Obama Agenda Item - Continue A Half-Century Of US Space Domination? Not On The List!

Associated Press item, April 7, 2010, "Cost for U.S. Astronauts to Ride on Russian Rockets Soars". The article explained that NASA has signed a contract to pay about $335 million for six US astronauts to be flown to the International Space Station in 2013-4, carried aboard the Russian Soyez capsule. This situation obtains because the Obama administration is quietly closing down America's space program and its supremacy in space. This will be the final year for the Space Shuttle, with no U.S. manned-space hardware to follow - leaving Russia with a monopoly. Mr. Obama ostensibly is killing the Space program to save money - at the peak of the Apollo program NASA was spending somewhat less than 4 percent of the federal budget (in terms of this year's budget, about $150 billion). Today the manned space program is being killed for want of $3 billion a year - 1/50th of the Apollo number and only 1/300th of Obama's stimulus package of last year.

For over fifty-eight years, since John Glenn's flight in 1962, the U.S. has dominated space, the final frontier - after the USSR took the initial lead in low-orbit flight (employing converted intercontinental-ballistic missile rockets to propel the first cosmonauts - the U.S. and NASA going for non-military rocket boosters). First there were orbits of Earth, a monkey, then a man, then multiple astronauts; then exploratory missions to the moon; then moon landings - all fraught with danger with many deaths; then came the International Space Station as an orbiting platform. National pride in such accomplishments was unsurpassed; however, as Charles Krauthammer, world affairs commentator, recently observed sadly, "Fifty years ago, Mr. Kennedy opened the New Frontier; Mr. Obama has just shut it."

While prior price arrangements between NASA and Russia for the ferrying of U.S. personnel were only about half as much per astronaut, the increase was demanded to enable Russia to build more Soyuz capsules (while the US justifies saving dollars by not building Space Shuttle follow-ons).

This drastic change in America's national program priorities has apparently been carried out below the radar screen of public awareness (the major media outlets keeping the story quiet), and it will probably be presented to the public as an economic and political benefit - after the pioneering effort by the government, it is now turning the launching of space vehicles to the private sector, while NASA'S efforts will be re-directed toward future ventures, such as landing on Mars. Augmenting the concept of viable private sector space activity, there are several private programs whereby civilians - at costs of several hundred thousands of dollars per traveler - are taken to the edge of space, carried by a sleek vehicle. These, however, achieve only altitude - no speeds as required for true space venturing. To escape Earth's gravity, space programs require tremendous rocket boosting for horizontal speeds of 18,000 miles per hour just for low orbit, and much greater speeds to escape Earth's gravitational force. There are some well-advertised private ventures to take civilians to space for several hundred thousand dollars each - however, these only achieve space altitude, there is no attendant booster-rocketry to acquire the necessary speed to achieve orbit, and much more for escape velocity, to reach the moon or Mars. (Note: The most meaningful concept of space orbital flight is that the vehicle must travel so fast that it is continually "falling" around Earth, gravity pulling the capsule into a circular trajectory. Higher speeds permit higher altitude orbiting - to escape Earth's gravity entirely for true space travel, more than 25,000 miles per hour speed is required. Of course, to return to Earth, there is then the problem of the extremes of re-entry heat, 2000 to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit; thus protective insulation of the occupants is required, and thus the extremely costly and fragile Shuttle re-entry tiles.)

Knowledgeable space engineers and scientists shake their heads sadly at the thought of a Mars venture - if the U.S. can't afford even a continuation of the hardware that achieved high orbit and the moon, it can only be ridiculous to minimize the astronomic increases in complexity, cost and risks of trying for a journey 150 times farther than the moon; only three days for a moon trip versus a half-year to reach Mars - with all the attendant dangers: effects of long-term weightlessness, exposure to cosmic rays, and the compounding hazards of complexity of mechanical hardware, software and the unknowns of space.

The curtain lowers quietly on one of the most glorious periods of United States history.

Aaron Kolom qualifies as a "rocket scientist" with over 50 years aerospace engineering: Stress Analyst to Chief of Structural Sciences on numerous military aircraft, to Corp. Director Structures and Materials, Asst. Chief Engineer Space Shuttle Program through first three flights (awarded NASA Public Service Medal), Rockwell International Corp.; Program Manager Concorde SST, VP Engineering TRE Corp.; Aerospace Consultant.


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