Politics Impacting Space Exploration

This image shows what capturing an asteroid could look like. NASA will enhance its detection and characterization capabilities, accelerate solar electric propulsion technology development and begin the design of the overall mission.
Image Credit: NASA/Advanced Concepts Lab

First, a little background.  In 2007, when Red Planet Capital was still going strong, my partners and I met with officials at the Office of Science and Technology Policy about the future of space exploration and how private sector technologies could leverage public investments.

In that meeting, seemingly out of the blue one of the attendees from OSTP tossed out an idea – did we think that the public and the private sector would get excited about a mission to an asteroid (as opposed to a mission back to the Moon or a mission to Mars).  It was the first time any of us had heard of that vision.

The idea of humans visiting an asteroid has grown and morphed into NASA’s current major vision.  The idea is to use robotic spacecraft to capture an asteroid, bring it into orbit around the earth, and then to send astronauts to explore it and bring samples back to the ground for study.  The vision is described on the NASA web site here:  [Link].

That vision ran into pure partisan politics in the House of Representatives last month.  Since before NASA was created in the 1950s, space exploration has been one area in which Congress has been able to blur party lines – NASA programs are generally supported in a bipartisan way or not supported in a bipartisan way.  But last month, the Science Committee in the House of Representatives voted along party lines to ban NASA from pursuing the program – all 22 Republicans voting for the ban and all 17 Democrats voting against the ban.

So, NASA is now scrambling for a new vision (again).  The New York Times covered this extremely  well, in an article that can be found here:  [Link].


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