If we can’t cut the program for manned (personed) space travel, what can we cut?

I’m as much in love with space travel as anyone could be who never actually worked for NASA. I grew up in the era of space travel, and I was addicted to “Star Trek” as a kid. (I still am.) I’m one of those nerds who hopes that there will always be money for a project called SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.

But I also know that the country can’t afford to pay for everything. Some big expensive programs have to be cut, and cutting the program aimed at putting Americans back on the moon seems reasonable. But several Florida politicians, who represent areas around the Kennedy Space Center, are pushing back, insisting the project is necessary. And now, Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, has sent Obama an angry letter protesting the plan to cut the Constellation Project.

The decision to cancel Constellation, the project to send astronauts to the Moon again by 2020 and Mars by 2030, was “devastating”, Mr Armstrong said in a powerful open letter to the President.

“America’s only path to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station will now be subject to an agreement with Russia to purchase space on their Soyuz – at a price of over $50 million [£32 million] per seat with significant increases expected in the near future – until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves,” he said in the letter, which was also signed by Gene Cernan, the last man on the Moon, and Jim Lovell, commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission in 1970.

“The availability of a commercial transport to orbit as envisioned in the President’s proposal cannot be predicted with any certainty, but is likely to take substantially longer and be more expensive than we would hope.

“It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded.”

NBC is reporting that the criticism prompted Obama to backtrack a bit. The White House also released a letter from Buzz Aldrin, who supports the president’s plan. It says, in part:

What this nation needs in order to maintain its position as the 21st century leader in space exploration is a near-term focus on lowering the cost of access to space and on developing key, cutting-edge technologies that will take us further and faster – while expanding our opportunities for exploration along the way.

The controversy reminds me of an Economist/YouGov poll making the rounds earlier this month, in which Americans were asked which programs they wanted to see cut to curb government spending. The big winner was foreign aid, which is less than a half a percent of the federal budget.

Annie Lowrey of the Washington Independent posted the following chart to illustrate the poll results. Seventy percent favored cutting foreign aid:

The runaway favorite was foreign aid, less than a percentage point of the budget

The runaway favorite was foreign aid, less than a percentage point of the budget

185 comments Add your comment

Logical Dude

April 14th, 2010
10:47 pm

How about we just declassify some of the black programs used for Star Wars? I’m sure there are several spacecraft that we have not heard of that would do what NASA needs. Supercruise, Single-Stage to Orbit, Low Earth Orbit, etc etc. Private companies are able to compete now for satellites (SpaceX) and suborbital manned spaceflight (Scaled Composites/Virgin Galactic), but not manned orbital spaceflight, or even extra-orbital spaceflight needed for lunar manned spaceflight. Of course, we could wait for India or China to do the next moon shot within just a few years.

My own thoughts are that we should have an international cooperation for a Lunar Space Station, to go along with the International Space Station. Have many different countries contribute. Of course, since we have a mostly complete rocket for this, it is kinda stupid to just stop the process now. How much do we need to cut nationally (as a percentage) to aim toward a balanced budget? Cut *each* governmental department by that amount; and have the department directors decide where those cuts should be. Of course, a few departments can be vastly reduced (think Department of Homeland Security vs. CIA vs. FBI vs. NSA – make them one department and cut out the red tape that keeps them from communicating efficiently with each other.) As cuts in Department of Defense occur (as we “step down” in Iraq; and we can close some bases in friendly countries) this will help the budget as well.

The Cynical White Boy

April 14th, 2010
10:58 pm

Ha, I can almost hear the gist of the conversation in the White House press office as instructions are given to all the “Obama-friendly” ‘reporters’ who are suddenly located in DC….

“For God sakes” (they say, straight from the throne) “get the peoples’ minds off of the deficit, healthcare, and cradle-to-grave government benefits designed to keep Dems in office for ever (until the Chinese decide to rule the world)…..and for God’s sake, if you are near Atlanta, don’t mention Freaknik…..so talk about, uh, NASA, yeah, something like uh, NASA…that’s it”

Strange marching orders from Obama central, but then again, they are expert at winning power, so there ya go.

Tommy Maddox

April 14th, 2010
11:23 pm

Micar: You talk too much for someone who’s not talked to folks who are going to lose their jobs down south.

Go down to Canaveral or Titusville and take a poll. You’ll wind up riding out on a rail.

