Krauthammer Falsely Claims Obama “Killed NASA's Manned Space Program”

In his Washington Post column, Charles Krauthammer claimed President Obama “killed NASA's manned space program.” In fact, while Obama canceled former President George W. Bush's plan to return to the moon by 2020, several space experts say Obama's proposal positions NASA for future human exploration beyond the moon and into deep space.

Krauthammer: Obama “Killed NASA's Manned Space Program”

From Krauthammer's January 28 Washington Post column:

And of course, once again, there is the magic lure of a green economy created by the brilliance of Washington experts and politicians. This is to be our “Sputnik moment,” when the fear of the foreigner spurs us to innovation and greatness of the kind that yielded NASA and the moon landing.

Apart from the irony of this appeal being made by the very president who has just killed NASA's manned space program, there is the fact that for three decades, since Jimmy Carter's synfuel fantasy, Washington has poured billions of taxpayer dollars down a rat hole in vain pursuit of economically competitive renewable energy. [The Washington Post, 01/28/2011]

Space Experts Say Obama's Plan Lays Foundation For Future Human Spaceflight

Space Analyst John Logsdon: Obama Proposal Does Not Kill Human Spaceflight. When Obama released his NASA budget in February 2010, The Washington Post reported:

Obama's strategy also emphasizes the long-term goal of human exploration beyond low Earth orbit, but the moon is just one of several possible destinations. Rather than determining up front where astronauts will go, NASA would pour billions of dollars into new technologies and help create a commercial industry in human spaceflight. Thus the agency would become a bit more like the National Science Foundation, an engine for research and innovation.

“I think it is the largest strategic change at least since Kennedy sent us to the moon, and rivals even that in terms of its impact,” said space analyst John Logsdon.

He said that, far from killing human spaceflight, the Obama budget gives NASA more than a billion dollars a year in extra funding and makes an investment in the long-term strategy of exploration. That would include robotic missions to the moon.

“We have not abandoned the moon,” Logsdon said. [The Washington Post, 2/11/10]

Astronomer Phil Plait: “Not True” That Obama “Is Trying To Kill The Manned Space Program.” Astronomer Phil Plait wrote in September 2010:

I just finished watching the members of the U.S. House of Representatives debate the NASA authorization bill. The bill was passed, and I'm glad.


Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) hammered over and again the idea that Obama is trying to kill the manned space program. That is not true, and in fact the current situation (including the five year gap between the Shuttle and any follow-on rocket system) started in the Bush Administration. Constellation has been in trouble for some time, behind schedule and over-budget. I'm of the opinion that Obama's plan to defund Constellation does not kill the manned space program as Culberson said it will. I have written about this repeatedly: far from killing it, this new direction may save NASA from the mess it finds itself in right now. [Discover Magazine, Bad Astronomy, 9/30/10]

Plait: Obama Plan “May Very Well Save NASA And Our Future Manned Exploration Capabilities.” Plait wrote in February 2010:

[T]he way we've been doing things for 40 years has gotten us literally in circles. It's perhaps long past time to shake things up and try something different. In my previous posts on this ... people are complaining that Obama is killing our Moon plans and gutting NASA. That's simply not true. I think this may very well save NASA and our future manned exploration capabilities, if this is all done correctly. [Discover Magazine, Bad Astronomy, 2/1/10]

Buzz Aldrin: Steps Taken Following Obama's Direction “Will Best Position NASA And Other Space Agencies To Send Humans To Mars.” From astronaut Buzz Aldrin's statement on Obama's NASA plan:

Today I wish to endorse strongly the President's new direction for NASA. As an Apollo astronaut, I know the importance of always pushing new frontiers as we explore space. The truth is, that we have already been to the Moon -- some 40 years ago. A near-term focus on lowering the cost of access to space and on developing key, cutting-edge technologies to take us further, faster, is just what our Nation needs to maintain its position as the leader in space exploration for the rest of this century. We need to be in this for the long haul, and this program will allow us to again be pushing the boundaries to achieve new and challenging things beyond Earth. I hope NASA will embrace this new direction as much as I do, and help us all continue to use space exploration to drive prosperity and innovation right here on Earth.

I also believe the steps we will be taking following the President's direction will best position NASA and other space agencies to send humans to Mars and other exciting destinations as quickly as possible. To do that, we will need to support many types of game-changing technologies NASA and its partners will be developing. Mars is the next frontier for humankind, and NASA will be leading the way there if we aggressively support the President's plans.

Finally, I am excited to think that the development of commercial capabilities to send humans into low earth orbit will likely result in so many more earthlings being able to experience the transformative power of spaceflight. I can personally attest to the fact that the experience results in a different perspective on life on Earth, and on our future as a species. I applaud the President for working to make this dream a reality. [, 2/1/10]

Sally Ride: Obama Proposal “Frees Us To Chart A Path For Human Exploration Into The Solar System.” Astronaut Sally Ride stated of Obama's plan:

The President's plan is a bold strategic shift that will enable NASA to return to its roots: developing innovative technologies aimed at enabling human exploration and tackling the truly challenging aspects of human spaceflight -- venturing beyond Earth orbit, beyond the Earth-Moon system, and into the solar system. The proposed program extends the life of the international Space Station to at least 2020, funds its use as a science, engineering and technology laboratory, and refocuses the Orion capsule to support it. It reinvigorates NASA's long-neglected technology program and focuses it on technologies necessary for human exploration. And it sets a date of 2015 for selecting a new heavy lift launch vehicle.

