Obama makes another empty space commitment

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In an op-ed today, President Barack Obama made another one of those Presidential Kennedy-like space commitments, this time proposing that the U.S. send humans to Mars.

We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station.

Obama in his op-ed spends a lot of time claiming credit for the recent resurgence in the American space industry. Though his administration does deserve some of the credit, in that they continued and expanded the commercial space initiative first started in the Bush administration, the bulk of the credit here really must be given to the private companies that did the actual work. SpaceX and Orbital ATK took enormous financial risks to make their rockets and capsules fly. They made it happen, proving at last to a generation that had lost faith in private enterprise and freedom that relying on private enterprise and freedom really is the best way to do things.

Meanwhile, I would not take Obama’s proposal very seriously. We will have a new president in just a matter of a few months, and that president will make his or her own decisions. Moreover, it really won’t matter that much what that next president proposes anyway. The real story will be with private individuals and private companies, forging their own dreams as they search for ways to get into space in a profitable manner.


  • Matt in AZ

    He claimed that last year , NASA discovered “evidence of ice on one of Jupiter’s moons”. This alone shows he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or care enough to get it right. Total fluff.

  • Frank

    The government’s access to nearly unlimited national resources uniquely enables high risk first-time projects, particularly when there is a strong voter consensus and a clear goal (like the space race with the Soviets to the moon). When any of these endeavors, become routine the government model does not work well because the focus shifts from work with clear goals shared and understood by everyone to providing a repeatable service which requires good managers, little bureaucracy and accountability.

    Government provided service is expensive at best and more likely to be inefficient and ineffective. Sometimes its deadly. Think Obamacare, Department of Motor Vehicles, VA, etc. And today, with the polarized political climate, any government led project taking more than one presidential term or a few budget turns is at risk of being killed or subject to mission creep.

    NASA’s loss of vision after the moon landings was apparent. Those of us into it could feel it. The Apollo-Soyuz project was political mission and the Shuttle was a glorious but expensive machine that enabled expensive endeavors (no pun intended). To be fair, hindsight is 20/20 and we still had much to learn but now its time to apply what we have learned.

    I’d like to see our government’s role in space shift to an enabler of a highly competitive private space industry with seed money (if needed) and as a provider infrastructure that can be shared by all competitors.

  • wodun

    You can tell Obama isn’t serious because he didn’t pull out of the OST and didn’t direct NASA to focus planetary science missions on prospecting Mars for colonization and resource extraction.

    The environmentalists are going to go ape when actual work to colonize Mars starts and that includes many people in the sciences.

  • Edward

    From the Obama’s OpEd: “We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time.

    Isn’t this the same nebulous, unfunded non-goal that was set a few years back, when the deadline was 2030 rather than sometime in the 2030s, and was taken so seriously that the end-date keeps changing and no funding, strategizing, or planning has yet materialized to make it come true (explaining the slip in end-date)?

    But then, when Obama first announced that we were going to Mars, it was not nearly as memorable a moment as Kennedy’s speech talking about going to the moon.

    When President Kennedy spoke at Rice University, on that hot September day in 1962, he spoke inspirational words, explaining the difficulties to overcome, and expressing his confidence that it could and would happen.

    This Obama clown gives the boring announcement, “I’m excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space.”

    An announcement so unexciting that he forgot to tell us about these exciting new habitats or who the commercial partners are. He failed to explain anything about why are these new habitats are any better than our very expensive ISS, which was supposed to do exactly what he says these new habitats are going to do.

    Obama makes it sound like we are taking a routine trip, such as going to the corner grocery for a couple of eggs, except that we have partners for the journey. Kennedy’s words were motivational, demanding that we be bold, that we go not because it is easy but because it is hard. Obama’s words are mundane.

    I believe that when man goes to Mars, it will be the commercial “partners” who go, while the government remains behind arguing over the correct way to go.

  • Localfluff

    It’s at least a good thing that Clinton most likely will continue Obama’s pro private space policy. And Trump has mentioned and lauded it. Johnson would surely cut back on NASA overall, to the degree he really is a libertarians. Stein would maybe transform it to environmental and climate Earth observations only.

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