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Constellation on the chopping block

What's the big deal?

Background on the Constellation Project

Problems with the program

Time for a change?

Putting the debate in context

Conclusion

References & Links


Comments & questions to:
aledig@macalester.edu

Constellation on the chopping block
Human spaceflight goes commercial?

Would planting a Lockheed Martin or SpaceX flag on the moon during the lunar landing have had the same impact as the astronauts putting up an American flag? We may soon find out.

NASA has always been an agency surrounded by controversy. After the heady, early days in the 1960s when space flight was still a glamorous and new development, things became contentious pretty quickly. From conspiracy theories surrounding whether the achievement of getting humans to the moon was real or not to chronic fiscal issues to the massive scope of periodic tragedies and the scars they leave on the American psyche, when the human space flight program does come to the nation’s attention, it’s certainly never boring.

This year, though, the government’s involvement in overseeing and administrating the human spaceflight program seems to be coming to an end. Facing an economic meltdown and responding to years of criticisms that the United States is falling behind other nations in space exploration, President Obama is by cutting the Constellation Project, which represented a major expansion of NASA’s human spaceflight program and presented sweeping, ambitious goals. The program was bashed by some for being over-reaching in its scope or redundant in its goals - first on the list was returning to the Moon. Still, it held the promise of putting NASA back on track to return to the Moon and make it to Mars, the type of ventures that had the potential to inspire a new generation of students and scientists the way the space race and the Apollo missions did 40 years ago. The President’s proposal, which shifts development of new spacecraft and the shuttling of astronauts and supplies into space from NASA's purview to commercial industry, promises to be more efficient economically speaking; government and bureaucracy have never been known for being particularly cost-effective. 

Still, even in a recession there are concerns besides economics to be considered. What happens when scientific and technological undertakings of such massive scale and potential importance are turned over from the public to the private sector?  Will this change still ensure space research benefits all mankind, or is that value jeopardized by placing the responsibility for human spaceflight in the hands of commercial interests? The decision has impacts that will reverberate for a long time to come. Not only are jobs at stake in the aerospace industry, which is spread throughout the country, but also NASA and its power to inspire future generations of explorers and researchers. 

The goal of this website is to explore the controversy swirling around the decision to axe Constellation and come to some sort of determination of the risks and rewards involved in privatizing a program fraught with such importance, both symbolically and practically. President Obama's proposal unleashed a firestorm in the scientificand aeronautic communities. On one side are President Obama and members of the scientific community along with private industry, arguing that the shift will make human spaceflight more economically feasible, make better use of existing private-public partnerships, and increase access to space by allowing more researchers to go on flights and conduct more research. On the other side of the battle lines are politicians who represent areas that stand to lose jobs and funding if NASA operations in their districts are shut down. They are joined by legendary members of the space community, including members of the Apollo crews and others who warn that turning human spaceflight over to commercial interests will further imperil America's position in space, as well as concerned citizens who worry what the impacts of commercialization of the program, which ostensibly works for the common good, will be.

The basic question is, would planting a Lockheed Martin or SpaceX flag on the moon during a lunar landing have had the same impact as the astronauts putting up an American flag? 

lockeed martin moon flag
Original photo from Flickr with Creative Commons permissions,
logo property of Lockheed Martin, graphic by Amy Ledig



Image credits:
[1] [2]



Last updated:  5/7/2010

 


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