Just one glaring example is the Administration’s surprising decision to terminate the Constellation program. The Air Force last year indicated that Constellation’s delay would adversely impact our military’s solid-rocket-motor industrial base. By taking that a step further and cancelling Constellation, one can only assume that this would be devastating for national security.
Our space program has generated thousands of inventions and spinoffs that have translated directly into the creation of tens of thousands of jobs right here in America and have contributed to our economic dominance. These technologies have drastically increased convenience in our everyday lives – from weather satellites, laptops, cell phones and Blackberries to wireless technology and even posturepedic mattresses – our investment in space has raised living standards not just in our country but for people all around the world. And, it has kept American on the competitive edge.
But the Administration makes two high-risk mistakes with their space budget. First, they bet our nation’s entire space program on yet unproven commercial vendors. While I hope that commercial vendors will one day be able to get us there, we should not bet the whole program on that unproven hope.
Second, the Administration puts Russia in the driver’s seat by relying solely on them to get our astronauts to the Space Station. The closer we get to Shuttle retirement, the more Russia increases the price per astronaut for a ride into space. Take the current price, $51 million per astronaut, up from $30 million, and multiply that by 5 or 6 astronauts per mission. It makes more sense to keep highly skilled American engineers and scientists working rather than outsourcing their jobs to Russia, especially now. Last month the Russians said they plan to raise prices again once they are the sole provider of astronaut services to the Space Station.
According to the Augustine Committee, and information I have received from NASA and contractors, the annual cost of flying the Shuttle may cost around $1 billion for two flights per year – much less than generally expected. For a budget equal to a fraction of one percent of the stimulus, we can extend the Shuttle for another year or two and provide a smoother transition for thousands of Americans who rely on our space program for their well-being.
Extending the Shuttle through FY 2011 is essential, if we are to accommodate the launch of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), which may not be ready until the spring of 2011 – several months beyond the Administration’s arbitrary December 31, 2010, deadline for the last Shuttle launch. On a side note, the AMS is a device that will be mounted to the Space Station to help scientists measure cosmic rays and gain a better understanding about the universe, antimatter, dark matter and space radiation.
Providing sufficient funding for Constellation will ensure that we do not abandon the investments already made. To that end, we should work to see that America’s lead role in human space exploration is maintained, not surrendered to Russia and China.