The Carnivore

April 14th, 2010
11:42 pm

You can cut every damn thing on the list by 30% for all I care. There is nothing there that is absolutely necessary. While you are at it, get rid of 80% of the Justice Department, State Department, HUD, and all of the IRS (FairTax), etc.

Social Security is dead anyway, and Medicare and ObamaCare could be mostly cut as long as there is deregulation of insurance companies. Let them really compete, and you will see how low premiums can go.

There is a role for limited government, but it should mostly be at the state and local level. The federal government should shed 50-70% of its ranks before we take a close look and cut more.


April 14th, 2010
11:46 pm

We can and must. That chart was revealing. We must crack down on fraud and abuse in almost every program. But who wants to be a snitch? Sending someone to the moon again is regressive, even if just a launching point. Surely we have more vision and creativity than that.


April 14th, 2010
11:48 pm

It is sad to note that more than 20% wanted to cut science. How do people think diseases get cured?


April 14th, 2010
11:48 pm

Micar: The best part of you ran down your dad’s leg…


April 15th, 2010
12:03 am

Jay, I agree with you some, but I would like to point one thing out to you that most people do not realize. Part of those military expenditures are for widows, amputees, and retirement benefits for those who already served. Some of these people are dependent upon these because they truly cannot work. If you cut the military budget, then it’s going to come out of this, not development of weapons, weapons themselves, or to keep armies in the field.

For the people who state that the government needs to drop pay, I agree. But the unions they belong to won’t allow it, and the Dems will support the union leaders.

As for NASA, I recently visited the Space and Rocket Center in Alabama. It was amazing to see how much technology was developed through trial and error. I wonder how much it would be to use some of the old technology and just update it. They seemed to work relatively well then, and you would have to figure that older technology might be less expensive. Certainly it would be less expensive than the Space Shuttle. Only major problem is that these rockets are still fueled by expensive liquids that are difficult to produce. Still a catch-22, you know?

Eaton White

April 15th, 2010
12:31 am

“I GET nothing back from the taxes i pay that go to keep the worthless dregs housed fed and clothed. I support NASA, cut Welfare..cut obamacare..cut foreign aid, and let SS and medicare DIE on the vine.”

Let’s ignore the fact that Social Security is not qualitatively the same as Welfare, Medicare, Foreign Aid, “Obamacare” (Hint – we all pay into Social Security) and focus on your claim that you get “nothing” from these various programs. I would suggest you read “Freakonomics”, but it might be beyond you.

First, Welfare – It’s a program that supports those at the lowest poverty levels in the country. What do you think the social consequences of eliminating a program that helps to keep those at poverty level (barely) surviving? Crime? Social unrest? Shanty towns? Hmm? Any idea?

You understand that our society is comprised of interacting groups, yes? And that programs like Welfare help to reduce the negative social consequences that accompany poverty? And you understand that poverty is an inevitable consequence of pure Capitalism unaccompanied by some form of government intervention? Or have you not read the seminal works of the important economic philosophers and theorists of the 20th century? So, when you say you get “nothing back” from programs like Welfare, you are simply showing your ignorance. You are benefiting by a more stable society. You are benefiting by a lower crime rate. You are benefiting in many ways that someone who is incapable of appreciating complex systems will fail to understand.

Just as programs like Medicare help to offset the social consequences of a lack of healthcare for those on a fixed income (the elderly, in case that doesn’t register), Foreign Aid helps to create goodwill abroad. In Marketing, we call that “Brand Equity”…it’s considered an intangible asset, but one that is important.

Here’s what makes me laugh at people like you. You complain about social programs and subsidies, but you never once stop to think or rationally analyze what our society would be like without them. You never consider the repercussions of REMOVING those programs, both individually and on our society as a whole. No, you would rather whine and complain because you can’t extend your vacation by one day.

You complain about taxes, but you want all the benefits that taxes create. You want the roads, the police, the firemen, the postal service, the internet, etc. etc. etc., yet you whine and complain when you’re asked to help pay for them.

If we stopped paying taxes today, every whiny, self-righteous so-called “Libertarian” posting on forums today would be pitching a fit within three months. Grow up. We vilified “progressives” know that all of the comforts and privileges and freedoms that you are so keen to enjoy COST MONEY. And we get to help pay for them. DEAL WITH IT.



April 15th, 2010
2:14 am

stw: Nice withering retort. Must say however you seem to be a bit hung up on bodily fluids stuff. Thought about seeing anybody about that.

