Finding Common Ground: Reconciling Space Exploration Goals

On April 15, 2010, President Obama clarified his vision for U.S. space exploration at speech in Florida.

There is much to like about the President’s desire to encourage innovation (by funding development of new technologies and capabilities that may make space exploration more effective and affordable) and stimulate entrepreneurship of the commercial sector (by ceding responsibility to the market to ferry astronauts and materiel to the International Space Station) to meet the immediate, practical and future demands of space travel. Still, the abrupt change of course strikes many as going too far, too fast.

Is the Administration’s human exploration program “a technology endeavor without an exploration plan,” as it was characterized by Thomas Young at a congressional hearing last month? Or is it an investment “in obtaining key knowledge about future destinations and demonstrating critical enabling technologies for human spaceflight and exploration,” as described by a NASA official recently? Both are probably true and there lies the rub.

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