NASA to Re-Emphasize Manned Space Flight
The President’s 2018 Budget requests $19.1 billion for NASA, a 0.8 percent decrease from the 2017 annualized CR level. However, the small decrease may actually be good news for advocates of human space flight. The cuts come mostly from areas that have little to do with programs to return to the Moon, explore Mars, or to bring back the U.S. lead in manned space flight. In fact, those areas will see increased emphasis.
A Scribd-published study of a NexGen Space LLC examination, partly funded by a grant from NASA found that:
…a human return to the Moon may not be as expensive as previously thought…America could lead a return of humans to the surface of the Moon within a period of 5-7 years … at an estimated total cost of about $10 Billion (+/- 30%) …America could lead the development of a permanent industrial base on the Moon of 4 private-sector astronauts in about 10-12 years after setting foot on the Moon that could provide 200 MT of propellant per year in lunar orbit for NASA for a total cost of about $40 Billion (+/- 30%)…Assuming NASA receives a flat budget, these results could potentially be achieved within NASA’s existing deep space human spaceflight budget…A commercial lunar base providing propellant in lunar orbit might substantially reduce the cost and risk NASA of sending humans to Mars. The ELA would reduce the number of required Space Launch System (SLS) launches from asmany as 12 to a total of only 3, thereby reducing SLS operational risks, and increasing its affordability…A permanent commercial lunar base might substantially pay for its operations by exporting propellant to lunar orbit for sale to NASA and others to send humans to Mars, thus enabling the economic development of the Moon at a small marginal cost…
The widespread fascination with travel to Mars was given verbal support by Obama, but the premature ending of both the space shuttle program and the cancellation of its intended manned successor, the Constellation program, were not conducive to accomplishing advances in human spaceflight technology. Although NASA wants to send Astronauts to Mars several decades in the future, the actual preliminary work to do so has been lax.
In an interview with Space.com, the Director of space policy at the Planetary Society noted:
[Trump] is inheriting a space program that has this nascent ambition to go to Mars but doesn’t have hardware actually flying yet.
Given the slow pace of development of human-rated spacecraft development NASA, including the rockets to take them off Earth, a reflection of its de-emphasis during the Obama Administration, the new Administration may turn to the private sector for the necessary hardware.
Bruce Dorminey, writing in Forbes, quotes former Pennsylvania Congressman and Trump adviser Bob Walker:
The specifics of [Trump-era] missions will be determined within the overall goal of human exploration of the solar system, but clearly, the long-term, overall goal of Trump space policy anticipates human exploration far beyond low-Earth orbit and even beyond Mars… President-elect Trump made space policy a major part of his final campaign message and Vice President-elect Pence has been very enthusiastic about the role he would assume as head of the new National Space Council…The council would help keep space issues front and center during the Trump Administration.
Walker, as quoted by Dorminey, believes Trump’s space goals include:
Setting the goal and beginning technological implementation of human exploration of our solar system by the end of this century; Re-direction of NASA budgets toward deep space science; Creation of an aggressive program for development of hypersonic technology; [and] Begin negotiations to assure the viability of the International Space Station (ISS) beyond 2028.
The method in which space policy is set under the Trump Administration may differ significantly than that of his predecessor. The new White House may reconstitute the National Space Council, which would be led by Vice President Michael Pence. According to Neel Patel, writing in Inverse:
Jim Muncy, a space lobbyist who leads the consultancy PoliSpace, says he’s spoken with Pence and that the now Vice President-elect is ‘really looking forward to the space council.’
Originally published on the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.