For the last week or so, I've started hearing rumblings--ugly thoughts--from people at my day job and off the clock. It seems, as the political silly season draws closer, folks are having less and less positive to say about the viability of NASA, the Constellation Program, Ares, et cetera. And if it isn't people I know, it's people I read, piling on story upon editorial upon blog on how NASA is screwed up, is doing things wrong, is doomed to failure, and the next President will use those excuses to kill the program. Enough already!
The news is now bad enough that my friends and family, who don't normally pay attention to, or give a fig about, NASA or space are now emailing or calling me to ask, "Are you okay?" Meaning: "Is your job safe?" Here's the standard answer I've been giving, not just because I'm trying to prevent friends and family from worrying, but because I believe it to be true:
- Ares is not going to be completely canceled because the U.S. needs to access the International Space Station.
- We need to replace the Space Shuttle; we retire airliners when they get to be the Shuttle's age (when was the last time you saw a 727 flying?), and airliners are flying in a much more benign flight regime than Shuttle.
- We are not going to leave low Earth orbit (LEO) to the Russkis, the Chi-Coms, the Euros, etc. The onset of "the gap" in U.S. human spaceflight will probably do more to get the government to pay attention and spend money on NASA than the anticipation of the gap. Americans don't like to lose. The next "space race" might not be as dramatic as the first one, but it will happen, one way or another.
- My best guess right now, as I've stated before, is that Constellation's budget will be cut, but not totally. Again, we need access to ISS. We might not get to the Moon, but we do need to see that we get to LEO. And if the next president actually DOES decide not to go to the Moon, maybe enough people will notice enough to get mad about it.
- If Constellation's budget is curtailed, space is not going away. There are commercial operators out there. There is space science. There is military space. Bottom line: Space isn't going anywhere, and neither am I.