The New Vision of Space: Trek or Firefly?

President Obama’s FY2011 federal budget plans to put NASA Constellation out to pasture. Does this put the future of human spaceflight in question? That depends on your vision of the future … is is based on Star Trek or Firefly?

U.S. President Barack Obama is asking Congress to give NASA $19 billion in 2011 to pursue a revamped space exploration strategy that scraps a 6-year-old plan to send astronauts to the Moon in favor of keeping the international space station in service through 2020 and paying commercial firms to transport crew and cargo to the orbital outpost. –

To most people, this looks a lot like the US putting human space exploration aside to save money in hard times. To others, it looks like the dream of human space colonization set back a few decades. Reading more about Constellation makes it look like a program that might not have been sustainable.

If only there was some cool science & astronomy blogger I could quite here for another viewpoint …

I don’t want a repeat of the Apollo program: a flag-and-footprints mission where we go there, look around, and then come home for another 40 years. I want to go there and stay there. Apollo was done as a race, and the goal of a race is to win. It wasn’t sustainable. We need to be able to figure out how to get there and be there, and that takes more than just big rockets. We need a good plan, and I’m not really sure what we had up until this point is that plan. – Phil Plait

… perfect. Thanks, Phil.

There’s lots of reasons to explore space. Fortunately, the science behind NASA is still in the budget. NASA is a great science organization, it’s their real strength. The hope is this budget plays to that strength. Exploration without putting humans at risk is needed so we know where to send them when the time is right.

But when that time comes, will the US be ready to go into space? That’s the big concern. Making rockets is expensive, complex and sometimes dangerous (just ask the Russians). Public and private space ventures have seen their share of fatal accidents … but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

The proposed NASA budget puts money into shutting down Constellation and putting seed money into private space ventures. That makes some sense, considering how much NASA already relies on outside firms. Private space travel is promising, but not nearly as well developed as NASA’s programs. Then again, NASA has a 50 year head start and billions upon billions of dollars to play with … up until now.

Maybe this is the right way to go, cutting the fat and playing to a great science agency’s strengths. To me, it depends on how you see space … and that is based on the type of science fiction you identify with.

If your future vision is based on Star Trek, then this is pretty grim. Roddenbery’s United Federation of Planets is a cross between the US Navy and the UN. It’s world government in space … matching uniforms, large infrastructure and unified vision for all involved. That might be a little farther away now.

If your vision of space is based on Firefly, then you’re in luck. Private firms play a much larger role in the proposed NASA vision, so now’s your chance go get in on the ground floor. They will still be some form of government in space for you to rally against, and there’s a good chance they speak Chinese.

If your dream is to help put humans into space, you now have more options. Space in the US was mostly a government venture. Truly personal dreams of space flight perked up with companies like Space X and Virgin Galactic … so even NASA has to share the skies. As long as FOX doesn’t cancel space flight, the future just got brighter for privateers.

Yes, privateers. It always boils down to who gets paid …

Now, I did a job. Got nothing but trouble since I did it, not to mention more than a few unkind words as regard to my character, so let me make this abundantly clear: I do the job, and then I get paid. – Mal Reynolds, Firefly

Right now NASA is the “company” Americans have trusted to take us to space, and their ability to do so is in question. It’s more than national security, it’s about the future of humans living on a floating rock with an unknown expiration date.

“If we have an accident while we’re privatizing,” U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith, R-Huntsville, added Thursday, “and the only product that this company has that we’ve put this enormous amount of money in their trust … and that company goes away, where are we then in space exploration? Where are we then in our national security?” -

Wow. When the Republicans are against privatization, that’s true science fiction.





3 responses to “The New Vision of Space: Trek or Firefly?”

  1. Chris Adams Avatar
    Chris Adams

    Please don’t consider Parker Griffith a valid member of any party, nor very representative of Huntsville. He’s a first-term rep, elected just over a year ago as a Democrat. Now he’s figured out that the pendulum is swinging the other way, and he’s more likely to be re-elected as a Republican, so he switched (despite voting mostly along D-party lines in his first year). A number of the local Republicans don’t want him, but the state/national party will apparently welcome all converts with open arms.

  2. Joyous Avatar

    Great article, Brian. Really puts things in perspective.

  3. GamerFromJump Avatar

    We’ll be lucky to get Firefly at this rate. Hell, I’d settle for Cowboy Bebop.

    Just another entry on the long list of reasons to say “F You, Obama!”.

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