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Should NASA be Militarized?

According to this DailyTech article (contents posted below), President-elect Obama is considering a militarization of the US space program in order to solve NASA’s funding woes. Check it out:

Ares I

Artist's rendering: Ares I

If Ares I development isn’t as far as long as Obama likes, it could be possible NASA will use military funds for future technology development

President-elect Barack Obama, once he takes office later this month, could remove the barriers between the US Department of Defense (DoD) and NASA, in an effort to help the U.S. space agency better compete with Russia and China.

The most important task for NASA is to build a new rocket capable of carrying Orion to the International Space Station (ISS), with a future mission to the moon likely.  The U.S. space agency originally planned to have the Ares I rocket take Orion into space, but President-elect Obama wants to try and get Orion into the air as soon as possible.

“The Obama administration will have all those issues on the table,” former President Bill Clinton’s space adviser Neal Lane told Bloomberg.  “The foreign affairs and national security implications have to be considered.”

The current generation of space shuttles will be retired next year, and there will be a five-year gap between the shuttle retirement and the scheduled release of Orion.  Ares I completed its first preliminary design review last year, with Boeing and Alliant Techsystems prepared for a first launch in 2015.

The Pentagon’s space program spent about $22 billion in 2008, which is one third more than the NASA budget during the year.  Obama’s transition team already has asked NASA officials how plausible it would be to cancel the development of the Ares I rocket in favor, though current NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said it would be a mistake.

The NASA review team will continue to ask NASA space officials about different methods related to costs and savings, although nothing is official.

Obama would like to have Orion ready to launch before 2015, but the launch will not be possible without a proper rocket system.  If a cash injection from the Pentagon is unable to help have Ares I completed sooner, then it’s possible the government may use either the Atlas or Delta rocket, as both are in later stages of development compared to Ares.

Personally, I find the concept equally fascinating and frightening. I’m going into the Air Force, which would almost definitely take over NASA if such a militarization was to take place, so I kind of like the idea. I might get to work in NASA someday – cool! On the other hand, I see NASA and the military as two distinctly different organizations, and for good reason. It’s almost like a space version of the separation of church and state. Both are good things, but their goals are so disparate that if combined, one would almost certainly swallow up the other. What do you think? Is this a good idea?

***Update*** In clarification, this possibility was brought on primarily by a desire to minimize the downtime between the Space Shuttle program going offline in 2010 and the Orion program starting up in 2015. If enacted, it will be a measured effort to maintain superiority as China rapidly approaches the space capabilities of the United States. The purpose of the potential union isn’t to flood space with weaponry, or to cripple NASA’s decision-making abilities. The fact of the matter is that the Ares I is facing delays and a potential increase in cost at a time when the budget of NASA can afford for it to do neither. Cooperation between NASA and the military would likely mean a joint launch vehicle, shared budget, etc.

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January 6, 2009 - Posted by | News, Politics, Tech | , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. I can’t imagine the administration would ever totally dissolve NASA. I think it would stand as a separate entity, but perhaps with a reduced scope. If it did happen, I don’t think the Air Force necessarily stands to take over. If anyone, I’d think it would be the Army, since they have similar rockets a bit further along in development.

    In any case, I think militarization is a bad move. Rhetoric aside, working “with” the military while not working “for” them is like being a little bit pregnant. Not gonna happen.

    If NASA is militarized, then it’s official – ALL OF SPACE will be a war zone. Personally, I think that’s a step backwards in space development, not to mention in civilization. All those stars out there, all those planets around them, and the people of Earth so busy cluttering up our orbit with weapons that no man will ever get to any of those worlds…

    Comment by LC | January 6, 2009 | Reply

  2. Interesting thoughts LC, but I stand by my prediction of the Air Force being the most likely candidate. AF Space Command (Peterson AFB, CO) plays a huge role in what the AF does; I don’t see anywhere near the same amount of commitment of resources from the Army.

    And also, I think your last point is exaggerated. History has shown various “frontiers” – oceans, the Americas, etc – to at first have a degree of excessive violence, followed by order. It might get ugly for a little while, but I highly doubt it would prevent extra-planetary exploration.

    Comment by Brian | January 6, 2009 | Reply

  3. If you are a military soldier that is need of some extra assistance , then come and check out “The David H Brooks Foundation for American Wounded Soldiers”

    Comment by David H Brooks | January 7, 2009 | Reply


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