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Yesterday the House appropriations committee’s released budget numbers that included no additional funds for commercial space, limiting the subsidies to $312 million, the same number as last year and significantly less than the $850 million requested by the Obama administration.
This is what I have thought might happen since last year. The tone deaf manner in which the Obama administration has implemented the private space subsidies is leaving all funding for NASA vulnerable.
The political needs of Congress encourage them to fund the pork of the program-formerly-called-Constellation because it maintains the jobs that already exist in their districts. Unfortunately, the program-formerly-called-Constellation will not get us into space, and when that program fails over the coming years it will become increasingly likely that Congress will eliminate it entirely, faced as it is with terrible federal deficits and a crushing debt.
At the same time, those same political needs give Congress little incentive to fund the new private space efforts. As these companies are new, they have no vested interests in Congressional districts. Faced with the need to find things to cut, it is very easy for Congress to cut or trim these subsidies.
The result: all funding for NASA goes away.
As I have said repeatedly, this might not be a bad thing. Eventually freedom, competition, and the need to get into space will force the creation of a new space industry, and to have that industry blossom outside the control of government is certainly a better thing in the long run.
The problem will be that it might take five to ten years for that to happen. And that is going to be a very painful time for those space cadets out there who desperately want the United States to explore the solar system.