Joel Edge

April 15th, 2010
5:38 am

Might as well cut. it. Lords knows we’ll waste money on anything. Except the important things. We can’t even dredge up the courage to drill our own oil or build a new nuclear plant. Back to moon, please! Not with this bunch.


April 15th, 2010
6:13 am

Joel Edge

April 15th, 2010
5:38 am

You’d better catch up on current events. I thnk “energy independence” is a red herring, but Obama is supporting nuclear and drilling.


April 15th, 2010
6:46 am

Let’s see, cut the space program because we can’t afford it. Perhaps if the 47% that pay NO taxes started carrying their weight we could afford it. And, the government, especially the Democrats, must stop the handouts and work on programs that give the 47% percent an opportunity. If they chose not to seize the opportunity, THEY pay the price, not all others continuing to pay for them. And, don’t give me that crap about discrimination, etc. That no longer flys.

Captain Chaos

April 15th, 2010
6:48 am

It’d be nice if they let the free market work with food prices but whenever anyone tries to cut farm subsidy entitlements (or enforce immigration laws on the farmers that lure millions of illegals here every year with the promise of no questions asked jobs) the GOPers like Saxby Chambliss start squealing like stuck pigs.
Cut farm welfare and let the free market work.

Captain Chaos

April 15th, 2010
6:52 am

More than a few of he “47% who pay no taxes” are the idle rich who game the system. Yes, by all means, lets make the Paris Hilton’s of the country pay their fair share.

Joel Edge

April 15th, 2010
6:57 am

You need to catch up on reality. A supporter of nuclear and drilling? You know as good as I do, we’re not going to drill and we aren’t going nuclear. Lawsuits will be filed, tree huggers will protest, environmental impact statements will be filed. End result: nothing.

Granny Godzilla

April 15th, 2010
7:08 am

Changing the focus to heavy lifting vehicles enabling us to bring huge payloads into space where the next generation of vehicles will have to be manufactured – this is a good thing.

Granny Godzilla

April 15th, 2010
7:39 am

Oh and this is a great place to privatize.

Lot’s of great work being done in the private sector in LEO vehicles..


April 15th, 2010
7:40 am

professional skeptic – April 14th, 2010, 5:55 pm.

Replace your argument about space travel with the same argument about ObamaCare and I’ll agree with you.

Bill Sanford

April 15th, 2010
7:55 am

Enter your comments here

Bill Sanford

April 15th, 2010
8:01 am

I’ll try with some comments this time… :-)

Ms. Tucker is like every “progressive” journalist… they are out of touch with the people, and do not listen. Manned space travel has excited “smart imaginations” for decades; Its impact on biomedical research was huge – the same biomedical research that Ms. Tucker, enjoys the fruits of today. Of course, being a “progressive” journalist she cannot see that connection – too closed minded.

Of course, Ms. Tucker has no problem with rewarding a person to do nothing…just lay around, perhaps have a few more babies to increase income,and hang out. But put money into a solid research program that excites imaginations? That is actually an example of a “good” government program?

naw… can’t have that kind of change!


April 15th, 2010
8:03 am

I would rather have the government put my actual tax dollars into the cargo bay of a shuttle and release it into space than blow it the way they do now on many of their social programs!


April 15th, 2010
8:11 am

Another great day in Obamanation:
1. One small step forward for Obama into converting the US in mediocre
2. One giant leap backward for America.
Keep up the good job Obama.


April 15th, 2010
8:13 am


April 15th, 2010
8:15 am

Cuts and eliminations…
10% of Federal paper pushers
Eliminate the Dept of Education
Liquor purchases
Air Force skylimos for the ruling elites
Private sector pay for the “talent”
Gov’t pensions for the “talent”
Farm subsidies
Illegal immigrants
Providing Gov’t vehicles for commuters
Bailouts to auto companies, banks, and “distressed homeowners”
The UN
Foreign aid to hostile nations


April 15th, 2010
8:15 am

Look, cuts have to be made across the board. Defense, Medicare/Medicaid, Government employment, Government pensions, and (YES) Nasa, refundable tax credits. The cuts will be deep and need to hurt EVERYONE. THEN, we need to establish a minimum tax that EVERYONE who makes over the poverty limit pays. I don’t care if that limit is $1000, or $500, or $100. EVERYONE pays it . NOBODY earning money gets a free ride. When 100% …. rather than 51%… of the people are actually paying federal income taxes, then we will have change in government to get spending and budgets under control.


