commercial space ship rated to carry paying customers to the edge of space. A short 5-minute visit to the edge of space will cost the willing customer $200,000. This is not as harsh as it sounds - the money will go to a week-long vacatioin that includes training and a number of other space- and flight-related activities.
In 2010, Virgin Galactic will conduct a series of flight tests. First, the configuration consisting of a mother ship called 'Eve' will fly around with the space ship. Then there will be drop tests where the space ship is dropped at altitude and landed. Then, finally, they will drop the space ship and light the engines,
(2) Robert Begalow is building space stations and marketing them to other governments. With Bigelow's system, any country who wants one can have a space station with more internal room than the International Space Station at a fraction of the price. The stations modules are inflatable - instead of being hard-skinned like the Space Station. This is why they have so much more room than modules on the space station.
With two prototype modules already orbiting the Earth, this company is more than just talk. It is making and flying hardware.
(3) Robert Bigelow needs space ships capable of carrying humans into space to inhabit his space station. SpaceX is working on its Falcon9 rocket and on a crew capsule that it will be capable of launching into space.
Here is a specific area in which the Obama administration may be a better friend to human space development than those who like government-run projects. Apparently, he will seek to fund a multi-billion dollar project to help get these companies to the point where they can hall astronauts to and from the International Space Station, giving them a significant economic platform on which to build.
These three projects combined implies that the commercial space industry will be be able to do more than NASA is currently doing. It will be building and manning several space stations, taking one set of paying customers to the very edge of space, and taking another set of paying customers for an extended stay in space.
They will not be going to the moon, yet. But, then again, neither will NASA. However, I have often argued, the future of humanity should not consist in going to all of this effort to climb out of one gravity well just to climb down another. Instead, when it gets out of this gravity well it should stay in space, using asteroids to construct places to live and to work and to harvest the energy and mineral resources that can be had without cutting deeper and deeper scars into a living earth.