Most significantly, the proposed program articulates a strategy for human exploration that will excite and energize the next generation. It shifts our focus from the Moon and frees us to chart a path for human exploration into the solar system. It propels astronauts further, faster -- and to a variety of new destinations. Astronauts will travel to near-Earth asteroids and to distant space telescopes; they will visit the lunar surface and the moons of Mars. And, because this strategy systematically develops the necessary technologies and experience, the path will lead to a human mission to Mars. [Politico, 4/14/10]

Obama Canceled Bush's Moon Plan, But Did Not Abandon Human Spaceflight

Obama Canceled Bush's Plan To Return To The Moon In Favor Of A “Reorientation Of The Human Space Flight Program.” The Obama administration stated that the Constellation program would be canceled because it was “over budget and behind schedule and lacked innovation and pioneering approaches”:

NASA's Constellation program -- relying largely on existing technologies - sought to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020. However, the program was over budget and behind schedule and lacked innovation and pioneering approaches due to a longstanding failure to invest in critical new technologies. Using a broad range of criteria, an independent review panel determined that, even if fully funded, NASA's program to repeat many of the achievements of the Apollo era some 50 years later was a less attractive approach to space exploration relative to several potential alternatives. Furthermore, NASA's attempts to pursue its Moon goals had drawn funding away from other NASA programs, including robotic space exploration, science, Earth observations, and aeronautics. NASA will cancel the Constellation Program in favor of a bold new approach that invests in the building blocks of a more capable alternative to space exploration. This new investment in NASA and the corresponding reorientation of the human space flight program will create thousands of jobs nationwide, offsetting the job losses that may be associated with the cancellation of Constellation. [, accessed 01/28/10]

Review Panel: First Constellation Rocket Would Probably Not Have Been Ready Before 2017. The New York Times reported in September 2009:

Committee members agreed with Mr. [Norman] Augustine [former chief of Lockheed Martin who led a 10-member review panel of Constellation program] on a central conclusion of the panel: NASA needs about $3 billion more a year -- increasing the spending over the next decade on human spaceflight to $130 billion from $100 billion -- or it will not be able to accomplish the goals of Constellation or any alternative program.

Without an increase, Mr. Augustine said, NASA could continue to operate the International Space Station and develop some new technology, but it would not get out of Earth orbit for the foreseeable future. ''It will be a program that will inspire very few people,'' he said.

A smaller increase of $1.5 billion a year was also insufficient, the panel concluded.

In addition, it said that none of the options appreciably shortens the gap between the retirement of the shuttles -- when the United States will rely on Russia for transportation to and from the International Space Station -- and the development of the Ares I.

The Ares, the first of the Constellation rockets, will not be ready for use until at least 2015, and the panel predicted that the schedule would slip to 2017. [The New York Times, 9/15/09]

Obama Plan Promotes Manned Spaceflight Through Private Companies. Scientific American reported in February 2010 that Obama's plan would call “on commercial vendors to fly astronauts to orbit.” The article further stated that by working with the private sector, NASA “thinks it will actually accelerate efforts to loft astronauts beyond low Earth orbit, the farthest reach of the shuttle”:

By scrapping the troubled program -- along with its focus on a moon landing -- and leaning on the private sector, the agency thinks it will actually accelerate efforts to loft astronauts beyond low Earth orbit, the farthest reach of the shuttle. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver declined to specify a preliminary target for exploration in a teleconference Monday afternoon but mentioned near-Earth asteroids as a potential stepping-stone on the path to ultimately exploring Mars and its moons. She also pointed out that, although the agency will relax its focus on the moon, lunar exploration remains on the table. “We're certainly not canceling our ambitions to explore space,” Garver said. “We're canceling Constellation.”

Garver tried to put the new approach in context, calling Constellation's stated goal of a moon landing in 2020 “wishful thinking.” By stepping back from that unrealistic timeline, she said, the U.S. would be free to undertake more ambitious exploration. “We had lost the moon,” Garver said, “and what this program does is give us back the solar system.” [Scientific American, 2/1/10]

Obama Called For Manned Missions To Asteroids, Mars. Spaceflight Now reported in April 2010:

President Barack Obama flew to the Kennedy Space Center Thursday to sell his new space policy, a radical change of course for NASA that would cancel the Constellation moon program and shift manned launches to private industry while NASA studies options for future deep space exploration.

For the first time, the president laid out a rough timeline for expeditions beyond low-Earth orbit and even the moon, calling for manned missions to nearby asteroids by the mid 2020s, flights to orbit Mars by the mid 2030s and manned landings shortly after.


Because of earlier funding shortfalls, NASA already was facing a five- to six-year gap between the end of shuttle and the debut of the Ares I rocket being designed as part of the Constellation program. During that interim, the agency will be forced to buy seats on Russian Soyuz rockets to carry U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.

With the proposed cancellation of Constellation and the Ares family of rockets, NASA will rely on private industry to build new rockets and capsules to fill the breach. No such “man-rated” rockets or spacecraft currently exist, but the administration believes the private sector can deliver new hardware in three to five years, first launching cargo capsules to the station and eventually astronauts.

As for deep space exploration, the administration plans to proceed with development of a new heavy lift rocket in 2015 that would take the place of the Constellation program's Ares V to boost future manned spacecraft out of Earth orbit to any one of a variety of deep space targets. Possible destinations include the moon, near-Earth asteroids, the moons of Mars and, eventually, Mars itself. [Spaceflight Now, 4/15/10]