April 15th, 2010
8:22 am

By all means cut NASA as it already is a government program and tax dollars must be focused on those entities that remain to be socialized. Health, banking, and industry have the train moving. Must have more dollars to fuel the momentum.


April 15th, 2010
8:31 am

Funny how liberals are besieged by reality – are the people working for NASA anything else than white and middle-aged? I.e. the lot that the MSM has identified as Tea Partiers, challenged by the the Hope ‘n change magnificence?
As far as understanding the necessity of science and inquiry, looks like Cynthia Tucker (a Berkeley school system graduate), at any time would enthusiastically favor:
a) anything, no matter how inane, that Barry would propose -
b) including replacing any space program with any program aiming at developing the self-esteem and oppression awareness of her Berkeley home town crowds of teens who, fortunately, have recently been spared the indignities of junior-high lab classess (Asians and whites leaving the town in droves – but this is progress).

Aidan A.

April 15th, 2010
8:31 am

Really, we can’t pay for everything? Be careful or the democrats might start sounding like that hateful, racist “party of no.”


April 15th, 2010
8:46 am

What Ms Tucker fails to understand is that once you dismantle a program such as the manned space flight program, once the talent and engineering staff are dispersed to the wind so to speak, it can’t just quickly be put back together. If Osama Obama goes through with this, our country will be irreparably damaged for decades. But, that’s okay as long as we can destroy the healthcare system with Obamacare, as long as we can encourage those on welfare not to improve their lives, not to see any value whatsoever in working for a living. We must protect the chosen class in spite of this national decline, both in prestige and technological leadership, and we must force a medical care farce on the people regardless of how they feel about it. When Obama was elected I thought that it would be tolerable; that we could survive anything for four years. I was wrong. We can’t take much more of this guy and his complement of useful idiots in the House and Senate and remain a great nation. As Obama said yesterday, “Unfortunately, we still a superpower”. Seems he’s doing all in his power to change that. .

Granny Godzilla

April 15th, 2010
8:49 am

What y’all righties obviously don’t understand is the proposal itself.

To read some of the goop above you’d think we were suggesting death panels for NASA!

LIV – shame on y’all. You embarrass America.


April 15th, 2010
8:57 am

We cut the manned program but INCREASE funding on “climate change”? Cut funding on climate change to zero since its been proven to be a scientific fraud and leave funds in place for the manned program. Since both of these actions were taking place inside of NASA I also have to ask — since when is NASA a climate change organization? Shouldn’t that be over in someplace like the Weather Service anyway?


April 15th, 2010
9:16 am

We can pay for healthcare for the irresponsible and lazy who won’t get educations and jobs, but we can’t invest in the future. We need to take back America.

Mitchell Gantt

April 15th, 2010
9:19 am

“Some big expensive programs have to be cut.” Just not the ones going to reliably Democratic constituencies, right, Cynthia? I won’t be holding my breath waiting for you to weigh in on cutting bloated SEIU and other bureaucrat-union benefit packages and over-promised pensions. And hey, here’s a great big expensive program that we can cut by 100%: OBAMACARE.


April 15th, 2010
9:26 am

Hey Cynthia

Yeah you are right the country can’t pay for everything.

I got a few programs in mind that we can cut.

a. Department of Education
b. Department of Energy
c. National endowment of the Arts
d. The omnibus health care bill just passed
e. Any and all programs not related to defense may be cut.

OBTW Hows that Hope and Change working for ya?

33 more months and the national joke is history!


April 15th, 2010
9:40 am

This decision on NASA comes as no surprise to me. During the 1960s, when most americans were filled with patriotism and enthusiasm over the moon landings…most blacks were angry and contemptuous. They felt the funding was an utter waste and should have been used for social programs like affirmative action. Of course, the 1960s were tumultuous times and I understand why blacks felt the way they did. But…it’s now 2010 and it’s sad that so many blacks, including the president, continue to have a contemptuous view of space exploration and view it as a silly waste of money that could be used to fund things like Obamacare. This country has never been more polarized.

DeKalb Conservative

April 15th, 2010
9:41 am

I think Bush needs to be bashed a little on this one (not sarcastic). Think about it. JFK made a pledge to get a man on the moon before the end of a decade. The technology didn’t exist and the computers they were working with aren’t even as powerful as the cell phones most of us carry today.

It shouldn’t take 10+ to get to the moon. Heck, if you want to go to the moon, just review the engineering specs from teh 1960’s and make technology tweaks as needed. Buzz is right, and I hope the President listens. The best thing the President could do for space is develop ways of making travel, better, cheaper, faster.


