Despite recently announced drastic cuts to NASA, GW’s Space Policy Institute will continue to encourage the exploration of the universe and policies that govern space discovery, Scott Pace, director of the institute, said.
In response to pervasive concerns about the recession as well as the federal budget deficit, President Barack Obama announced last week that among the proposed cuts he detailed, the NASA Constellation Program would be shut down completely. According to the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Web site, the original goal of the constellation project was to bring humans back to the moon by the year 2020. But complications emerged with the program’s shuttles, and the program has been deemed “unachievable under any budget” by White House officials.
Instead, the administration hopes for NASA to direct its focus to Earth science ventures and, more controversially, to fund commercial companies in rocket construction, officials said.
Pace, the director of GW’s Space Policy Institute – a research and policy program as part of the Center for International Science and Technology Policy in GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs – said in an interview that while these commercial rockets are not in theory a poor idea, commercialized tests have yet to demonstrate the ability of commercial spaceships to carry humans on these launches.
“We need a government launch option until the commercial crew systems are proven to work,” Pace said.
At stake, he said, is the United States’ access to the International Space Station. If the commercial system is unreliable and there is no government program to supply spacecraft, the United States will have no access to the International Space Station. Pace said that since the space shuttle program is being retired in the coming year, the only dependable method of getting the United States to the space station would be through the Russian space program.
There are also larger political implications to potentially severing the country’s access to the International Space Station.
“The International Space Station is possibly the largest, most complex international scientific cooperative effort to date,” Pace said. “The impact of its loss, as well as the loss of American superiority in space, will no doubt be debated as the House and Senate contemplate Obama’s proposed changes.”