Washington (DC) – NASA’s chief Michael Griffin, rumored in December by four witnesses to have had a red faced meeting with Obama’s transition team leader, Lori Garver, is again resisting what may turn out to be standard policy in the Obama administration. Obama seeks a type of merger between the civilian space agency and the military. Under Obama’s vision, NASA and The Pentagon will join forces, sharing expenses, to foster our return to the moon by the year 2020, a date competing with China’s effort.
In 1958, President Eisenhower signed into law the civilian agency mandate for NASA. Following that law, several previous military efforts were handed over to NASA for continued research and development. These included the well known Saturn I heavy lift project in November, 1959; the transfer of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency’s responsibilities to NASA in December, 1959; the transfer of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and all of its research to NASA in December, 1959.
Several other programs transferred to civilian control include the Army’s million-pound thrust F1 rocket engine, Centaur high-performance upper stage, Pioneer moon problems, the man-in-space-soonest orbital manned capsule, the Army’s Explorer satellite, Project Adam suborbital manned capsule, the Navy’s Vanguard booster and satellite with the Able upper stage.
All of these were military programs transferred to NASA’s control. Now, some 50 years later, the Obama administration cites concern over maintaining our lead in space against China as the driving impetus behind a future NASA sharing R&D expenses with the Pentagon, and potentially cancelling existing projects, such as the Ares I rocket, in favor of military alternatives.
According to Bloomberg, “Obama has said the Pentagon’s military space program — which spent about $22 billion in fiscal year 2008, almost a third more than NASA’s budget — could be tapped to speed the civilian agency toward it’s goals as the recession pressures federal spending.”
NASA currently has a five-year gap between the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the return to space via the Orion six-person craft that can carry astronauts to the ISS and the moon atop the Ares I and Ares V rockets (currently under development). During the gap, NASA has contracted with two commercial space companies to service the ISS.
Obama’s team has already asked NASA officials about the cost savings of scrapping the agency’s Ares I rocket. Griffin told Obama’s transition team leader, Lori Garver, that “her colleagues lack the engineering background to evaluate rocket options,” according to agency spokesman Chris Shank.
The Pentagon is showing support for Obama’s vision, according to Bloomberg. John Logsdon, a policy expert at the National Air and Space Museum who has conferred with Obama’s transition advisors, has said “No one really has a firm idea what NASA’s cost savings might be, but the military’s launch vehicles are basically developed. You don’t have to build them from scratch [as you do with Ares I and Ares V].”
China currently has a heavy-lift rocket under development that will be capable of reaching the moon. It’s projected test date will be 2013. China also plans to dock two separate spacecraft in 2010, a necessary iterative step before a trip to the moon can be made as the required crew modules and payload modules must be launched separately and docked due to their mass. China is planning a mission to the moon on/about the year 2020 – same as the United States.
The concern over China’s parity with U.S. space dominance is driving Obama’s team, according to Bloomberg. Dean Cheng, a senior Asia analyst with CNA Corp in Alexandria, Virginia, said, “If China puts a man on the moon, that in itself isn’t necessarily a threat to the U.S. But it would suggest that China had reached a level of proficiency in space comparable to that of the United States.”