April 15th, 2010
9:48 am

John wrote: “This decision on NASA comes as no surprise to me. During the 1960s, when most americans were filled with patriotism and enthusiasm over the moon landings…most blacks were angry and contemptuous. They felt the funding was an utter waste and should have been used for social programs like affirmative action. Of course, the 1960s were tumultuous times and I understand why blacks felt the way they did. But…it’s now 2010 and it’s sad that so many blacks, including the president, continue to have a contemptuous view of space exploration”

That’s no secret. You won’t hear anyone in the media come out and say it though. Doesn’t surprise me one bit that Obama would cut – of all things – NASA. Apparently, one of the many things Michelle was never particularly proud of.

Can’t wait to see this guy thrown out in ‘12. Makes Carter look like Reagan.


April 15th, 2010
9:55 am

Kelly, Why do you think NASA should NOT be cut? What would you like to see cut?


April 15th, 2010
9:58 am

The two most critical issues are 1.) Loss of Expertise – Living, breathing, experience and knowledge and wisdom are much harder to win than they are to maintain. But they can be passed only from practicing experts to practicing experts. 2.) Loss of Superiority – There are those who take no notice of our excellence in Space, but excellence of many kinds is important in education
and international statesmanship, yes, even in space. Since the 1950’s the United States has invested in robust Space programs, and maintained the worldwide standard of excellence. We are not going to allow our statesmen just to throw this away without a fight.


April 15th, 2010
10:02 am

DeKalb Conservative, one of the more interesting things about my critics on this point is that Obama has proposed that the private sector find a way to get faster booster rockets into space. I thought conservatives would support that idea.


April 15th, 2010
10:06 am

professional skeptic: “The same principles of budgeting apply to federal spending.”

Actually, federal spending has had no principles for about 8 decades. To call what is done “budgeting” is akin to calling gluttony “dieting.”


April 15th, 2010
10:07 am

It is painful to see NASA get cut but it NEEDS to be done…

However I do not support cutting NASA while expanding entitlement programs. This is the common tune of the Obama administration- “look, we cut $100 million! now we can spend $100 billion!”

I can’t decide if the Obama administration failed grade-school math or just doesn’t care.


April 15th, 2010
10:10 am

What a hack. Tucker comes out with a full throated defense of the multitrillion dollar healthcare plan and then complains about a 10 billion dollar program, not even 1% the cost of the healthcare debacle.

Bill Sanford

April 15th, 2010
10:10 am

MS Tucker… you offered a serious comment at 10:02 AM – i will make a serious comment back.

Frankly, this older conservative that read Asimov & Heinlein in my youth, that watched the 1st moon landing in San Diego as a 19 year old Marine waiting to deploy to Vietnam, thinks that obama is lying.

I think obama is just placating his criticizers… avoiding bad press. I don’t believe he as a strategy. he’s barely kicking the can down the road.

With all due respect.


April 15th, 2010
10:11 am

Bill Sanford, What do you think he’s lying about?


April 15th, 2010
10:12 am

X, the health care plan is a pay-go program. the legislation that enacted it found ways to pay for it. Not so with the Constellation program


April 15th, 2010
10:17 am

Pay-go, what are you smoking? The current budget submitted by Obama is 3.83 trillion dollars. That includes a 1.3 trillion dollar deficit. This isn’t pay as you go, it’s the mortgage-our-future scheme.

Bill Sanford

April 15th, 2010
10:24 am

MS tucker… intention to follow through.

A “program” has a clear start, tasks & goals, and a clear goal to be achieved. obama has presented none of that… just spending on a heavy lifter, and a bail-out module.

You may recall, a few years ago there was debate in the Space community on where & what should follow the shuttle program expiration… The decision was to go back to the Moon, establish a permanent base, and use that as a staging point for deeper space exploration. Bush wasn’t perfect, but he supported those goals, and begin funding them.

And Bush did not quibble the goals.

obama has scratched the goals, restarted the debate (good subterfuge), and funded something that leads to nowhere. obama should listen to the bulk of the experienced space hands…

[...] Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal Constitution counters: “I’m as much in love with space travel as anyone could be who never actually worked for NASA….I also know that the country can’t afford to pay for everything. Some big expensive programs have to be cut, and cutting the program aimed at putting Americans back on the moon seems reasonable.” [...]